The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Sweet Jesus

(Note: The thumbnail below may be NSFW.)

X83136081466464381It’s hard to know where to begin with the furor over Chocolate Jesus. There are so many possibilities. For starters, this jesus is chocolate. And I don’t mean white chocolate. This Jesus is either dark, bittersweet, or milk (and honey?) chocolate. So, right off the bat (pardon the pun), he’s the wrong color. Not only is he brown, but he’s naked.

Again, right off the bat (get it?), we got a problem. This Jesus clearly has a penis. At least it appears to be circumcised, but it’s presence raises (I’m not doing this on purpose, I swear) all sort of other questions. If Jesus had a penis, what did he do with it? What did it do? What did he do with it? And with whom? Did it work? Did Jesus ever get an erection? After all, depending on what you believe he was fully human (or some combination of human and divine). And at some point he was a teenage boy going through puberty, which means it wouldn’t have taken much for him to get one, if the organ worked the way it does in most healthy young men.

Which brings me back to this Jesus being chocolate. In other words, this Jesus is brown. Dark brown. He’s also naked, anatomically correct, and presumably fully functional. Put it all together, and you have a dark brown jesus with an erection. And if that’s not unsettling enough, he’s chocolate. That means he’s edible. Remember? “Take this, and eat it”? Wasn’t he basically saying “Eat me”? Then there’s the all important easter candy question, usually bunny-related: which part do you eat first?

He came just in time for Easter, but not everyone is happy to see him.

Catholic League head Bill Donohue called it “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever”.

The sculpture, by artist Cosimo Cavallaro, will be displayed from Monday at Manhattan’s Lab Gallery.

The Catholic League, which describes itself as the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organisation, also criticised the timing of the exhibition.

“The fact that they chose Holy Week shows this is calculated, and the timing is deliberate,” Mr Donohue said.

He called for a boycott of the gallery and the hotel which houses it.

As I predicted, Jesus’ Johnson aroused Donohue‘s ire. (Also maybe NSFW.)

“This is an assault on Christians during Holy Week,” said Kiera McCaffrey, director of communications for the league, which describes itself as the largest U.S. Catholic civil-rights group.

“They would never dare do something similar with a chocolate statue of the prophet Mohammad naked with his genitals exposed during Ramadan,” she said before the cancellation.

The archbishop of New York called the sculpture “scandalous” and a “sickening display.”

“One of the worse assaults”? A “sickening display”? We’re talking 200 lbs. of chocolate here, folks, not urine. But the reaction isn’t a surprise. After all, everyone knows the only acceptable representation of Jesus is this one.

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No doubt you’ve seen it. If you’re African American, you may have grown up seeing it on the wall of your home or a relative’s home, probably right between portraits of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy. I remember visiting my grandfather’s house growing up, and coming across a framed copy of this one while poking around in one room. (Created by the same artist as the one above.)

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It was particularly cool because it was a 3-D picture. And if you tilted the frame, Jesus moved. Or at least his hand moved, so he appeared to be knocking at the door. (Remember, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”? No indication whether it’s a back door or not, though.) I must have played with that Jesus for hours.

In any case, the two pictures above are acceptable because (a) he’s not naked, (b) you can’t see (or imagine) his penis, (c) you’re probably not overcome with the urge to eat him, and (d) He’s the right color. Not that Donohue or anyone else objected to the choice of medium so much as the nudity, and would probably have had a fit if white chocolate had been used instead. But how often do you see him depicted in any shade of brown?

It’s something I thought of back in January when Nezua reflected on a news article about a church installing a stained glass window depicting a Jesus much like the ones pictures above. (Not the chocolate one, of course.) I think the first time I encountered the concept that Jesus looked different from the two depictions I was most familiar with, and that he might even have been “chocolate” like me was when I saw the episode of Good Times, in which J.J. painted a portrait of “Ned the Wino” as Jesus.

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For a long time it was about the only portrayal of Jesus I saw that departed from the usual theme. That’s changed.

The furor over the chocolate Jesus reminded me something I read on Blabbedano last week, about a series of advertisements that caused a furor in Panama.

The ads, commissioned by a magazine called Blank which targets upper class readers, pretended to highlight “the prejudices faced on a daily basis by those who are different because they dare to or because they are provocative” – At least according to the magazine.

Each featured a different person hanging from a wooden cross with a one-word label above them (including “faggot” as pictured above as well as “anorexic,” “delinquent,” “drug-addict,” “whore” and “violent aggresor”).

… The church immediately called the campaign an insult to Catholics and by Tuesday the Mayor’s Office had ordered the billboards removed saying that the agency wanted to take advantage of the upcoming religious holidays to attract attention to the publicity.

