Every so often some joke or cartoon about Christianity comes along and enters the collective psyche of the world at large. Especially in this YouTube age. Sometimes they are satirical, sometimes just witty, sometimes downright offensive. And sometimes a weird mixture of all three. It’s nothing new. Two thousand years ago this cartoon appeared on the wall of a schoolroom in Rome. (Taken from Nick Page’s book Kingdom of Fools.)
It depicts a Christian worshipping someone on a cross wearing the head of a donkey. And it’s intended as a slur on the early church. Christians are fools is the message. It’s not nice. However, we could now comment that a quarter of the world’s population are these kind of Christian ‘fools’, whereas… er… what happened to the Roman Empire again??
The reason I mention it is that lampooning the faith, indeed lots of faiths, is nothing new.
More recently a little video called Djesus Uncrossed has been doing the rounds. It’s derived from the movies of Quentin Tarantino,and heavily references the actors and characters from them. Though it was not made by him. If you want to watch it just type in the title into YouTube, however be warned, it’s gratuitous and I don’t want to offend anyone with it. Below I have posted some news footage from America about the video and the head of steam it’s generated if you would like to see that.
However, though I recognise that this kind of stuff is not wholesome or pleasant to some of us, I’m always looking for an opportunity to turn these things around and make good use of them. For me they present opportunities. For one thing, why is this funny? Well partly because it’s an obvious travesty. Of course Jesus didn’t come back with a sword and an Uzi. Well why not? He could have done. Forgiveness is weak isn’t it? Why come back with that when you have all the power in the universe. Indeed, why let yourself be murdered at all if you can call down all the macho angles in the universe and get them to slaughter your enemies. Plus of course this sketch only works if – to state the obvious – Jesus came back from the dead!
In 1987 an artist called Andre Serrano took a small plastic crucifix and placed it in a tube containing his own urine. It’s a deeply shocking image. Serrano claimed it was not a slur on religion but on the cheapening commercialisation of religious iconography. Equally shocking, I think, was the fact that in Australia the work was vandalised and some of the exhibitors received death threats. Whilst I don’t at all like the image here, I would say that Serrano has inadvertently highlighted the very meaning of the cross. There is no way you can denigrate it any further. The whole point of Jesus’s death as a criminal slave is that it touches the darkest, worst places of life. It is not a pretty, ornamental thing. Not a beautiful work of art. It is a mission to invade and redeem the most sordid places of life.
When Paul pitched up in Athens he found that they had more gods than teenagers at a Justin Bieber gig. He could have been offended. Taken the hump. But he does the opposite. He sees an opportunity He spotted the ‘god to end all gods’, the one that covered all the bases. The unknown god, just in case they’d missed anyone out. ‘Well,’ said Paul, ‘let me tell you about this God that you missed out, the unknown God that you are already worshipping, cause I’m getting to know him.’
One thing’s for sure. The donkey cartoons, the Djesus sketches, the weird works of art – they will all come and go, and come and go again. We can be sure of that. Of course we can be offended and shake our placards, or we can see them as another opportunity to point towards the miracle of knowing the unknown God.