First off, I must apologize for the title of the essay. I find it repugnant. If you read to its completion, you will understand my decision to use it.
On September 11, 2012, an angry mob of Muslim Egyptians attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The Egyptians started what turned into a suspiciously well-coordinated series of murderous, anti-American riots in Muslim countries around the globe blamed on a crude, insulting, anti-Muslim video that surfaced on the internet in July. As I watched the news one evening, a young, attractive reporter interviewed a distinguished, elderly man whom we are led to believe is a scholarly expert. When asked if, perhaps, Islam’s response was a bit excessive, the distinguished gentleman responded knowingly, “You can only imagine how Christians would respond if someone depicted Jesus so crudely!” The young reporter grimly bobbed her pretty head in agreement.
Funny thing is, the distinguished gentleman did not really answer the question. He simply left it to the viewer’s imagination. He only implied that, because Christians would respond with the same degree of anger and violence, we should be a bit more understanding and accepting of Islam’s outrage. Despite having a plethora of examples of Christian-hating people around the world who have denigrated Jesus Christ in the most offensive ways in the name of free speech and/or religious hatred, and Christendom’s subsequent response, he chose not to cite a single case. I am going to do it for him.
In the year 1987 American artist Andres Serrano submerged a crucifix in a jar of his own urine, photographed it and titled his work ‘Piss Christ.’ Living in a country where nearly 80% of the population identifies itself as Christian, it appeared a calculated move by the artist, for had he used any other media or technique to create the eerie, amber image, and simply titled it ‘Christ,’ it would have been neither newsworthy nor marketable. Mr. Serrano appears to lack the talent needed to gain fame through great works, the kind of talent possessed by real photographers such as Ansel Adams or Ray Atkinson, so he achieves it by stooping. His work is crude, base, foul, shocking, sacrilegious, and plain-ol’ gross. He fiddles with poo, pee, and just about every other bodily secretion, and seems to enjoy degrading religious symbols. To some he is a cutting-edge artist, but his real fame lays in his infamy… his ability to generate outrage. If he were not gross, no one would give him the time of day.
Christ’s passion, the events leading up to his crucifixion and death, began as Jesus gathered his disciples and a handful of other followers in the gardens of Gethsemane. Jesus knew his time was at hand, he was afraid, and came to the gardens to pray.
“My Father,” he said, “if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.”
Including Peter, many of his followers had swords on their belts. They lived in dangerous, lawless times, and carried the weapons to protect themselves from brigands. After some hours, the high priests and Pharisees arrived, accompanied by the temple guards and some Roman soldiers. The traitor, Judas, quickly identified Jesus and Jesus was immediately arrested. What followed is perhaps the single greatest moment in Christ’s ministry.
When the guards laid hands upon Jesus, one of his followers, possibly Peter, became enraged, drew his sword, and attacked a high priest’s servant, slicing off his ear. Had their lord called out for help, or commanded them to fight, I believe a bloody battle would have ensued, pitting Jesus’ followers against the guards and soldiers. Furthermore, the disciples would have been blameless for defending their lord’s life had such a battle taken place. However, Jesus ordered his followers to “Leave off!” and put their weapons away. In that moment, and forever forward, Jesus commanded his followers to put away their anger and desire to avenge him, and that is why Andres Serrano is alive today.
‘Piss Christ’ outraged Christendom. Jesus was betrayed, beaten, tortured, and spat upon in his final hours, then nailed to a Roman cross where he died. A few Romans and Jews actually took pleasure in the pain and suffering of Jesus. They laughed. They cast lots for his cloths. From the cross he forgave them all. Whether or not you believe Jesus is God become man, if you have even a shred of decency about you, you will not dare dismiss the graphic, inhuman suffering he endured in the hours leading up to his death. You will not dare dismiss his ability to forgive. For financial gain and notoriety, Andres Serrano urinated on Christ’s suffering and lived to tell the tale solely because two thousand years ago, Jesus cried out, “Leave off!” We are to turn the other cheek, especially when it comes to insults against the Lord.
Turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, giving a thief the shirt off your back, and forgiving a schmuck seven times seventy-seven times are no easy tasks. There are over two billion Christians in this world, and Mr. Serrano has dared every one of them on many an occasion to retaliate. He has received a few threats, a bit of hate mail, and a few angry Christians have defaced a bit of his art, but he came through it alive by and large because Christians understand God is so great that worldly insults from the likes of this man, as infuriating as they are, have no power on earth or in heaven. God reserves the right to separate the wheat from the chaff. God alone knows our hearts and our grievances. God alone reserves the right to pass final judgment for Mr. Serrano as well as for the rest of us.
I suspect that Mr. Serrano knew he could get away with it… in this life, anyway. I suspect he is a coward who judged that the fundamental code of Christian conduct would largely protect him. But I will tell you what, if he were a citizen in a Muslim country and took a photo call ‘Piss Muhammed’ he would be dragged from his house and stoned to death the same day. There is no question about it. Of course, if he disagrees, he is welcome to test my theory out.
This is how our distinguished, elderly gentleman should have answered our young, attractive reporter. This is the truth of the matter. Christians are not perfect, and sometimes get caught up in vengeful schemes, but to imply that the scale of Christendom’s response to insults is proportionally equal to Islam’s is an outright lie.