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Holy Moly!

David Wojnarowicz

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Again, I take very strong exception to the notion that if someone has different rules than you for how sacred symbols can be used and recombinated and interpreted, then you're free to conclude that they are "indifferent to sacredness" or "blind to sacredness" or have a "desacralized worldview". You can find their rationale weak, their understanding of doctrine erroneous, or their artistic intentions misguided or underdeveloped. You can feel offended and express that feeling forcefully. But to summarily dismiss those whose have different rules about the use of sacred symbols, or who communicate their reverence towards sacred symbols in different ways than you as having no real concern for the sacred at all is judgmental to the point of spiritual bullying.

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What "rules," if any, do you subscribe to, regarding the use of sacred symbols? What is not permissible?

And, by your own logic, who the hell are you to tell Bill Donohue what he should or shouldn't do on World AIDS Day?

Edited by mrmando

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I'd just refer you to Chapter 3 of David Dark's last book.

I feel that the imago dei is much more degraded by continual indifference to suffering than anything you can do to a plastic crucifix. Matthew 25 and all that.

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I'd just refer you to Chapter 3 of David Dark's last book.

Looks interesting, but apparently presumes an evangelical Protestant POV, which is something of a non-starter regarding the treatment of Catholic symbols.

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mrmando wrote:

: The proper use of sacred symbols is governed by those to whom they are sacred.

Hmmm. And not by those to whom they are symbols, then?

: But what goes around comes around. How would Wojnarowicz feel if I made a video of myself wiping my ass with the AIDS quilt?

I think the analogy would be better if you were wiping your ass with a REPLICA of the AIDS quilt, rather than the actual thing. We may or may not have the actual wood of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, and we may or may not have the actual first draft of the Koran that Mohammed wrote, but no one -- to my knowledge -- has proposed desecrating these things, only replicas of these things.

And who owns a replica, if not the person who made or bought the replica? As the Mark Zuckerberg character says in The Social Network, "A guy who makes a nice chair doesn't owe money to everyone who has ever built a chair." So why should all the other chair-builders claim the right to steal or censor Zuckerberg's chair, all in the name of defending the "proper use" of the chair?

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mrmando wrote:

: The proper use of sacred symbols is governed by those to whom they are sacred.

Hmmm. And not by those to whom they are symbols, then?

Yeah, that is where they get tough.

The proper religious use of sacred symbols is governed by those to whom they are sacred while being used within the ritual context from which they historically emerged. Otherwise symbols are basically governed by the same principles that govern the use of words.

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mrmando wrote:

: The proper use of sacred symbols is governed by those to whom they are sacred.

Hmmm. And not by those to whom they are symbols, then?

Remember the woman protesting gay marriage in California, whose styrofoam cross was taken from her and stomped to pieces by counter-protesters? To those counter-protesters, the cross was a symbol ... of hatred and oppression. So they treated it according to what it symbolized to them. But would you say that they treated it "properly"?

Or, when Klansmen burn crosses, is that a "proper" use of the cross, in your estimation?

Again, if you do not regard the symbol as sacred, then the question of propriety is pretty much moot. You can use it any damn way you please, as long as you don't care who takes offense. But what kind of world would we live in if everybody acted that way?

I think the analogy would be better if you were wiping your ass with a REPLICA of the AIDS quilt, rather than the actual thing.

Yes, it would, if that is a difference that makes a difference.

We may or may not have the actual wood of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, and we may or may not have the actual first draft of the Koran that Mohammed wrote, but no one -- to my knowledge -- has proposed desecrating these things, only replicas of these things.

When PZ Myers desecrated a piece of consecrated host obtained from a Catholic mass, was that a replica of the body of Christ, or the real thing, according to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation?

(And, wouldn't a Muslim say that you are desecrating the meaning of the Quran by claiming that Muhammad "wrote" it?)

During the months leading up to the 2008 U.S. presidential election, there were several instances of candidates (Obama, McCain, and Palin) being hung in effigy. Would you say these actions didn't mean anything because the people who performed them didn't hang the real candidates?

And who owns a replica, if not the person who made or bought the replica?

A better question might be, who owns the meaning of the replica? Even if I did own a replica of the AIDS quilt, I would not crap on it unless I wished to give offense to people suffering from AIDS.

As the Mark Zuckerberg character says in The Social Network, "A guy who makes a nice chair doesn't owe money to everyone who has ever built a chair." So why should all the other chair-builders claim the right to steal or censor Zuckerberg's chair, all in the name of defending the "proper use" of the chair?

