Monday, 1 February 2016

Pious Jokes about Jesus?

Dear Calvinist Cath, do give this post a miss for it will pain your noble soul and excite your conscience into fervent prayers for the reformation of your Catholic friends, which would be a waste of time, as we aren't budging. (Prayers for our salvation, however, gratefully requested. Here's a present of my favourite "ecumenical" poem ever.)

In Cath's Scottish Presbyterian tradition, no depictions of the Blessed Trinity are permitted. This makes art class embarrassing for children of her community when they are asked to draw Baby Jesus around Christmas time. First, they don't celebrate feast days, just Sundays, and second, they consider drawings of Baby Jesus idolatrous. No wonder they feel rather testy at Christmas. (Sad irony: as Christians they are more likely to get pious Christmas cards from co-workers than snowman cards whereas they would much prefer the snowman, if they have to get Christmas cards at all.)

Scottish Presbyterians have a lot of insights into the transcendence of God; hopefully they can learn something about His immanence from Catholics. Not sure how, exactly, when we are the auld enemy of all time, but everything is possible for the Holy Spirit. 

What a Scottish Presbyterian would think of this  (Cath, don't click) is quite beyond the courage of my imagination to contemplate. Not to repeat Pope Francis' insistence (surely badly translated) that there is "no Catholic God" or to approve the deplorable innovation of giving  Protestants the Blessed Sacrament, but one wonders when looking at such stuff if some Catholics think we own God instead of God owning us.

For example, Catholics know perfectly well that Christian tradition gave birth to Christian scriptures, not the other way around. There was a Church before there was a writing down of the Gospels. Some assume the Blessed Virgin Mary told Saint Luke the histories that form the Infant Narratives, which does indeed seem the most likely explanation, especially when you consider the beautiful and sacred verse "But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:20). However, to what extent should Catholics--and other Christians--riff on the Christian scriptures?  

Here's a particularly egregious example, which this blog would not link to, if the pious cartoonist could be suspected of impious or intentionally blasphemous motives: [Don't click, Cath, I mean it. You will be sorry.]

Did your stomach flip over? There is a slim chance Americans will not find this so horrible; obviously the American cartoonist finds nothing wrong with it, so there's a possibility it might be a cultural thing.

But what makes this take on Sacred Scripture (and the Sacred Wounds) particularly awful for those who find it offensive is the unmediated quality of images. When people write down their ideas, you have to actually engage your intellect to read them. But when someone draws a picture, it goes right through your eyes to your gut/the passions. Freedom of speech is NOT the same as freedom of expression, for ideas are not the same as pictures. For example, no-one has developed a marriage-destroying porn habit from Fanny freaking Hill.  And nobody has stabbed a priest, murdered a nun or set fire to an embassy over Contra Gentiles.

On the one hand, some people argue that those who are offended by images should "grow up". They seem to think that the less you are offended by imagery, the more sophisticated you are. But on the other, one wonders what the ultimate outcome would be, especially considering the lengths some artists will go to provoke anger and grief in Christians. Would our refusal to protest or express anger eventually lead to a dying of Christian devotion in our souls? Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote went bananas when he perceived a gross insult to Our Lady. Saint Ignatius almost killed a Moor over her honour. Are we really so better than they are when we shrug and remain silent?

And what about when the offensive image or joke is innocently meant?  Pious teenagers in Toronto in the 1980s had an argument that went like this:

Jokester: And then Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone." Everyone just stood there and then all of a sudden a stone came out of nowhere and bopped the woman taken in adultery in the head. And then Jesus said, "Aw, Mom!"

Half the Pious Audience: Ha, ha, ha!

Other Half of the Audience: Tsk. As if Our Lady would ever have done that. Tsk. 

First Half: Aw, come on. Lighten up. It's a joke. You see, Our Lady was conceived without sin, so...

Second Half: We know why it's supposed to be funny, but it isn't actually funny. It's an insult to our Lady.

Jokester: Aw. 

First Half: Lighten up!

So the question for reflection is, is it okay to make jokes about Jesus? Will jokes about Jesus lead us more firmly to devotion to Him, or will they erode our filial respect for Almighty God?  Will the Sacred Wounds cease to be objects of devotion as they become material for peek-a-boo jokes? And, admittedly a minor consideration unless you live in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Canada, the USA, Mexico, Latin America, Korea, Japan or somewhere in the entire continent of Africa, what would the Protestants say?