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#21 yank_eh

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 03:11 AM

Truly this does remind me of the Ofili scandal in that it seems that his critics are incapable of interpreting art on anything but the most one-dimensional, literal levels, as if use of religious imagery shuts down our ability to identify ambiguities, as if as soon as there's a crucifix or a Mary in the art, artists must refrain from poetry or and revert only to devotional images.

So cutting pictures of vaginas out of porn magazines and gluing them around an image of Mary is "poetry"?


I am not well enough informed about the specific piece in question to argue definitively one way or the other but a few questions in response:

Is the juxtaposition of sacred and profane always a profanation of the sacred? Can it go the other way around? Is that not the Incarnation? One thing that saddens me about the culture wars in general is that the conservatives who are often equated with "the Christians" come across as so defensive, so fearful, as though, were it not for their diligent protection, their symbols would crumble.

Also, must poetry be pleasant?

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

If you don't think a crucifix, or a flag, or a Quran, is sacred ... then the concept of "proper use" means little or nothing to you. If it's not sacred, then it's just a thing, and you're in no position to determine what is proper or improper use. In that case, your best course as a matter of civility would be to listen to people who believe it is sacred ... unless you intend, deliberately, to give offense to those people.


But it's so much more complex than that and those whom you would censure for not 'listening' have listened or at least have been in life circumstances that give them a significant, if complicated, relationship to the sacred symbol, in this case a crucifix. Wojnarowicz attended Catholic school (Similarly, Chris Ofili, Catholic upbringing, if not, as according to some sources, continued devotion. Andres Serrano, professed Catholic.) and seems to have a difficult or painful relationship with the Church. Can Christians be secure enough that their sacred symbols can withstand dissension (even if it were malicious) to meet such cries with compassion. The kingdom of God is not advanced through defending the honor of its symbols; it meets slander with love.

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

Really? Do you take comfort in this? What goes around comes around? Hopefully grace stops it somewhere.

How would he feel? He would probably take it as further confirmation of a world full of Christians indifferent to suffering.

#22 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 03:47 AM

Is the juxtaposition of sacred and profane always a profanation of the sacred? Can it go the other way around?

I dunno ... if you ask me, saying that pornographic images become less degrading when you put them next to the Virgin Mary is sorta like saying that swastikas become less anti-Semitic when you paint them on a synagogue.

the conservatives who are often equated with "the Christians" come across as so defensive, so fearful, as though, were it not for their diligent protection, their symbols would crumble.

Holy snot — doesn't the very fact that we've witnessed vast ignorance and indifference regarding the profanation of a crucifix bear witness to the need for diligent protection? The reaction might well be defensive, but it's not fearful: the fearful keep their mouths shut and go along with the crowd.

Also, must poetry be pleasant?

No, but it must be poetic.

But it's so much more complex than that and those whom you would censure for not 'listening' have listened or at least have been in life circumstances that give them a significant, if complicated, relationship to the sacred symbol, in this case a crucifix.

Then the claim that these images are not calculated to offend — i.e., that those who take offense ought not to do so — is specious. If these guys had a halfway decent Catholic education, then they knew that their treatment of these symbols would have significant shock value.

Wojnarowicz' work has meaning, even if no one can agree on what it is. I don't know about Ofili, but I'm convinced that in the case of Serrano there is no "there" there. Dude just likes to photograph his bodily fluids. He's been at it for decades.

Can Christians be secure enough that their sacred symbols can withstand dissension (even if it were malicious) to meet such cries with compassion.

Is that what you think these works are? A cry for help?

The kingdom of God is not advanced through defending the honor of its symbols.

Perhaps not, but whose kingdom is advanced through attacking the honor of those symbols?

How would he feel? He would probably take it as further confirmation of a world full of Christians indifferent to suffering.

But I'm not allowed to take his video as further confirmation of a world full of hedonists indifferent to the sacred?

Edited by mrmando, 03 January 2011 - 03:51 AM.


#23 Holy Moly!

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 03:52 AM

That “A Fire in My Belly” is about spirituality, and about AIDS, is beyond doubt. To those caught up in the crisis, the worst years of the epidemic were like an extended Day of the Dead, a time of skulls and candles, corruption with promise of resurrection. Wojnarowicz was profoundly angry at a government that barely acknowledged the epidemic and at political forces that he believed used AIDS, and the art created in response, to demonize homosexuals.

He felt, with reason, mortally embattled, and the video is filled with symbols of vulnerability under attack: beggars, slaughtered animals, displaced bodies and the crucified Jesus. In Wojnarowicz’s nature symbolism — and this is confirmed in other works — ants were symbols of a human life mechanically driven by its own needs, heedless of anything else. Here they blindly swarm over an emblem of suffering and self-sacrifice.

Am I giving the image too benign a reading? Possibly, but I’m basing it on what Wojnarowicz had to say about another image of Jesus that he used in his art, one that Mr. Wildmon and the American Family Association called blasphemous. Part of a detail of a 1979 collage called “Untitled (Genet),” it is an altered version of the familiar 17th-century painting “Christ Crowned With Thorns,” by Guido Reni. Reni’s Jesus, who looks both agonized and ecstatic, is here shown with a heroin syringe in his arm.

But the changed image is part of a larger picture. Wojnarowicz has placed it atop an altar inside what looks like a bombed-out church swarming with antlike figures of soldiers as a flock of large angels descends into the church from the sky. In the center of everything stands a haloed figure, the French homosexual writer Jean Genet, dubbed “St. Genet” by Jean-Paul Sartre.