Chair = everyday utilitarian object; crucifix = sacred symbol declared worthy of veneration. If I were about to set fire to an Orthodox icon in public, would you as an Orthodox believer try to stop me? What if I were burning a chair instead?

And, does what happened with the "Fire in My Belly" video meet a formal definition of "censorship"? The question as articulated by the Catholic League was not whether the video should be shown at all, but whether it belonged in an exhibit funded by public taxes.

Edited by mrmando

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Sorry I've been absent from this discussion. Only time to address one point, hopefully shedding some light that may be helpful in the long run.

Do i correctly understand you, then, to mean that no one has a right? That the proper use of sacred symbols is in fact governed by "all americans"--by a sort of common will?

To answer that question, it may be helpful to come out and say as clearly as possible what a sacred symbol is.

Sacred symbols bring a worldview -- a symbolic world -- into focus. For the community of the symbolic world in question, symbols express, in a concrete way, to the senses and the emotions, what we believe both about the world we live in and who we are as a people.

To embrace a worldview is to embrace a particular way of thinking about questions like: Who are we? Where are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What's wrong with the world? What's the solution?

Insofar as they embody and make tangible our way of thinking about these questions, symbols tell us who we are. They are constitutive of our identity as individuals and a community. We identify with them in the strongest way.

Symbols represent not only the community of today, but also our continuity with those who have gone before us. They are our heritage, our patrimony, our sacred trust. Those who went before us lived and died as members of the community represented by these symbols; in many cases, they have sacrificed, suffered and even died for what the symbol represents.

The flag is not the flag. To Americans, the flag is the lives of countless American soldiers who risked or lost their lives on battlefields, and their best ideals and hopes for what our country should be. It is the blood and sweat of Pilgrims, of immigrants, of generations of poor and huddled masses yearning to be free.

A tarnished, sullied legacy, oh my yes -- but still, our heritage, our home, our world. We love it not because it is perfect but as we love our family, because they are ours. We know all that is most beautiful about them as well as all that is most shameful, and we belong to them, and they to us.

Suppose a bipartisan congressional committee put together a proposal to float a national ballot initiative to scrap the American flag and design a completely new one -- different colors, everything.

If we contemplate the cataclysm of outrage and indignation with which this proposal would be met, it will perhaps highlight how Americans see the flag not simply as their shared property, and therefore something which, in theory, we could collectively decide to dispense with -- a possibility that in any case we ought to be able to discuss calmly and rationally, even if we decide to do otherwise. No. The very suggestion is like proposing that we break faith with our forebears.

It's like saying let's knock down Grandma's tombstone and sell it to someone who wants to build a parking lot.

It's like saying instead of a Christmas tree and presents let's just take the kids to the beach this December.

It's like saying learning Chinese is more practical than learning Hebrew, so why not send Benji and Esther to Chinese school instead of Hebrew school?

It's like saying -- well, I'd like to say it's like saying who needs a wedding ring, but there's a sacred symbol that's losing traction in our desacrilized culture, isn't it?

Edited by SDG

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M. Leary wrote:

: The proper religious use of sacred symbols . . .

Brilliant. :)

: Otherwise symbols are basically governed by the same principles that govern the use of words.

Exactly. Words have intersubjective meaning. But nobody "owns" meaning.

mrmando wrote:

: Remember the woman protesting gay marriage in California, whose styrofoam cross was taken from her and stomped to pieces by counter-protesters?

No, I don't, but as far as I can tell, those protestors would have been just as guilty of theft and censorship as the guy who stole the Koran before it could be burned.

: Or, when Klansmen burn crosses, is that a "proper" use of the cross, in your estimation?

Well, no, obviously. But do I steal their crosses to prevent said burnings? No.

: Again, if you do not regard the symbol as sacred, then the question of propriety is pretty much moot. You can use it any damn way you please, as long as you don't care who takes offense. But what kind of world would we live in if everybody acted that way?

A world that values freedom of expression, basically. It's not a bad place to be, really. Yeah, yeah, there's always weirdos and nutsos on the fringes, but as they say, hard cases make bad law.

: Yes, it would, if that is a difference that makes a difference.

And it is. You're aware of the difference between rival goods and non-rival goods? Memes are non-rival goods; they can be copied and appropriated without any loss to the original owner. But actual physical objects are rival goods, so the rules that ought to apply to them are different, and for good reason.