It doesn’t occur to anyone that Jesus —if everything written about him were true (though most if it probably isn’t) — would have been breaking bread with “faggots,” “delinqints,” “drug-addicts,” “whores,” and even “violent agressors.” (That last would would encompass even the Bush administration.)

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Blabbedano links to an article from Prensa, and this particular passage (thanks to Google language tools) leapt out at me.

The decision of the Mayorship is legal. Thus it assured the lawyer Ezra Ángel, being based on the book third of the Administrative Code, in his Title one, Chapter 1, article 855, that speaks of “the conservation of the social tranquillity, the morality, moral convention and the individual and collective protection of the people and its interests”. “Blank lacks the respect to great part of the catholics, who feel irrespetados when seeing the irresponsible use of a as sacred symbol as the cross. The moral is due to respect and moral convention not to cross the thin line between the freedom of expression and the libertinism”, thought the lawyer.

That law strikes me as one that Donohue and his organization wouldn’t mind seeing recreated in this country. I mean, there are things you just can’t say (or portray, as the artist responsible for “My Sweet Lord” found out), but they aren’t illegal yet. And that’s a problem. Donohue might even have cause to applaud the UN. I first caught wind of the “Defamation of Religion”laws last month over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Apparently, while Donohue was busy having a meltdown over a dark brown Jesus with an exposed penis, the U.N. Human Rights Council was making it more likely that such an exhibit might someday be illegal.

“The resolution is tabled in the expectation that it will compel the international community to acknowledge and address the disturbing phenomena of the defamation of religions, especially Islam,” said Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The resolution was opposed by Western states which said it focused too much on Islam. The job of the Council was to deal with the rights of individuals not religions, they said.

“The European Union does not see the concept of defamation of religion as a valid one in a human rights discourse,” a spokeswoman for the delegation of Germany, which holds the EU presidency, told the Council.

The resolution urged countries to ensure their laws gave adequate protection against acts of “hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions.”

While everybody had the right to freedom of expression, this should be exercised according to limitations of the law and respect for others, including respect for religions and beliefs, it said.

So, would legislating “respect for religions and beliefs” (notice there’s no mention of respect for non-belief?) mean that depicting Jesus as a giant sweet would be a no-no? How about depicting him as “a little sweet,” like they did in Panama?

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That picture from Blank reminded me of one I posted last year, but which got eaten in a huge database crash.

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It’s from a site called Jesus in Love, which sells a book by the same name.

What if Jesus knew how it feels to be queer?

Surprising answers come in Jesus in Love, a novel that re-imagines Christ’s legendary life as an erotic, mystical adventure in first-century Palestine. Jesus has today’s queer sensibilities and sexual sophistication as he lives out the Christian story in this novel of spiritual and sexual awakening.

Readers can relate to the struggles he faces: He feels like his real self is both male and female. He falls in love with people of both sexes. Society doesn’t understand him.

That, under the proposed U.N. “Defamation of Religion” statute, would probably qualify as a violation, as would statements like the one made by the author last year.

“Every time a gay gets bashed, Jesus is crucified again,” said Kittredge Cherry, lesbian author and founder of the new website. “The anti-gay movement uses religion to justify discrimination, so even atheists can see the value in uprooting homophobia from Christian tradition.”

Artists who dare to put the Easter story in a queer context have had their work destroyed, if they can find a way to exhibit it at all. Now these images are available on the internet.

Putting the images on the internet would probably violate the “defamation” law. (Oops. Oh well, I was already in trouble on that one anyway.) The same could be said for The Passion of the Christ, which re-imagines the passion story with a decidedly queer sensibility.

But all of this fails to address the question hanging in the air. To whom does Jesus belong? To whom does his story belong? To whom do religious texts and stories belong? To whom does religion belong? Does it belong only to the believers? Or does it belong to everyone who lives in a culture under its influence?

Does it belong to those who have suffered oppression, injustice, and even violence in its name? Do those people have a claim to it? Do they owe it their reverence? Do they have a right to appropriate, re-interpret, and re-tell its stories, or recast its icons in order to redeem or reclaim what’s been taken from or denied them in its name? And what, in doing so, will they reveal or destroy? What will they challenge?

An artist who portrayed Jesus and Judas in a homoerotic embrace explained herself this way.

Why does Judas Kiss depict Jesus in a homosexual embrace if I do not literally mean Jesus was gay? In Western Civilization, Jesus is THE ideal of holiness, of perfection in the flesh. My purpose is to de-shame our human sexual natures, especially gay sexuality, and present it as a sacred act, a spiritually correct behavior. Thus, Jesus is the perfect symbol to help us heal our shame and reclaim the holiness of our sexual natures. I chose Judas as a symbolic reminder that we betray ourselves and others when we reject or disown what is intrinsically our nature. Secondly, I want to show the folly of taking a representation about spiritual beliefs literally. Perhaps people can see the mistake of taking the Scriptures literally, too.

