Monday, July 26, 2010

Religious cartoons

Patrick Chan recently posted a religious cartoon which was originally posted at the blog of Pastor Josh Harris. Dan Phillips did the same thing at his blog. Frank Turk has also plugged the cartoon.

One blogger has taken strenuous issue with the cartoon. Among other things, he says:

I’m not trying to be a “Pharisee” here, but at what point does a depiction of Christ and an irreverent imputation of jesting language to Him become an unholy violation of a whole host of Biblical commands?

In this post it looks like the 2nd commandment has been broken [image], as well as the 3rd commandment [most expositors extend this prohibition to include even unworthy thoughts about, or unrighteous expressions of the Lord God], and finally irreverent, flippant words contra Eph. 5:4 have been attributed to the all-glorious King of kings and Lord of lords [adding to, taking away from God's Word Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:19].

*Sigh* As of today Dan Phillips, one of the PyroManiacs, has picked up the same cartoon at his blog. Based on the responses in his combox his denizens think it’s really, really funny! In fact Dan and Frank Turk have “Tweeted” the piece at Pyro. The origin of the cartoon is to be found at Josh Harris’ blog under the heading “Jesus Calls Peter“. This clarifies who the graven image “jesus” is supposed to be speaking to, however as noted in the scripture reference above the scene doesn’t comport with the context of the Gospel narrative account. But then again faithfulness to the text probably isn’t to be expected when someone decides to create a blasphemous little cartoon mocking and trivializing the Risen Savior, the Eternal Son and Second Person of the Triune One True and Living God; the Word made flesh.

Evidently the sin remaining even in the fallen flesh of born-again believers never stops desiring an outlet to blaspheme the Triune One True and Living God, therefore their blasphemies are often couched and camoflauged as “humor” to make it more acceptable and palatable.

But the various responses in the comboxes beneath the filth masquerading as humor at Dan Phillips’ and Josh Harris’ blogs are nearly as troubling as the buffoonish caricature itself. Ostensibly self-professing Christian commenters are laughing it up at the expense of the Risen King of Glory!

“Hilarious!”; they say.
“Brilliant!”; they say.
“Genius!”; they say.

They seem like really “open-minded” and “tolerant” folks don’t they? Probably a really swell bunch to hang out with at a church BBQ. Never a dull moment with them, a laugh a minute, plenty of jokes to keep the brothers and sisters entertained and engaged…ROFL, right? “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (Isa. 22:13; 1 Cor. 15:32)

But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is decidedly “narrow-minded” and extremely “intolerant” of sinful human beings who mock Him.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. – Gal. 6:7

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. – Matt. 7:14

How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? – Heb. 10:29


http://defendingcontending.com/2010/07/24/cartoons-caricatures-and-christ/

This raises a number of issues.

1. This debate has been going on for centuries. It recycles a classic bone of contention between the Puritans and the Papists.

However, it’s also an intramural debate within Calvinism. For it’s possible to be a Reformed Anglican. Indeed, that’s well represented in church history. And Anglicanism is another classic foil for the Puritans.

In the past, the Puritan tradition was the majority report in Presbyterian circles, but in the last century or so it’s become the minority report. I don’t say that to prejudge the issue one way or the other. Just to set the issue in its historical context.

2. The offending cartoon raises the question of what it means to depict Jesus–or anyone at all.

i) The cartoon itself doesn’t actually identify the speaker as “Jesus.”

Rather, it has two generic cartoon figures, with a sketchy background, and two sentences, one of which alludes to Jesus calling the disciples (in the Gospels).

ii) So what does it mean to depict Jesus? Well, one candidate would be a lifelike visual representation of what he actually looked like (or looks like). That would literally be a depiction of Jesus. If the disciples remembered what he looked like, their mental representations would be depictions of Jesus. Same thing if they had digital cameras back then, and took a snapshot.

Such depictions reproduce his actual appearance. So in that case, there’s a direct correspondence between the copy and the original.

iii) But what about the cartoon? Well, it’s obviously not a depiction of what Jesus really looked like. Rather, this is an imaginary depiction. So what sense is it still about Jesus?

One possible explanation is that Jesus is the intended referent. The cartoonist meant this figure to stand for Jesus. In that respect, this is a depiction of Jesus to the cartoonist. From his viewpoint, the figure stands for Jesus.

iv) Yet that’s not an adequate explanation. For given the degree of theological illiteracy in the general population, you could show this cartoon to 9 out of 10 people, and they would draw a blank.

To be a depiction of Jesus, an imaginary representation is, to that extent, observer-dependent. To be a depiction of Jesus, not only must the artist mean it to depict Jesus, but it must mean that to the observer as well. If the observer can’t recognize what it stands for, then it’s not a depiction of Jesus for him. Whether or not the figure depicts Jesus is contingent on the significance which both the artist and the observer ascribe to the depiction.