: When PZ Myers desecrated a piece of consecrated host obtained from a Catholic mass, was that a replica of the body of Christ, or the real thing, according to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation?

It was an actual piece of consecrated host that was offered to communicants under specific conditions -- conditions that Myers presumably did not meet. Still, that being said, once the Catholic priest has given the host away, they can't really dictate what other people do with it. This is why, in many churches, communion is served directly onto a person's tongue (or, in Orthodox churches, it is served directly into their mouths with a spoon).

: (And, wouldn't a Muslim say that you are desecrating the meaning of the Quran by claiming that Muhammad "wrote" it?)

As far as I know, EVERYONE agrees that Mohammed wrote it. The only point of disagreement is whether he made it up or took dictation from an angel -- but since I am talking only about the physical object here, the important point is who put pen to paper, not whose idea it was to do so in the first place.

: A better question might be, who owns the meaning of the replica?

Everyone and anyone who assigns meaning to it, obviously.

I suppose you might argue that we should give preference to the meaning that the MAJORITY have assigned to it, so that even if, say, Person A buys a house with the intention of tearing it down, Persons B and C and D and E, etc., can pass a law calling the house a "heritage site" and thereby forbid the tearing down of that house. (Alternatively, Person A might want to live in that house, but Persons B and C and D and E, etc., might decide the property is more valuable if it is absorbed into a strip mall, and so they pass a law regarding "eminent domain" and thereby tear it down.)

But with regard to simple handheld objects like crucifixes and books and pieces of cloth and so forth, people are generally free to do what they like, provided that they bought those objects or were expressly given those objects.

: Chair = everyday utilitarian object; crucifix = sacred symbol declared worthy of veneration.

Well, crosses were once everyday utilitarian objects, too, at least in the Roman world; and some chairs are considered sacred symbols nowadays, too (whether it's St. Edward's Chair, about which there is some ballyhoo in The King's Speech, or whether it's the throne that the Pope sits on when he speaks ex cathedra, etc.). These things slip around, as intersubjective meanings are wont to do.

: If I were about to set fire to an Orthodox icon in public, would you as an Orthodox believer try to stop me?

That's an interesting question. I would certainly stop you if you had stolen the icon from our chapel. And I would probably try to persuade you NOT to destroy the icon, or I would let you know my displeasure in some way. But would I try to steal it from you, if it was, in fact, yours? Probably not. Though I can imagine some of my co-religionists might feel differently about that.

: And, does what happened with the "Fire in My Belly" video meet a formal definition of "censorship"? The question as articulated by the Catholic League was not whether the video should be shown at all, but whether it belonged in an exhibit funded by public taxes.

Taxes, too, are a form of theft, arguably. ;)

SDG wrote:

: Suppose a bipartisan congressional committee put together a proposal to float a national ballot initiative to scrap the American flag and design a completely new one -- different colors, everything.

Interesting, as Canada did just that shortly before I was born -- and just in time for our centennial, too. Good-bye, Red Ensign; hello, Maple Leaf. (Well, okay, there's still a prominent use of red. But anyhoo.)

: It's like saying let's knock down Grandma's tombstone and sell it to someone who wants to build a parking lot.

Of course, there is only one tombstone over Grandma; this doesn't quite compare to the examples at hand, which all concern replicas of one sort or another.

: It's like saying learning Chinese is more practical than learning Hebrew, so why not send Benji and Esther to Chinese school instead of Hebrew school?

And I did, in fact, learn French in grade school instead of letting my parents send me to German school.

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Sacred symbols bring a worldview -- a symbolic world -- into focus. For the community of the symbolic world in question, symbols express, in a concrete way, to the senses and the emotions, what we believe both about the world we live in and who we are as a people.

To embrace a worldview is to embrace a particular way of thinking about questions like: Who are we? Where are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What's wrong with the world? What's the solution?

Insofar as they embody and make tangible our way of thinking about these questions, symbols tell us who we are. They are constitutive of our identity as individuals and a community. We identify with them in the strongest way.

Symbols represent not only the community of today, but also our continuity with those who have gone before us. They are our heritage, our patrimony, our sacred trust. Those who went before us lived and died as members of the community represented by these symbols; in many cases, they have sacrificed, suffered and even died for what the symbol represents.

