Saturday, March 31, 2007
The exhibition of "My Sweet Lord," Cosimo Cavallaro's sculpture of an anatomically correct Jesus made out of 200 pounds of chocolate has been cancelled. What a rollicking start to Holy Week!
This latest episode in the American culture war over who gets to "own" Christ is perhaps the silliest and saddest yet. This isn't Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, which offended because of its title and composition. This isn't Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, the painting using elephant dung that drove Rudy Giuliani to distraction. This is about the humanity and sexuality of Jesus and how some Fundamentalist groups are trying to deny it, as they try to deny all human sexuality.
Cavallaro's work could have stood out as a humorous comment on the lost message of Easter, replacing the hollow chocolate bunnies children receive in baskets with the solid chocolate Christ. When I first saw this, that's the message that I took away. Unfortunately, all some people saw was the nudity.
Bill Donahue, head of the conservative Catholic League, calls "My Sweet Lord" "one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever." Donahue should buy a tie with the words "Outraged Catholic" written on it to help save time for TV news graphics departments. He is professionally outraged. Personally, my Christian sensibilities are assaulted far more greatly by war, famine, and the plight of children worldwide, but Donahue seems to find a naked chocolate Jesus to be just the absolute last straw. The fact that he has such easy access to the public airwaves befuddles me.
The CNN story I linked to at the beginning of this post perpetuates the idea that Christ on the cross is traditionally represented with a loincloth. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Leo Steinberg's work has proven that Renaissance art often portrayed Jesus fully nude and fully anatomically correct. In fact, attention was drawn to his sexuality as proof of the fullness of his humanity and the completeness of the incarnation, the concept that Christ was both human and divine. Unfortunately, as Steinberg says, this portrayal has fallen into "modern oblivion," except for the few attempts such as "My Sweet Lord."
One of the only other portrayals of a naked Jesus on the cross that I can recall in mainstream culture was the crucifixion scenes in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, in which Willem Defoe plays a naked Jesus on the cross, which would have been historically correct. Just ask yourself why the Romans would execute someone in the most horrible, undignified way and then place a loincloth on the victim to preserve his modesty and you'll realize how inaccurate such portrayals are. The loincloth was put there by modern uncomfortableness with sexuality, not by historical fact or even the basic theological reasoning behind the incarnation.
If anyone should be offended by "My Sweet Lord," it should be George Harrison (R.I.P.). And I doubt he would have minded.