The picture itself does not represent Jesus. Rather, the artist and observer must contribute their understanding to this visual code language.

The physical depiction is insufficient. That must be completed by the subjective viewpoint of both the cartoonist and the observer. To their extrinsic attribution.

This is different from a photograph of Jesus (if such existed), which intrinsically or objectively represents his appearance. Its correspondence is not contingent on the intentions of the photographer or the observer.

3. This also raises the question of what the 2nd commandment is designed to forbid, as well as the underlying rationale for the 2nd commandment. One possible explanation is that if God is essentially invisible (intangible, &c.), then any visible representation of God will misrepresent God.

However, that can’t be the correct explanation since God depicts himself in theophanies.

Another possible explanation is that since God is essentially invisible, any accurate visible depiction will be a symbolic analogue of God, in his actions or attributes. And since an accurate analogy depends on an accurate knowledge of what God is really like (or does), God must control any self-representations.

Put another way, if God is invisible, then knowing what God is like will depend on God’s self-disclosure. God can depict himself, but a human artist cannot.

4. However, even if that’s the correct explanation, it isn’t clearly applicable to imaginary depictions of Jesus. After all, Jesus was not invisible or intangible. He had a human appearance (indeed, more than mere appearance). We know what men look like. So we have a natural basis for visual analogy.

5. Since the cartoon is manifestly fictitious, I don’t see how that is “adding” to God’s word. It’s not like a false prophet–which is the point of the inscriptional curse.

6. The cartoon is not mocking Jesus. Rather, the cartoon is mocking superficial piety. In the cartoon, the object of ridicule isn’t Jesus, but a skin-deep disciple. To say the cartoon is mocking Jesus reflects the outlook of the critic, not the cartoonist. The critic is imputing his characterization to the cartoonist, then attacking the cartoonist for something which the critic projected onto the cartoon, despite the intentions of the cartoonist to the contrary.

Perhaps “CD” has a more developed argument than he’s presented thus far. I can only evaluate his objections in light of his arguments.

18 comments:

  1. Of course the whole argument hinges on whether or not it is sinful and wrong to depict Jesus Christ in art to begin with.

    The usual argument is that such would violate the first and second commandment, to which I would ask, how exactly does it? Jesus was an historical figure. The first and second commandment have specific prohibitions in mind: the making of graven images in order to worship the image or make it a visual reputation of what it is a person worships. No one is "worshiping" such an image.

    I would further ask why the decorations commanded by God to be part of the furnishings of the Tabernacle aren't a violation of the 1st and 2nd commandments if any cartoon of Jesus is.

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  2. BTW, the original thread is here.

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  3. Since Jesus is God, a drawing of him violates the 2nd commandment. A depiction of God would generate pious feelings, which are part of worship. But it is wrong to worship pictures. Christ did not come to make work for cartoonists.

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  4. STEVE SAID:
    i) In its historical context, the 2nd commandment has reference to God discarnate, not God incarnate. If you want to anachronistically reapply this to God incarnate, then you will need to give a supporting argument to justify your acontextual extension.

    ii) It's also equivocal to say that a depiction of Jesus' physical appearance is a depiction of God. That clearly needs to be qualified.

    iii) Moreover, no one is actually depicting Jesus since we don't know what he looked like.

    You're glossing over all of the key ambiguities I noted in my post. Try harder.

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  5. Steve,

    In reading through your post here I wondered if some of the qualifications and arguments you've provided in defense of the subject "religious cartoon" offer any real or imagined aid and comfort to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy for their respective [and peculiar] statuary and icon fetishes.

    Of course one might argue that their images are never truly separate from dulia [or hyper-dulia], yet considering the images and icons in and of themselves [which category includes I suppose the rotten bones and rags of their "saints"] could the position you've set forth here also be arrayed in defense of Romish/EO religious imagery?

    In Christ,
    CD

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  6. Coram Deo,

    There are many things Protestants and Catholics agree about. A Jehovah's Witness might criticize you for agreeing so much with Catholicism. The fact that it's bad to agree with Catholicism on one subject doesn't necessarily suggest that it's bad to agree on another. If a Catholic (or Orthodox) belief about images is correct, then what's wrong with giving "any real or imagined aid and comfort" in that context? We don't refrain from affirming something like Mary's virginity at the time when Jesus was conceived, since doing so might give "real or imagined aid and comfort" to a Catholic or Orthodox who holds a false view of Mary.

    I think a lot of Protestants go too far in their response to Catholicism and Orthodoxy on images. See here for an explanation of my view. 2 Kings 18:4 is a significant passage in this context. An image can be acceptable and be used in an acceptable manner, yet be abused in other contexts.