As someone who has had a Salvadoran cross hanging at the threshold of my tiny dorm rooms and apartments ever since I moved out of my parents' house, none of that is new to me. This gives me no clues, though, as to what logic that informs the suppression of other representations.

Suppose a bipartisan congressional committee put together a proposal to float a national ballot initiative to scrap the American flag and design a completely new one -- different colors, everything.

If we contemplate the cataclysm of outrage and indignation with which this proposal would be met, it will perhaps highlight how Americans see the flag not simply as their shared property, and therefore something which, in theory, we could collectively decide to dispense with -- a possibility that in any case we ought to be able to discuss calmly and rationally, even if we decide to do otherwise. No. The very suggestion is like proposing that we break faith with our forebears.

It's like saying let's knock down Grandma's tombstone and sell it to someone who wants to build a parking lot.

It's like saying instead of a Christmas tree and presents let's just take the kids to the beach this December.

It's like saying learning Chinese is more practical than learning Hebrew, so why not send Benji and Esther to Chinese school instead of Hebrew school?

It's like saying -- well, I'd like to say it's like saying who needs a wedding ring, but there's a sacred symbol that's losing traction in our desacrilized culture, isn't it?

unsure.gifI think you're trying to make a point riffing off my question about common will and fascism vs democracy, but I really fail to see the relevance, as no one is advocating abandoning any beloved symbols. What I am talking about is the question of who gets to contribute to a symbol's meaning, who is permitted to identify with or interpret or respond to the meaning of a symbol, and whether doctrinally "incorrect" representations of a symbol must be forcefully opposed, or shrugged off politely. (This is an interesting parallel to my ongoing confusion about why gay marriage opponents think it somehow threatens heterosexual marriage or will lead marriage to be abandoned. But let's not get into that argument!)

Edited by Holy Moly!

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I'd just refer you to Chapter 3 of David Dark's last book.

Looks interesting, but apparently presumes an evangelical Protestant POV, which is something of a non-starter regarding the treatment of Catholic symbols.

So there is nothing a Catholic could learn from it? Surely you don't believe this.

Dark's chief insight is that the state of being offended by art is often the first step to receiving its witness.

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: The proper religious use of sacred symbols . . .

Brilliant. :)

: Otherwise symbols are basically governed by the same principles that govern the use of words.

Exactly. Words have intersubjective meaning. But nobody "owns" meaning.

Exactly.

: Remember the woman protesting gay marriage in California, whose styrofoam cross was taken from her and stomped to pieces by counter-protesters?

No, I don't, but as far as I can tell, those protestors would have been just as guilty of theft and censorship as the guy who stole the Koran before it could be burned.

: Or, when Klansmen burn crosses, is that a "proper" use of the cross, in your estimation?

Well, no, obviously. But do I steal their crosses to prevent said burnings? No.

Although this whole side of the issue is a tangent, and likely a non-helpful one, I don't consider snatching Qurans or flags from people who are about to use them in antisocial acts of provocation to be the moral sin of theft, i.e., a violation of the seventh commandment. (At least, not in the cases under discussion.) Of course it's a violation of the law, but a justifiable one in my opinion. Snatching and smashing the woman's cross is different, and not just because I happen to agree with her about same-sex marriage: Her cross was her symbol, not the symbol of the enemy she intended to desecrate as a provocation.

: Again, if you do not regard the symbol as sacred, then the question of propriety is pretty much moot. You can use it any damn way you please, as long as you don't care who takes offense. But what kind of world would we live in if everybody acted that way?

A world that values freedom of expression, basically. It's not a bad place to be, really. Yeah, yeah, there's always weirdos and nutsos on the fringes, but as they say, hard cases make bad law.

If everybody acted that way, weirdos and nutsos would not be the fringe. They are the fringe in part precisely because everyone doesn't act that way. Lots of people still manage the civil courtesy of respect for other people's symbols.

: (And, wouldn't a Muslim say that you are desecrating the meaning of the Quran by claiming that Muhammad "wrote" it?)

No. And even if they did claim it, there are limits to what we can ask people in the name of civility.

But with regard to simple handheld objects like crucifixes and books and pieces of cloth and so forth, people are generally free to do what they like, provided that they bought those objects or were expressly given those objects.

I think you are unhelpfully focused the question of legal freedom. When someone engages in a deliberately public act, there are also moral questions to be considered.

