This morning I held the latest session of the course I run here at Cliff called Imaging Jesus. It is an attempt to explore Christology through various expressions of the arts. Last week we looked Jesus Christ Superstar, Saved, Miracle Maker and so on and had a general discussion on the interplay between image and theology. Good discussion ensued on the six pack which Jesus exhibits in miracle maker - how historical is that anyway? less historical than Giotto's pale and gaunt Jesus? or Michaelangelo's superhuman hypermuscular Jesus...and of course all the issues about male imagery and so on...
The students had to bring in a pic this morning and discuss it - this is what one of them brought in - very scary! But what a great conversation starter. What does it mean to represent Jesus in this manner - although perhaps the guy is just meant to be a Christian...and what does that imply?
Over the course of the next few weeks, my little group of students here in a categorically evangelical college, will be looking at Life of Brian, Last Tempation, Jesus of Montreal, Jerry Springer the Opera and Rusell Davies' Second Coming. Last year it was fantastic to have the discussion of the various issues. Although at times it led to heated exchanges and people being upset by what was being portrayed, there was none of the uproar that some would have expected. The word blasphemy was used on lots of occasions but I can't remember there being any charge of blasphemy or any violence being perpetrated.
Look - here's the course outline!
Week 1: Intro and Classical Approaches to Christology – The Face
Week 2: The Face and other images…Imago Christi and Mission
Week 3: Classic Images of Jesus – Zeferelli vs. Pasolini vs. Webber/Rice vs. Miracle Maker
Week 4: Classical Negatives – The Last Temptation and Jerry Springer
Week 5: Classical Alternatives 1 – Jesus of Montreal
Week 6: Classical Alternatives 2 – Life of Brian
Week 7: The God Movie: The Matrix Trilogy, Bruce Almighty, Man Who Sued & Chocolat
Week 8: God on the Box: Saved, Second Coming and Dr Who!
Week 9: God on the Stage: Musical Images of God and Christ – Godspell to Les Miserables
Week 10: Imagining Jesus in the 21st Century: Mel Gibson and ‘The Passion of The Christ’
I love the course - an opportunity to see what other people are seeing and saying about Jesus in our contemporary society - it has a huge missiological importance. And I don't see the need to get so worked up and suggest that such defamatory images of Jesus actually damage who he is. I think God/Jesus is actually above all that. I agree that Jesus should be treated with respect. And I can see how such shoddy treatment of Jesus (and the text of the Bible) could be argued to one of the reasons for decline in the church or the growth in the feeling that church is irrelevant - there is nothing special/sacred there anymore. But that is just a misunderstanding of the sacred...(I see more protesters are gathering for the Jerry Springer tour - oh dear!)
I listened to a podcast from some Brian McClaren talk the other day and the same thing - an evangelical involved in discussions about the play Corpus Christi, who was able to love someone and serve them despite his objection to the play but without branding the players or the director (who was a gay student) with charges of blasphemy and violence.
So much is said daily about Jesus and who he was and what he did. There seems to be no problem whatsoever in tearing apart the scriptures through historical (or any other) criticism, no problem in portraying Jesus in whatever form - even Yahweh in whatever form. We have open season. Well, I suppose we don't - look at the objections from some about the rather innocuous (though very insulting and degrading) Jerry Spring Opera.
Clearly there are people within Christianity who are happy with those victorian depictions of Jesus and the woodland animals but go ballistic over a more contemporary image like that one on dispay in the new Tate Modern expo - the Wine Crucifix - one of my favourite Christian pieces of art...
But the blanket ban on using historical criticism on the Quran, the blanket ban on images of the Prophet...this would seem to point to a fundamental difference between the foundational philosophy of the two religions. That of course is unpopular in our world of post-liberal pluralism where we pretend that everything is OK. But the issue is that there is no such thing as a common human identity. We in the West push democracy and then bleat that Hamas are elected. We promote individual rights and then wonder why societies based on communal identity are horrified.
The cartoon fiasco points not to the stupidity of some Danish cartoonists (the cartoons aren't that bad...and the furore seems to have been incited by three additional pictures put into a file rather than the twelve first published) but actually to a breakdown in basic communication between the Christian West (non-geographic!) and the non-Christian East (non-geographic). After all, the imagery of Mohammed has a dignified and extensive history of its own. What this furore points to is not an issue of icongraphy but a culture war, a philosophy war, an identity war which the Brits and Americans are playing at and which we simply do not understand properly.
Have you read Lexus and the Olive Tree - great insight into this whole area...
Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!