Atheist: “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination…”

Emily Esfahani Smith, in a post titled, “Piss Christ, ‘Art’, and Violence”, considers differing reactions to “art” intended to anger adherents of a particular religion:

“Terrible ideas, reprehensible ideas, do not disappear if you ban them,” Salman Rushdie recently said in relation to the anti-Muslim video. “They go underground. They acquire a kind of glamour of taboo. In the harsh light of day, they are out there and, like vampires, they die in the sunlight.”

The culture war over Piss Christ is really a battle of competing egos: the ego of the artist and the egos of the offended observers. What more could it be?

Consider, after all, what Piss Christ is. It is the “aesthetic equivalent of a temper tantrum,” Rev. George Rutler, a Catholic leader in New York, told me in an e-mail. “Since Christ survived a crucifixion, Christianity will not be harmed by some man’s display of his own arrested development,” Rutler wisely remarks.

Speaking of arrested development, among the other works on display at the New York retrospective are: “Piss Discus,” “Semen and Blood, III” “Madonna on the Rocks,” and an image of a Playboy bunny. Serrano has all the sophistication of a man-boy who delights in the filth of his own bodily fluids. Serrano is like the Charlie Sheen of the art world.

“Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination,” writes Camille Paglia, an atheist, in her new book Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. She is referring directly to Piss Christ. I interviewed Paglia last Thursday about her new book at the museum of art in Philadelphia, and she made the point that religion lies at the heart of all great art. One of the reasons why the art world is spiritually and intellectually hollow today, she said, is because it continues to “sneer” at religion and think, mistakenly, that doing so is still avant-garde. It’s not. It’s old news.

Read the entire post on the New Criterion blog, “Arma Virumque”. To take Paglia’s observation a bit further: a vibrant Catholicism will produce or inspire great art. A lukewarm, comfortable Catholicism will produce kitsch and inspire sentimental, mediocre art. A confused or openly dissenting “Catholicism” will often produce or inspire “artwork” that is vulgar, infantile, stunted and cynical. “The function of all art,” wrote Pope Pius XII in 1952 (“The Function of Art”), “lies in fact in breaking through the narrow and torturous enclosure of the finite, in which man is immersed while living here below, and in providing a window on the infinite for his hungry soul.” Bad art and blasphemous art is usually either heavily sentimental (reflecting a shallow happiness) or deeply cynical (indicating a profound despair), and in both cases it is contrary to what is truly human and truly divine.

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About Carl E. Olson 1207 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.