Well, crosses were once everyday utilitarian objects, too, at least in the Roman world; and some chairs are considered sacred symbols nowadays, too (whether it's St. Edward's Chair, about which there is some ballyhoo in The King's Speech, or whether it's the throne that the Pope sits on when he speaks ex cathedra, etc.). These things slip around, as intersubjective meanings are wont to do.

How this is helpful I'm not sure.

: It's like saying let's knock down Grandma's tombstone and sell it to someone who wants to build a parking lot.

Of course, there is only one tombstone over Grandma; this doesn't quite compare to the examples at hand, which all concern replicas of one sort or another.

I am trying to evoke the basic idea of sacredness. In our desacrilized era, the available vocabulary is sharply impoverished. Try to roll with it.

: It's like saying learning Chinese is more practical than learning Hebrew, so why not send Benji and Esther to Chinese school instead of Hebrew school?

And I did, in fact, learn French in grade school instead of letting my parents send me to German school.

In case my point was insufficiently clear, for Jews, the Hebrew language is a sacred symbol of identity and heritage.

Edited by SDG

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As someone who has had a Salvadoran cross hanging at the threshold of my tiny dorm rooms and apartments ever since I moved out of my parents' house, none of that is new to me. This gives me no clues, though, as to what logic that informs the suppression of other representations.

I am laying groundwork. I will endeavor to make the applications clear with time.

unsure.gifI think you're trying to make a point riffing off my question about common will and fascism vs democracy, but I really fail to see the relevance, as no one is advocating abandoning any beloved symbols. What I am talking about is the question of who gets to contribute to a symbol's meaning, who is permitted to identify with or interpret or respond to the meaning of a symbol, and whether doctrinally "incorrect" representations of a symbol must be forcefully opposed, or shrugged off politely. (This is an interesting parallel to my ongoing confusion about why gay marriage opponents think it somehow threatens heterosexual marriage or will lead marriage to be abandoned. But let's not get into that argument!)

For now I am simply trying to address your question of "ownership." My point is that the idea that the flag (or the rules for its respectful treatment) belongs to "all Americans," or the crucifix to "all Catholics," is profoundly inadequate. These symbols embody and instantiate a symbolic world of which we are, for the moment, the heirs and guardians. We owe them, more than own them. Applications to come.

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No, I don't, but as far as I can tell, those protestors would have been just as guilty of theft and censorship as the guy who stole the Koran before it could be burned.

At least he can argue that he was trying to prevent repercussions that might be carried out by radical Muslims in response to a Quran-burning. I doubt the cross-stompers had any such rationale in mind.

A world that values freedom of expression, basically. It's not a bad place to be, really.

I don't know about Canada, but down below the 49th we're expected to balance freedom of expression with tolerance and freedom of religion. I don't think, either as a constitutional matter or a practical one, that freedom of expression is to be valued above all other values.

As far as I know, EVERYONE agrees that Mohammed wrote it. The only point of disagreement is whether he made it up or took dictation from an angel...

Ah. Different meanings of "wrote": "authored" vs. "took down." Seems to me that if you did claim that Muhammad was the author of the Quran rather than its scribe, that would be a point of contention for most Muslims.

I suppose you might argue that we should give preference to the meaning that the MAJORITY have assigned to it ...

Hell no, and that isn't how it works in this country at all. The majority of people in this country are not Catholics and don't have a personal stake in the meaning of a crucifix. The majority of people in this country are not Muslims, and if you burn a Quran, it's no skin off their nose. The majority of people in this country are not gay and don't have AIDS. And yet we spend a lot of time and energy in this country defending the rights, freedoms and beliefs of minorities. And we put reasonable limits on rights and freedoms, so that one group's exercise of them does not make life intolerable for another group.

But with regard to simple handheld objects like crucifixes and books and pieces of cloth and so forth, people are generally free to do what they like, provided that they bought those objects or were expressly given those objects.

But, of course, they might pause to consider the implications of what they do with those objects, assuming that they have some interest in tolerance, mutual respect, civil society and common decency.

That's an interesting question. I would certainly stop you if you had stolen the icon from our chapel. And I would probably try to persuade you NOT to destroy the icon, or I would let you know my displeasure in some way. But would I try to steal it from you, if it was, in fact, yours? Probably not. Though I can imagine some of my co-religionists might feel differently about that.

Is the willingness on the part of some Muslims to use violence in defense of their religious sensibilities (hello, Denmark!) the only reason that a Quran-burning is an international incident and a crucifix-desecration is a tempest in a teapot? In the near future, is religious tolerance going to be a simple matter of deferring to the biggest bullies on the block?

