Freedom of Expression,  Secularism

Jesus’ Penis

Padraig at Index on Censorship reports on the travails of Terence Koh, whose statute of Jesus with an erect penis has provoked the ire of Emily Mapfuwa and the Christian Legal Centre. He makes the very fair point that Ms Mapfuwa had to travel all the way from Essex, to a gallery in Gateshead, in order to be stunned and outraged.

Ms Mapfuwa was so upset that she has launched a civil action and alleging that public decency has been outraged.  Bringing actions of this sort seems to be her job.

This whole business seems to be a trivial one all around. In almost all the cases involving blasphemy-like complaints, those who have found themselves in conflict with religious groups have something important to say.

The MoToons were commissioned as a comment on the travails of an author who had written a ‘lives of the holy’ book about Mohammed, but who couldn’t get it illustrated for fear of violent attack orchestrated by clerical fascist groups.

The Kirkup “Gay News” case – the last successful prosecution – was an ok-ish poem which was important because it highlighted the arguably homoerotic nature of the Jesus story, played on the dual meaning of the concept of ‘passion’, and implicitly contrasted Christ’s crucifixion with the persecution of gay men at a time when Christians were actively involved in that persecution.

A similar argument might be made in relation to the ‘piss Christ’. It was quite beautiful as well.

Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses isn’t blasphemous at all, I think, and didn’t really intend to be. It is essentially a novel about what it is like to have, or lack faith: rather than a novel about whether or not Mohammed’s wife was a prostitute. All these offensive sequences are nightmares of one of the characters: and are obviously not commentaries on the Quran.

Jerry Springer the Opera wasn’t about Jesus at all, although he featured as a character. It was about the debasing nature of daytime TV and celebrity culture.

And the Life of Brian? Well, that’s only the best film about sectarian politics I’ve ever seen. And, having just finished Martin Goodman’s Rome and Jerusalem, it could almost be a documentary about first century Jerusalem.

I’m not really sure what the work that is the source of present controversy is all about, and why Jesus, Micky Mouse and indeed E.T. all have impressive plaster of Paris erections. That’s not to say that if people want to put penii on iconic figures, they shouldn’t, or that they should be prosecuted or otherwise restrained or censored, and so on.

However, I’d be hard pressed to find an extraneous justification – beyond opposing legal censorship, which certainly is sufficient – for opposing Mapfuwa. As it is, the whole affair seems to have done little but afford the woman the opportunity to make a statement about the ease of mocking Christianity.

She has a point: one which it is a pity she is using the law to amplify. That’s enough to lose her my sympathy.