Ant-covered Jesus irony: Christian theology embraces the suffering

By Patrick Evans Much has been made in recent days of the decision by the Smithsonian to pull the video … Continued

By Patrick Evans

Much has been made in recent days of the decision by the Smithsonian to pull the video installation “A Fire in My Belly” by artist David Wojnarowicz from an exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery. William Donohue of the Catholic League had railed against the piece for an 11 – second segment showing ants crawling over a crucifix, and the usual suspects, faux televangelist Glenn Beck, House Majority Leader-elect Eric Cantor and others made statements decrying this supposedly horrific attack on their (and my) faith.

This is a completely predictable situation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t cooked up on one of the conservative/religious right conference calls. The usual “war on Christians at Christmas” tactic mixed with the usual “infidel artist” tactic. Wait five minutes and the next place you’ll see this is in the fund-raising appeals of Cantor, Donohue, Beck, et al.

The truly ridiculous part is that Christian theology teaches that the tortured, abused body of Christ is God incarnate to experience and understand the deepest of human suffering, including the devastation done to bodies by AIDS. Are ants crawling on a depiction of that broken, wounded body really doing worse to Christ than humans did? Really? Ants? Jesus and his followers are afraid of ants on a plaster representation of his body?

The truly blasphemous abomination is the church’s initial reluctance, even refusal to care for, speak out about, and show dignity to literal bodies of real people with HIV/AIDS. The church (Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, most all branches of it) has come a long way in its work of compassion, care and advocacy on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS, but still has much more of its own work to do in ridding itself of bigotry and stigma, which these leaders have just stirred up for their own gain.

The religious and political leaders who used World AIDS Day in this holy season of Advent to cultivate political power and raise money by focusing on 11 seconds of an artistic work by a man who died of AIDS in 1992 would do well to remember the clear and unequivocal words of the savior whose wounds they are so quick to save from crawling insects:

“You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

The wounds of Christ are the wounds of David Wojnarowicz, and all who suffer in body, mind or spirit. Perhaps Beck, Cantor, and Donohue will consider donating all the funds they raise on the backs of the suffering this season to one of the many church-affiliated AIDS relief organizations. In this waiting time of Advent, we live in hope.

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Patrick Evans is associate professor in the Practice of Sacred Music at the Yale Divinity School and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Worship and the Arts.

  • areyousaying

    How entertaining the Donohue Catholics who scare the hell out of their little kids with pictures and statues of a punctured, bleeding Jesus have a problem with a few ants.

  • BinkyLover

    What a load of tripe. The ants on Christ in this exhibit is a statement to the fact that AIDS, which is entirely preventable by avoiding sin, has not been successfully cured despite outlandish levels of research funding (as compared to unpreventable diseases like cancer, which see far less funding per patient). It is a complaint that the requisite suffering has not been circumvented and not a recognition that sin should bring associated suffering. In other words, it expresses an opposite position of Christianity: That sin should have no consequences.AIDS is a simple disease to cure. Simply stop engaging in the depraved acts that cause it. Case close. Now let’s move on to more interesting exhibits like ants crawling on Muhammad.

  • Curmudgeon10

    Show the video in a private art gallery. Don’t ask me to pay for it. And please don’t offer up the red herring that the exhibit is “privately funded.” Taxpayers pay for the staff and the buildings.Also, I find this controversey strange in a city like DC where a majority of the residents are fixated on “respect.” Don’t dis me. It’s the worst sin.The concept seems to work for some, but when it comes to Christianity, respect is off the table.

  • guitar1

    Just what we need . . . another “debate” over a meaningless issue.

  • DJMonet

    Here’s where I see a problem with this, and if you remember “Piss Christ” which was far more offensive. The Christian’s own bible (King James Version) in Exodus 20, layws out what are referred to as the 10 Commandments. Here’s partial text:”Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them”This seems to me that you shouldn’t even have a crucific (God is a jealous God!) let alone “bow down” or “serve” it by complaining about a video that displays ants crawling on a crucifix.

  • Dipsy1

    As a practicing Catholic I am not offended by this art. Meaning is what the beholder sees in the piece. I see the ants as predator priests who have abused the trust of many Catholics by the sexual abuse of minors.

  • Dipsy1

    As a practicing Catholic I am not offended by this art. Meaning is what the beholder sees in the piece. I see the ants as predator priests who have abused the trust of many Catholics by the sexual abuse of minors.

  • hohandy1

    Its interesting that whenever there is a legal conflict over the overt recognition given to the Christian religion in a nation that has “separation of church and state” as a fundamental principle, that the judicial decisions recognizing Christmas as a federal holiday or allowing “In God We Trust” on our money or requiring kids to say “under God” as part of the Pledge of Allegiance always allow the official recognition given to Christian religion because of its “cultural” rather than “religious” meaning and symbolism. Its ok to shove it down our throat because its “cultural”. Yet when art treats religious symbolism as cultural, suddenly the religionists get all up in arms because their religion is being “attacked” and must be “protected”.They can’t have it both ways – if it’s religious, then it has no place having any official standing or place in a secular goverment by pretending that its cultural. If it’s cultural, then it deserves no special protection because its religious. Its one or the other, but can’t be both.

  • loco71

    I understand the concept of the crucified Christ, though I’m no longer a Christian. At a recent wedding, the huge crucifix with the tortured Christ that hung over the altar was profoundly discomfiting to me. Only by making the crucifix a merely symbolic object (rather than understanding what it literally portrays) could one think that showing ants on it is worse than the original torture and execution.

  • SumHaveSaid

    AIDS is a simple disease to cure. Simply stop engaging in the depraved acts that cause it. Case close. Now let’s move on to more interesting exhibits like ants crawling on Muhammad.————————–So, in your mind, getting AIDs from a blood transfusion because of my “non-AIDs” disease is “depraved activity”??!! WOW!!! You are truly STUPID!!! I hope you don’t have an illness that requires blood… or maybe I do!

  • BlueIguana

    It’s obvious the artist wanted to offend devout Christians, so why is anyone surprised that they are offended? The issue is whether the federal government should subsidize such art. If the answer is yes, then I enthusiastically await the cartoons of Mohammad hanging in the gallery, and Mr. Evan’s full-throated support of such an exhibit.

  • martymar123

    The truly ridiculous part is that Christian theology teaches that the tortured, abused body of Christ is God incarnate to experience and understand the deepest of human suffering, including the devastation done to bodies by AIDS. Are ants crawling on a depiction of that broken, wounded body really doing worse to Christ than humans did? Really?”Yes, you speak truly. Thank you for this thought and spirit-provoking essay.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    Donohue is one of millions of Christian antisemites. You reap what you sow.

  • cornbread_r2

    OMG!1!! IT’S THE ANTY-CHRIST!!11

  • lepidopteryx

    Cornbead, I’m sending you the cleaning bill for the coffee I just spewed everywhere!

  • StewartIII

    NewsBusters| Lefty Voices in ‘On Faith’ Choir: Christmas ‘Tough Time’ for Abortion Rights Backers, Ants-on-Crucifix Video Not Blasphemous

  • backspace1

    I’m dissapointed…all the PHD’s out there in this subjectcy.It’s a Bob Marley morning…

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