In case my point was insufficiently clear, for Jews, the Hebrew language is a sacred symbol of identity and heritage.

But Peter was raised in a Mennonite family, for whom German would have carried some of the same meaning.

So there is nothing a Catholic could learn from it? Surely you don't believe this.

It's one thing to persuade a Protestant that he should rethink his idea of the sacred, and quite another thing to persuade a Catholic. That doesn't mean a Catholic couldn't learn something from the book. But do you really think Dark's book could convince SDG that he's coming at the idea of sacredness all wrong?

Dark's chief insight is that the state of being offended by art is often the first step to receiving its witness.

I could have told you that from personal experience.

Edited by mrmando

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In case my point was insufficiently clear, for Jews, the Hebrew language is a sacred symbol of identity and heritage.

A fine example too, because there's a long of Jewish comedy devoted to mockery of the Hebrew (and Yiddish) languages, Jewish religious customs, stories, holidays, etc.

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A fine example too, because there's a long of Jewish comedy devoted to mockery of the Hebrew (and Yiddish) languages, Jewish religious customs, stories, holidays, etc.

On the other hand, if I as a Gentile were to start mocking Jews, you'd blow a gasket.

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I don't know about Canada, but down below the 49th we're expected to balance freedom of expression with tolerance and freedom of religion. I don't think, either as a constitutional matter or a practical one, that freedom of expression is to be valued above all other values.

eek.gifThis formulation is entirely new to me. It is my understanding as a constitutional matter and a practical one that freedom of religion is completely consonant with freedom of expression and tolerance, not dissonant, not something that must be balanced against free expression. Freedom of religion certainly doesn't mean freedom from anything that offends our religious sensibilities. Tolerance means that I put up with anti-gay craziness and you put up with anti-catholic craziness and together we put up with Jack Chick.

A fine example too, because there's a long of Jewish comedy devoted to mockery of the Hebrew (and Yiddish) languages, Jewish religious customs, stories, holidays, etc.

On the other hand, if I as a Gentile were to start mocking Jews, you'd blow a gasket.

That depends.

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eek.gifThis formulation is entirely new to me.

Really? eek.gif You've never heard Justice Holmes' remark about shouting "Fire" in a crowded theatre?

It is my understanding as a constitutional matter and a practical one that freedom of religion is completely consonant with freedom of expression and tolerance, not dissonant, not something that must be balanced against free expression.

Well, then, the law enacted to keep Fred Phelps a certain distance away from military funerals is clearly unconstitutional.

Freedom of religion certainly doesn't mean freedom from anything that offends our religious sensibilities.

Tell that to these folks. Or these.

Tolerance means that I put up with anti-gay craziness and you put up with anti-catholic craziness and together we put up with Jack Chick.

Why can't we take tolerance a step further and ask each other to STOP the anti-Catholic and anti-gay craziness? Then we can get together for a drink and an irony-laced dramatic reading of our favorite Chick tracts.

Edited by mrmando

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Ahahahahahaha

Ok, just watched the video. Not too much different from some of the "art" videos my fellow students made in art class in college. Not too much different from a video I could make, without any skill, if I had a competent camera, a few old toys, a trip to the slums, perhaps a day's trip to Mexico, and let's say a recording of Green Peace protestors in Seattle. Nothing really that offensive or earth-shattering in my own personal opinion, but I certainly do want to have to pay for that. Can't help it, but I find it hilarious that that this whole story is inspiring statements like this -

"An institution [the National Portrait Gallery] that stands for American art simply must show American art," said Mattress Factory co-director Barbara Luderowski. "Anything less is a violation of our freedom of speech and expression."

And this -

Former New York Civil Liberties Union director Norman Siegel was also on hand for Sunday’s protest, calling on the Met, MoMA and local politicians to speak out against Smithsonian’s decision to pull the video. "Where are they? Where’s the mayor? Where’s the governor?" Siegel asked. "We’re here to get them to speak out – because they could be next."

Oh if I only had the job of being the Smithsonian's PR press man right now. It would probably be great fun.

Suppose a bipartisan congressional committee put together a proposal to float a national ballot initiative to scrap the American flag and design a completely new one -- different colors, everything. If we contemplate the cataclysm of outrage and indignation with which this proposal would be met, it will perhaps highlight how Americans see the flag not simply as their shared property, and therefore something which, in theory, we could collectively decide to dispense with -- a possibility that in any case we ought to be able to discuss calmly and rationally, even if we decide to do otherwise. No. The very suggestion is like proposing that we break faith with our forebears.