In response to questions during his courtroom testimony against the American Family Association, Wojnarowicz explained that he made the piece after returning to New York from a stay in France, where he had been reading Genet. Back in New York, he was struck by the rampant and rising use of hard drugs among people he knew and the self-destruction that resulted. He said that in his own upbringing as a Roman Catholic he’d been taught that Jesus took on the sufferings of all people in the world.

“I wanted to make a symbol that would show that he would take on the suffering of the vast amounts of addiction that I saw on the streets,” Wojnarowicz testified. “And I did this because I saw very little treatment available for people who had this illness.”

I don’t believe Wojnarowicz was being disingenuous. He was speaking under oath and, in any case, he was nothing if not passionate about his belief in the moral purpose of art, as passionate as his religious accusers have been in questioning his morality. It’s an interesting thing about passion, how coming from ostensibly opposite beliefs and directions, it can sometimes end up meeting in the same place.



Say what you want about Wojnarowicz, but 'indifferent to the sacred'? I see very little indifference in Wojnarowicz. Nor do I see that he has much regard for hedonism.



Edited by Holy Moly!, 03 January 2011 - 04:03 AM.


#24 Holy Moly!

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 04:21 AM

saying that pornographic images become less degrading when you put them next to the Virgin Mary is sorta like saying that swastikas become less anti-Semitic when you paint them on a synagogue.


And this is just silly. To clip pornographic vulvas and blaxploitation images out of their original context and present them reverently, as stylized butterflies and cherubim, is to strip them of their initial function, to redeem these images, and tap into a trope that feminist art has engaged for some time, in works such as Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party. One would have to be a real basketcase to be aroused by Ofili's work. Is there some fundamental antagonism between the female genitalia and the divine?

To compare pictures of what every woman has between her legs to an symbol for the murder of millions of people? Really?

How would Wojnarowicz feel if I made a video of myself wiping my ass with the AIDS quilt?


That's actually not far from what Donahue did, going after Wojnarowicz with a smear campaign on World AIDS Day.

Edited by Holy Moly!, 03 January 2011 - 04:32 AM.


#25 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 04:41 AM

'indifferent to the sacred'? I see very little indifference in Wojnarowicz.

Since you're blind to the sacredness of a crucifix, it follows that you would be equally blind to another person's indifference toward that sacredness.

To clip pornographic vulvas out of their original context and present them reverently, as stylized butterflies, is to strip them of their initial function, to redeem these images,

I think in the cases of both Wojnarowicz and Ofili, I'm arguing that "initial function," be it of a crucifix or a porn mag, is not so easily discarded. To Cotter, a crucifix is merely "an emblem of suffering and self-sacrifice." No, it is more than that.

Pornographic images are by definition artifacts created via a fundamentally immoral process. Rearranging them in aesthetically pleasing ways does not "redeem" them; it cannot ameliorate anything about the way they were obtained. A few quick analogies:

1) Many people would argue that the beauty of a fur coat does not redeem the fur from the cruelty of the process used to obtain it.

2) A greater number of people agree that the beauty of a "blood diamond" or "conflict diamond" is no argument against the fact that the proceeds from its sale are being used to support brutality and violence. In fact, proscriptions against blood diamonds have the force of law in many jurisdictions.

3) Or, to use an extreme example, even more people would argue that the aesthetic properties of a lampshade, whatever they might be, do not excuse the fact that the lampshade is made from the skin of a dead Jew. Tim Rutten even argues that such a lampshade, in itself, is problematic as the subject of a subsequent work of art.

There are, obviously, different degrees of immorality here, and even differences of opinion. But the logic is the same.

One would have to be a real basketcase to be aroused by Ofili's work.

That is not the issue here.

Is there some fundamental antagonism between the female genitalia and the divine?

Obviously not: the genitalia are part of the body and the body bears the Imago Dei. But we are not talking about genitalia per se; we are talking about images of genitalia produced for the purpose of degradation and objectification, which dehumanizes the body and subverts the Imago Dei.

To compare pictures of what every woman has between her legs to an symbol for the murder of millions of people? Really?

Every woman doesn't spread her legs and consent to be degraded. Treating people like sides of beef is the first step down a path that leads toward putting them in ovens.

That's actually not far from what Donahue did, going after Wojnarowicz with a smear campaign on World AIDS Day.

Ah, so there is something you believe is sacred.

Edited by mrmando, 05 January 2011 - 09:12 PM.


#26 Holy Moly!

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 11:24 AM

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.





#27 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 11:41 AM

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, 03 January 2011 - 11:43 AM.


#28 Holy Moly!

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 12:11 PM

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.

#29 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 01:00 PM

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.

#30 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 01:30 PM

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?

#31 M. Leary

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 01:40 PM

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.

#32 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 01:48 PM

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, 03 January 2011 - 05:25 PM.


#33 SDG

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 01:54 PM

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, 03 January 2011 - 01:56 PM.


#34 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 05:30 PM

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.

#35 Holy Moly!

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 05:44 PM

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?


Posted ImageI 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!, 03 January 2011 - 05:45 PM.


#36 Holy Moly!

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 05:55 PM


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.



#37 SDG

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 06:12 PM

: 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, 03 January 2011 - 06:23 PM.


#38 SDG

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 06:21 PM

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.

Posted ImageI 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.

#39 mrmando

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 06:23 PM

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, 03 January 2011 - 06:35 PM.


#40 Holy Moly!

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 06:30 PM

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.