On ‘gay Je­sus’ and of­fended Chris­tians

The Punch - - THE PUNCH - Abim­bola Ade­lakun

turned against them.

In Brazil, evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians are on the ram­page and are vi­ciously per­se­cut­ing the prac­ti­tion­ers of Afro-brazil­ian re­li­gion. The Afro-brazil­ians are a mi­nor­ity, but their mere ex­is­tence draws the ire of reli­gious racists. these evan­gel­i­cals la­belled the Afro-brazil­ians “Satanists,” a per­for­ma­tive act that is al­ways the first in­stal­ment to­wards en­act­ing and jus­ti­fy­ing vi­o­lence on peo­ple. these Chris­tians in­vade their places of wor­ship and do not hide their agenda to wipe them out en­tirely so that Brazil can be fully “Chris­tian.” these evan­gel­i­cals have the sup­port of their pres­i­dent, Jair Bol­sa­naro, who also does not hide his dis­dain for these mi­nori­ties. So, no, the Chris­tians that want to claim a global an­tichris­tian agenda owe it to hu­man­ity to equally ac­knowl­edge the bones that keep spilling out of their cup­board. they are just as guilty of sym­bolic and phys­i­cal vi­o­lence against other peo­ple’s faiths.

Also, it is not quite true to suggest that Chris­tians hardly re­act vi­o­lently to per­ceived abuse of their reli­gious iconog­ra­phy. In 1988, Chris­tians also took of­fence over the de­pic­tion of Je­sus in the Martin Scors­ese film, The Last Temp­ta­tion of Je­sus. While the con­tro­versy of Je­sus’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion raged, Chris­tians pick­eted the­atres and mo­bilised other faith­ful to boy­cott cin­e­mas. Some fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tians went to the ex­tent of throw­ing Molo­tov cock­tails in­side the Parisian Saint Michel movie theatre while it was show­ing the film. Thir­teen peo­ple were in­jured in the at­tack, four of whom were se­verely burned. This his­tory is im­por­tant, not to com­pare notes with any re­li­gion and see which one can do worse. No, in­stead it shows us how far bet­ter off hu­man so­ci­eties get when these ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences are not re­solved with the coin of vi­o­lence.

While some Chris­tians want to ar­gue they are vic­tims of mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion who are sin­gled out be­cause of their placid­ity, what I see is the mo­nop­o­lis­tic power to de­fine oth­ers which they have wielded for far too long now re­dis­tributed in the hands of an ir­rev­er­ent gen­er­a­tion. From lit­er­a­ture to films, western cul­ture has al­ways held the power to car­i­ca­ture peo­ple of other faiths and cul­tures, and they did so against the back­ground of Chris­tian ide­ol­ogy. The nar­ra­tives of good-white-male-chris­tians vs. the rest-of-the-world-in-need-of-our-sal­va­tion have been use­ful to le­git­imise colo­nial­ism, war, and plun­der by world su­per­pow­ers. When peo­ple take on Chris­tian­ity us­ing the same weapons with which Chris­tian­ity has used to de­fine them, they are not per­se­cut­ing the faith. No, they are try­ing to cor­rect a his­tor­i­cal asym­me­try. Artists like Porta dos Fun­dos are tread­ing in the moral to­pog­ra­phy shaped by Chris­tian ide­ol­ogy.

When peo­ple make art that rep­re­sents reli­gious icons in un­con­ven­tional ways—je­sus, for in­stance, has been de­picted as black, fe­male, and gay—what some­times gets lost in the din that at­tends their artis­tic pro­duc­tion is how so­ci­eties’ ethics are re­shaped by their au­dac­ity. the pro­fa­na­tion of reli­gious iconog­ra­phy can be il­lu­mi­nat­ing. When po­tent sym­bols are freed from the power of reg­u­lat­ing in­sti­tu­tions who con­trol the terms of its cir­cu­la­tion, the peo­ple them­selves are de­liv­ered from other kinds of so­cial con­straints. For in­stance, in 1977, a Bri­tish called James Kirkup wrote a poem about a Ro­man centurion’s lust­ing for Je­sus. He was taken to court and tried un­der their 17th cen­tury blas­phemy laws. Kirkup lost the case, but his trial also called at­ten­tion to the ar­chaism of such laws. Bri­tain struck it out of their books, a vic­tory for so­cial progress.

Fi­nally, the Chris­tians that keep com­par­ing them­selves to Mus­lims should stop act­ing like Lot’s wife and start look­ing ahead. there is noth­ing to be re­gret­ted if your re­li­gion and cul­ture have evolved be­yond a bar­barous de­scent to vi­o­lence. There is noth­ing worth glo­ri­fy­ing about vi­o­lence or threats of vi­o­lence. It is nei­ther a su­pe­rior ar­gu­ment nor does it il­lu­mi­nate any ideas. Even the Mus­lims that char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally take of­fence when they per­ceive dis­re­spect to their faith will, at some point, find out not all things an­swer to vi­o­lence. For ex­am­ple, Dutch film­maker, Theo van Gogh, was mur­dered by an Is­lamic ex­trem­ist af­ter he and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, made a film—ti­tled Sub­mis­sion (2004)—on the abuses Mus­lim women suf­fer, but that did not stop the spread of the film.

An­other ex­am­ple is The In­no­cence of Mus­lims (2012). While the ri­ots raged in the Mus­lim world be­cause of the film’s con­tents, Youtube an­nounced that they would not be pulling the film be­cause that would in­fringe on the right to free speech. So, de­spite all of that fury and deaths, those films re­main in cir­cu­la­tion. de­spite the killing of 12 peo­ple over the Char­lie Hebdo car­toon, those satirists still went ahead and made an­other de­pic­tion of the prophet. By now, it should be get­ting clearer to every­one that no­body re­spects peo­ple who bring a dag­ger to a de­bate. Vi­o­lence is spec­tac­u­lar, but it does not have the shelf life of in­tel­lec­tion. So, why should any re­spectable peo­ple of faith keep bring­ing it up?

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