Agreed. Now, does this mean burning or desecrating the flag should be against the law? No. Does this mean we should allow images of burning and/or desecrating the flag to be collected into a video, called "art", and placed in a taxpayer supported exhibit/museum? No.

But with regard to simple handheld objects like crucifixes and books and pieces of cloth and so forth, people are generally free to do what they like, provided that they bought those objects or were expressly given those objects.

: Chair = everyday utilitarian object; crucifix = sacred symbol declared worthy of veneration.

Well, crosses were once everyday utilitarian objects, too, at least in the Roman world; and some chairs are considered sacred symbols nowadays, too (whether it's St. Edward's Chair, about which there is some ballyhoo in The King's Speech, or whether it's the throne that the Pope sits on when he speaks ex cathedra, etc.). These things slip around, as intersubjective meanings are wont to do.

: If I were about to set fire to an Orthodox icon in public, would you as an Orthodox believer try to stop me?

That's an interesting question. I would certainly stop you if you had stolen the icon from our chapel. And I would probably try to persuade you NOT to destroy the icon, or I would let you know my displeasure in some way. But would I try to steal it from you, if it was, in fact, yours? Probably not. Though I can imagine some of my co-religionists might feel differently about that.

Again, there is quite a difference between [a] someone dowsing a crucifix in a jar of urine, and dowsing a crucifix in a jar of urine and calling it "art." And then of course, there's [c] dowsing a crucifix in a jar of urine, calling it "art", and then asking everyone else to pay for your doing so with their tax dollars.

While it is currently not against the law to burn the American flag, for example. Plenty of Americans would be perfectly happy to use violence if necessary to prevent someone from doing so. Then of course, plenty of American judges would find the fact that the guy upon whom you committed assault was in the act of attempting to burn the flag as a ... shall we say, primary mitigating factor during suspended sentencing.

What I am talking about is the question of who gets to contribute to a symbol's meaning, who is permitted to identify with or interpret or respond to the meaning of a symbol, and whether doctrinally "incorrect" representations of a symbol must be forcefully opposed, or shrugged off politely.

Incorrect or disrespectful treatment of a sacred symbol or icon is completely wrong according to the religion to which that symbol belongs, and completely legal according to the laws of the United States. But just because someone is allowed to commit sacrilege does not mean that I have to submit to their doing so in a privileged forum that is even only partially supported by my tax dollars.

If I was the PR spokesman for Smithsonian, I would casually remark that due to budget restraints, this exhibit was merely the first in a string of exhibits about to be eliminated due to their loose and somewhat questionable categorization as "art" in the first place, and due to the fact that we can no longer afford (for the time being) to practice the same whimsey with the English dictionary definition of art, in which, perhaps, a country with a smaller national debt could afford to indulge itself.

I think Kathryn Jean Lopez fairly summed up the primary motivation of the "bunch of politicans" that are now causing such an uproar in the art world.

The Gallery is part of the Smithsonian and gets taxpayer support. a spokesman for John Boehner yesterday said: “Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington.” Echoing the tea-party mood that elected a new House, Boehner’s office continued: “While the amount of money involved may be small, it’s symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans’ hard-earned money at a time when one in every 10 Americans is out of work and our children’s future is being threatened by debt.” And Eric Cantor promised: “When a museum receives taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to expect that the museum will uphold common standards of decency. The museum should pull the exhibit and be prepared for serious questions come budget time.”

Besides, not all modern artists are interested in putting videos together with rotting crucifixes and masterbation.

Edited by Persiflage

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eek.gifThis formulation is entirely new to me.

Really? eek.gif You've never heard Justice Holmes' remark about shouting "Fire" in a crowded theatre?

That's not freedom of expression balanced against freedom of religion and tolerance. That's freedom of expression balanced against its potential to incite 'clear and present danger'. That standard was later upgraded by the court to 'imminent lawless action' (ie a riot), which is the current constitutional test. Nothing about religion in there.

It is my understanding as a constitutional matter and a practical one that freedom of religion is completely consonant with freedom of expression and tolerance, not dissonant, not something that must be balanced against free expression.

Well, then, the law enacted to keep Fred Phelps a certain distance away from military funerals is clearly unconstitutional.

