Playing the Indian Card

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild

Salvador Dali, Crucifixion Hypercube, 1954
I have made the point here before that art unguided by religion is either useless or destructive. But it is equally true that religion without art is debilitated and debilitating. In a way, there is nothing worse: what is left is that saccharine “gentle Jesus” stuff.

This is what the artist fights. Sometimes it may look, to some, like an attack on religion itself:

My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd:
'This Land of Saints,' and then as the applause died out,
'Of plaster Saints';

-W.B. Yeats, "Beautiful Lofty Things."

This is not an attack on the saints, but on “plaster saints.” One example of saccharine religion that I find particularly vomitous is the popular notion that a saint is someone who does not sin.

A falsified religion that is at peace with the world as it is is worse than no religion, because it comforts and justifies the Pharisees, and drives precisely the people who need and deserve religion away: those who know the bitterness of life. If organized religion is the Law, and the priests and judges of the Law, art and artists are the Prophets. There will always be false as well as true prophets, but we need prophets, channeling the live Spirit, to keep the priests in the Temple honest. In his own social context, Jesus himself was an itinerant artist, not a priest in the Temple. He was a storyteller, and a brilliant storyteller. He stood very far from the conventional sources of religious authority.

Art has kept the Catholic Church honest over the centuries, thanks to Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Beethoven, Cervantes, and the boys, along with a refusal to prettify the image of Jesus bleeding over the altar. It does not pretend the world is without blood, or semen, or sweat, or tears.

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