The same might be said of presenting Jesus as a woman, or a person of color. Even if Donohue and his organization can’t come right out and say why chocolate Jesus bugged the bejeezus out of them, to some of us it’s as plain as chocolate Jesus’ big brown penis.

The outrage focused primarily on two aspects: the chocolate and the fact that the statue does not include a loincloth, if you know what I mean. And there’s some third intuitive place, of course, where those two aspects meet. A life-size chocolate Jesus is one thing. Full frontal nudity, in general, is another. And then there are some things that you just never want to see rendered in chocolate. Unless you do. I guess that’s your business.

I studied carefully photographs of the statue. It doesn’t look irreverent. If I showed you the pictures and told you the statue was carved out of teak, you probably wouldn’t be bothered by it, although Salon.com blogger Joan Walsh suggested this week that Cavallaro is pushing at least one other button by depicting Jesus as what New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin would call a “chocolate person.” There is, of course, a centuries-old dispute, never to be resolved, about the race of Jesus and the color of his skin. I’m guessing his pigmentation was closer to Golda Meir’s than to Alexander Godunov’s, but who am I to say?

You always get in trouble fiddling around with race and iconography.

A “chocolate” person? Well, he most likely was. Maybe closer to caramel, or cafe au lait. But definitely not white.

From the first time Christian children settle into Sunday school classrooms, an image of Jesus Christ is etched into their minds. In North America he is most often depicted as being taller than his disciples, lean, with long, flowing, light brown hair, fair skin and light-colored eyes. Familiar though this image may be, it is inherently flawed. A person with these features and physical bearing would have looked very different from everyone else in the region where Jesus lived and ministered. Surely the authors of the Bible would have mentioned so stark a contrast.

… For those accustomed to traditional Sunday school portraits of Jesus, the sculpture of the dark and swarthy Middle Eastern man that emerges from Neave’s laboratory is a reminder of the roots of their faith. “The fact that he probably looked a great deal more like a darker-skinned Semite than westerners are used to seeing him pictured is a reminder of his universality,” says Charles D. Hackett, director of Episcopal studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. “And [it is] a reminder of our tendency to sinfully appropriate him in the service of our cultural values.”

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Chocolate? Jesus? Probably.

Sweet?

Or maybe he was a sadomasochist? Into bestiality? A necrophile? Seeing as I haven’t fucked or been fucked by Jesus yet, I really can’t say what his sexual orientation is/was.

Unless he has fucked you or you have fucked him, you don’t know any better than me.

All of which brings up an interesting question: why do so many Christians feel so strongly that their god must have been heterosexual? I doubt that very many have had any firsthand sexual experiences with the Son of Man on which to base their convictions, so why are they all so certain?

My guess is that its for the same reason as so many of them assume that their lord was white, able-bodied, relatively good-looking (certainly not fat). For the same reason that they assume he wanted to start a religion, that he would have voted Republican and opposed abortion today. Its like a New Right entrepeneur said a few years ago – “If Jesus came back today he would be an ad salesman”!

Well, that’s another topic for another post.

4 Comments

  1. You should appreciate this one: Omaha, Nebraska’s Joslyn Art Museum is showing Lard Mohammed. No complaints so far.

  2. I think the idea of chocolate Jesus is terrific!! If New York doesn’t want him, we’d love to have him here, in “Chocolate City.”

  3. Hey, thanks for this. A great post that I took the liberty of linking to. If you want to check out my post, it’s here:
    http://feminary.blogspot.com/2007/04/easter-candy.html

    I own a St. Francis painted from chocolate, caramel, and Twix wrappers, and it’s beautiful for the same reasons this Jesus is. Too bad people can’t see past the penis to the meaning in the work. As a Christian, I applaud it.

  4. T, I keep meaning to respond to this post and hadn’t made time until now. Great post, and you’re absolutely right about all the racial and social questions lurking underneath this “scandal”.

    BTW, have you seen Jesus Mafa? I have a catalogue from them — they make some really beautiful images of events from the NT. The Temptation is one of my favorite images from their site. They also have a page Why an African Christ?

    Responding to Stasi, I think part of the meaning of the work is the penis. Jesus was a human being with genitals, and was probably crucified with those genitals exposed. Donohue and the artist are rehearsing several different Christian heresies here, and the artist is on the right side of all of them. Donohue desperately needs to be re-catechized.

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