That particular case is under consideration by the court, but actually, yes, it is. I agree with the ACLU on that one.

Why can't we take tolerance a step further and ask each other to stop the anti-Catholic and anti-gay craziness? Then we can get together for a drink and an irony-laced dramatic reading of our favorite Chick tracts.

Well, it depends. It's perfectly fine to ask each other to chill out. It's something else to claim offense in order to suppress a point of view.

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If I was the PR spokesman for Smithsonian, I would casually remark that due to budget restraints, this exhibit was merely the first in a string of exhibits about to be eliminated due to their loose and somewhat questionable categorization as "art" in the first place, and due to the fact that we can no longer afford (for the time being) to practice the same whimsey with the English dictionary definition of art, in which, perhaps, a country with a smaller national debt could afford to indulge itself.

The debate about public funding for art is probably a large part of what secretly animates this discussion (along with Bill Donahue's need to manufacture scandals to line his pockets when end of year fundraising time comes around--that's how he makes his $400,000 annual salary). Arts funding in the US is of course, miniscule, about at the level of Canada's arts funding, even though they have 1/10th of the population, despite countless studies that have shown that public funding of arts generates economic growth far beyond the cost of the initial investment. Arts investment = arts economies = jobs jobs jobs. But setting that aside:

Who decides what art is good, and what art is offensive? Because frankly, the hyperrealistic pictures of soda cans you've linked to strike me as profoundly, offensively bad art, on par with dogs playing poker. Who decides what "common decency" is?

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Really? eek.gif You've never heard Justice Holmes' remark about shouting "Fire" in a crowded theatre?

That's not freedom of expression balanced against freedom of religion and tolerance. That's freedom of expression balanced against its potential to incite 'clear and present danger'. That standard was later upgraded by the court to 'imminent lawless action' (ie a riot), which is the current constitutional test. Nothing about religion in there.

I bring up Justice Holmes to support the general idea that there can be limits on free speech, since I thought you were saying you hadn't heard of any.

I didn't claim that the idea of balancing the rights of free expression and religious freedom with the virtue of tolerance is enshrined in the Constitution. (I mentioned it before I brought up the Constitution.) Rather, it is a stab at how a reasonably civil society might look: a three-legged stool, as it were. Two of these ideas are explicit in the Bill of Rights; the third is a principle that we might use to guide the way we apply the other two. On a bluegrass discussion board (worlds away from A&F, I know) I've run into knuckleheads who think Ricky Skaggs is violating the Constitution by talking about his religious beliefs during his concerts. Even a little further out than that, we have organizations like Bash Back!, whose idea of civil discourse is to disrupt church services, run onto the platform and scream blasphemies from the pulpit in the name of free speech and gay activism. Will we just keep turning up the volume on both sides until we're screaming so loud we can't hear the Constitution any longer?

Well, it depends. It's perfectly fine to ask each other to chill out. It's something else to claim offense in order to suppress a point of view.

Agreed, but is it OK to claim offense if one actually is, y'know, offended? Or is offense something that's OK to give but not to take?

Edited by mrmando

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Tolerance means that I put up with anti-gay craziness and you put up with anti-catholic craziness and together we put up with Jack Chick.

Why can't we take tolerance a step further and ask each other to STOP the anti-Catholic and anti-gay craziness? Then we can get together for a drink and an irony-laced dramatic reading of our favorite Chick tracts.

Hear, hear!

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Tolerance means that I put up with anti-gay craziness and you put up with anti-catholic craziness and together we put up with Jack Chick.

Why can't we take tolerance a step further and ask each other to STOP the anti-Catholic and anti-gay craziness? Then we can get together for a drink and an irony-laced dramatic reading of our favorite Chick tracts.

Hear, hear!

The irony is: that's one of the aims of Fire in the Belly, if anyone would bother to listen.

David Dark, again: "being offended by a work of art, the bible, or a film is the first stage of recieving its witness."

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The irony is: that's one of the aims of Fire in the Belly, if anyone would bother to listen.

I missed the part where he was calling for an end to anti-Catholic craziness. It's a funny old way of pleading for respect while shaking the dust from your feet on other people's symbols and sacraments.

David Dark, again: "being offended by a work of art, the bible, or a film is the first stage of recieving its witness."

I wouldn't deny it. This makes an odd counterpoint to the parallel discussion in the rap thread about being offended at song lyrics, though.

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