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  7. Thanks Jason,

    I read your post and found it to be a bit wanting. The primary "difference" you cited between idolatry and Godly obedience lies between a discrete command by the God of the Bible, and the lack thereof.

    If Romanists can provide an explicit command from God in scripture [the 66 books of the Holy Bible, not their tradition] for their idolatrous adoration of images, then they are no longer guilty of idolatry, but are in fact being obedient to God, and all those who refuse to bow before their idols are guilty of disobeying God.

    Of course they can't do this.

    All analogies break down at some point, but frankly I thought your "alcoholic" analogy was DOA since all fallen human beings are by their very sinful nature hopelessly idolatrous [raging alcoholics], and therefore we ought to discourage both ourselves, and others from going near the "intoxicating spirits" of inappropriate religious imagery.

    At a minimum we ought not think up clever excuses and plausible explanations as to why our raging alcoholic friends should be allowed to spend all their free time in the bar, while simultaneously criticising and rebuking those who have the audacity to point out that they don't have any business there.

    In Christ,
    CD

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  8. CD,

    The underlying problem with Catholic iconography is not the imagery, per se, but the cult of the saints, which is what, in this case, the iconography standards for. The notion that we can pray to the dead because they can hear us and intercede on our behalf by dint of their supererogatory merit. And you have analogous problems in Orthodoxy.

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  9. An interesting discussing since just this past Saturday one of the men up for licensure in our presbytery was denied. He took two exceptions with the Westminster Standards; one was on this very issue, although he specifically stated "mental images." Although, this issue was not addressed, because the second exception was more important.

    A109 in the LC: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature: Whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense: Whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God has appointed"

    The most recent work on this issue from Danny Hyde In Living Color: Images of Christ and the Means of Grace. And also David VanDrunen's piece in The Confessional Presbyterian titled "Pictures of Jesus and the Sovereignty of Divine Revelation: Recent Literature and a Defense of the Confessional Reformed View."

    I would commend both of these resources.

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  10. Wow -- what a way to completely waste a day.

    First of all, this is such a big stink that Steve had to send me an e-mail to get my attention toward it. So thank God for the minimization of the influence of the chronically-offended.

    Second of all, at what point will CD use his argument to start using the text "J-s-s" to signify Christ? If he uses the ferocity and tenacity he uses here to pursue the 2nd commandment, image how he could change the Christian world by curmudgeoning the 3rd commandment!

    And this, btw, from a guy who called himself "Coram Deo" -- before the face of God. There's no blasphemy there in the pride or self-exultation, making one's self somehow like Isaiah or Moses who actually were before the face of God.

    I have this deep-seated sense that CD is actually in league with Loftus, and has as his intention to completely neuter Christian life and theology so that it cannot be practiced in this world.

    Time will tell.
    ____________________

    Also, in my private e-mails to Steve and Patrick, I misunderstood their purpose and chastised them for this stupidity. Plainly, they are not the stupid ones, and I ask their forgiveness for being myself a little thick in the uptake on the point of their notes.

    Sorry guys -- long week and full plate impacted my reading skills. Please forgive me.

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  11. Even on a bad day, Frank Turk is ten times better than yours truly.

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  12. Steve - In its historical context, the 2nd commandment has reference to God discarnate, not God incarnate. If you want to anachronistically reapply this to God incarnate, then you will need to give a supporting argument to justify your acontextual extension.

    Vytautas - Is God incarnate not God? The 2nd commandment has no qualifier to the carnate state of God concerning worship.

    Steve - It's also equivocal to say that a depiction of Jesus' physical appearance is a depiction of God. That clearly needs to be qualified.

    Vytautas - Jesus said if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. (John 14:9) How could he have said that, if one could have only seen the human nature of Jesus?

    Steve - Moreover, no one is actually depicting Jesus since we don't know what he looked like.

    Vytautas - But the cartoon is referencing a biblical passage in the gospels. Jesus said come with me and I will make you fishers of men. (Matt 4:19) It is not by his face but by his speech bubble that we know who this man is.

    Steve - You're glossing over all of the key ambiguities I noted in my post. Try harder.

    Vytautas - Reminds me of professors who want their lectures incorporated into the final paper.

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  13. Coram Deo wrote:

    "All analogies break down at some point, but frankly I thought your 'alcoholic' analogy was DOA since all fallen human beings are by their very sinful nature hopelessly idolatrous [raging alcoholics], and therefore we ought to discourage both ourselves, and others from going near the 'intoxicating spirits' of inappropriate religious imagery."

    The definition of "inappropriate" is the issue in dispute. Who denies that we should avoid that which is inappropriate?

