Saturday, September 06, 2008

The piece of God that passeth all understanding

This is the second time in less than a month that I've been gazumped by Julian Baggini. CiF ran his piece on the Baltic-Jesus-erection kerfuffle on Wednesday; at least this time they elected not to use my take on the same thing (submitted before his appeared) which would have created a slightly wonky stereo effect.

I'm starting to feel like Pat Boone to Baggini's Little Richard. But I still reckon mine has a better opening sentence, so here it is. If I'm going to hell, I may as well take the rest of you down with me:

Jesus had a penis.

I'm sorry if such information disturbs you, but it is so. This is not just a historical fact, but a theological truth, if one subscribes to orthodox Christian belief. Jesus was God made human flesh, and as such he had the full complement of male body parts: not just the arms, legs and beard, but the bits that most representational art tends to cover with a flowing robe or, in extremis, a skimpy loin cloth. I'm talking cock, balls and bumhole, people.

Now, if Jesus had these bits and pieces, surely they had to be in full working order: otherwise he would have been in some way defective, which isn't really what you want from the earthly manifestation of the Godhead. And the Nazarene was not immune to temptation; he explicitly resisted it, which means it was there to start with (see Matthew, chapter 4). In which case, is it so disturbing to contemplate the notion that Jesus' gentlemanly bits occasionally became tumescent? He urinated and defecated as well. So there.

Sorry for that detour into the no-man's-land between theology, biology and plumbing, but these issues are crucial to the private prosecution being brought by one Emily Mapfuwa against the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Last year, the Baltic displayed Terence Koh's plaster depictions of cultural figures in a state of engorgement. Jesus was one of those represented, and Ms Mapfuwa, with the backing of the Christian Legal Centre, alleges that this particular piece outrages public decency and causes harassment, alarm and distress to the public.

Well, surely only if erections (and by extension, sex and sexuality) are inherently bad things. Most members of the public have willingly submitted to various forms of carnal naughtiness in their time, so if they find themselves outraged, harassed, alarmed or distressed by such references, they're bloody hypocrites. Ms Mapfuwa and her friends are simply reinforcing the notion of Christians as joyless Puritans who are scared of sex, while giving kudos to a lame, derivative, "ooh-look-at-me-I'm-outrageous" bit of schlock, two parts Jeff Koons to one part Da Vinci Code.

But that's not what it's all about, is it? Oh no. Ms Mapfuwa also insists that the gallery would not have dared to display an image of Muhammad in such an up-for-it state. Which is true, but probably more due to a reasonable fear of swivel-eyed suicide bombers than any doctrinal preference. While we're at it, though, the evidence is even more compelling in the case of the Prophet. With his thirteen wives and seven children, it's pretty clear that Muhammad had one as well.

PS: I've just remembered, the lovely Dr Julian also beat me to the punch when Baudrillard died last year. Maybe I'm actually Baggini's simulacrum...


9/10ths Full of Penguins said...

Even as a Christian of genuinely liberal sprinklings, I found Terence Koh's sculptures tasteless.

I agree that taking them to court and kicking up a fuss ladled undeserved attention onto Koh's 'masterpiece'. However, I do feel that the truly offensive aspect of the whole thing has been missed.

Clearly Mickey Mouse has no penis...

Geoff said...

Jesus Christ, the size of it!

Chris said...

If the Jesus and Mary Chain ever do get around to a comeback album, this just has to be the cover.

garfer said...

Buddha obviously had one, hence his beautific smile.

He also clearly liked pies, which I find difficult to reconcile with monkish contemplation and the renunciation of earthly desires.

Anonymous said...

The proportions are all wrong. It looks like a fertility sculpture... maybe that's the point?

Tim F said...

You're quite right, 9/10, and if Ms Mapfuwa is offended, she should say so. It's the legal action that makes her look daft.

I bet you say that to all the boys, Geoff.

But who'd play Mary, Chris?

Only the Chinese representation of Buddha, Garfer. The Indian Buddha, as seen in SE Asian art, is more sylph-like.

Possibly, Billy. Maybe Mr Koh wants to get pregnant.