    Fred Butler gave some examples of images used in religious contexts in scripture, and I cited the example of 2 Kings 18:4. You aren't interacting with much of what we've said.

    You write:

    "At a minimum we ought not think up clever excuses and plausible explanations as to why our raging alcoholic friends should be allowed to spend all their free time in the bar, while simultaneously criticising and rebuking those who have the audacity to point out that they don't have any business there."

    Who argued that "raging alcoholics" should spend "all their free time in the bar"? In the article I linked, I said that I think the Roman Catholic use of images goes too far. I also said, however, that I see no reason to think that images can't be used or venerated to some extent. You haven't given us any reason to think that my position is wrong. Rather, you've just made vague comments like the ones I've quoted above.

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  14. VYTAUTAS SAID:

    “Is God incarnate not God?”

    And is God incarnate not man?

    “The 2nd commandment has no qualifier to the carnate state of God concerning worship.”

    That’s implicit in the stated rationale. See my new post.

    “Jesus said if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. (John 14:9) How could he have said that, if one could have only seen the human nature of Jesus?”

    i) Do you think there was something divine about the physical appearance of Jesus? Did Jesus look like God? What does that even mean?

    To all appearances, he looked like a normal man. Do you deny that? Let’s avoid incipient Docetism, shall we?

    God is invisible, although God can (and does) reveal himself through visual media.

    ii) Any orthodox construction of the hypostatic nature will have to distinguish between what is proper to the divine nature and what is proper to the human nature. John also says that Jesus was tired (Jn 4:6). Does this mean God was tired?

    When you ascribe things to Jesus, you need to distinguish between the God-man qua God, and the God-man qua man. What is true of the divine nature is not ipso facto true of the human nature, or vice versa.

    “But the cartoon is referencing a biblical passage in the gospels. Jesus said come with me and I will make you fishers of men. (Matt 4:19) It is not by his face but by his speech bubble that we know who this man is.”

    So you’re admitting that it’s not a picture of Jesus, per se. The figure itself is quite generic. Could be any guy.

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  15. I like it that the cartoon is a graven image because of the speech bubble. Am I really the only one who read that and literally felt like I was watching FailBlog video?

    Let's see: what makes the cartoon an image of Christ is that the words of the cartoon figure are the words of Christ. Except that these are not the words of Christ: they are the interpolation of a precept which is from the Gospel -- they are more like a sermon.

    When we have made legitimate sermons -- and this is quite a legitimate sermonette (especially for watchbloggers) -- into de facto blasphemy, we are obviously off the apple cart.

    Thank God it's not actually "we" but in fact "them". May God forgive them and give them hearts of flesh.

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  16. Jason said: Fred Butler gave some examples of images used in religious contexts in scripture, and I cited the example of 2 Kings 18:4. You aren't interacting with much of what we've said.

    Actually I did: The primary "difference" you cited between idolatry and Godly obedience lies between a discrete command by the God of the Bible, and the lack thereof.

    If Romanists can provide an explicit command from God in scripture [the 66 books of the Holy Bible, not their tradition] for their idolatrous adoration of images, then they are no longer guilty of idolatry, but are in fact being obedient to God, and all those who refuse to bow before their idols are guilty of disobeying God.

    Of course they can't do this.


    Perhaps you disagree that the above comment interacts "much" with what you've said, but it is what it is.

    Anyway, I don't want to argue with you guys [Triabloggers], I love you and benefit much from your work.

    I thought [and think] the linking to the cartoon was [and is] in poor judgment.

    This will be my last word on the subject of the cartoon here.

    Frank,

    Always good to see you around the block, although I'm not quite sure why you waste your firepower on a dead dog such as myself.

    I've mostly been avoiding your "fairly large platform" since the last round of anathemas you rained down on me...where can I flee from your wrath?

    In Christ [yes really],
    CD

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  17. The second commandment doesn't specify God, but anything "in heaven", "in the earth", or "in the water". Yet God commands the Israelites to make images of angels on the ark and in the tabernacle.

    Our own written languages are derived from the practice of making representative images. So I would contend that the second commandment is aimed at idol worship rather than image-making. That is, it prohibits the making of images to worship but doesn't prohibit all image making.

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  18. Coram Deo,

    The comments you've quoted from your previous post are vague. You wrote:

    "The primary 'difference' you cited between idolatry and Godly obedience lies between a discrete command by the God of the Bible, and the lack thereof."

    What does that mean? I don't know what you're getting at.

    And what's the relevance of Roman Catholics and whether they can "provide an explicit command from God in scripture [the 66 books of the Holy Bible, not their tradition] for their idolatrous adoration of images"? I'm not Catholic, I've argued against the Catholic view of images, and I don't understand why "an explicit command" would be needed even if I were Catholic.

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