Category Archives: Art

Blasphemy, the “Christian state” and the Cross

After reading Douhat’s piece  in the New York Times on blasphemy,  I offer these further thoughts on #Charlie Hebdo in relation to blasphemy and its place in the Christian society:

1. A state inspired by Christian ideals will nevertheless allow room for blasphemy, for the right to offend, precisely as demonstration of God’s grace and Christian civility, of the conviction, to borrow from  Mouw and Griffioen, that while we await the eschaton, we live under an “open heaven” and cannot see what lies beyond the horizon. This calls then for a certain sense of humility and openness to critical dissent. This is the heart of the Cross as symbol, message, and historical reality.

2. A state founded on Christian principles will not criminally prosecute blasphemy. Such a state will have a good grasp of justice deepened by ethics; it will understand why the contemporary differentiation in society where various institutions have their respectively marked out spheres necessitates the separation of “religious offenses” from the jurisdiction of the state as a political institution.

3. This calls to mind Jim Skillen’s reworking of Bishop Newbiggin’s take on the Cross: Skillen, proceeding from Newbigin’s view of the cross, argues that Christians should be arguing that an open, non-totalitarian, religiously plural society cannot be grounded in intolerant secularism but is, in fact, grounded in God’s patience and mercy in upholding the creation.

4. What they need, according to him, is a strong and distinctive doctrine on which to anchor this robust view of political pluralism; they too, must realize that the fair treatment of all faiths –including the atheist faith – in the public arena should, as a matter of principle, be one aspect of a ”Christian society. “

5. This Protestant idea of “principled pluralism” (or also known by its older name as “sphere sovereignty”) holds that if the right thing for Christians to do in obedience to the truth of Christ’s cross and resurrection is to defend religious freedom in public, then they must not tolerate the power of political untruth that would deny religious freedom to non-Christians or to some other religious group.

6. For Skillen, this means pushing a normative political principle for a Christian society that is consistent with the gospel demand that Christians should make some room for untruth and not try to act as God at the final Judgment. “If the political principle consistent with this truth is that all citizens should be treated fairly and equitably in regard to their religious way of life, then the political principle of tolerance is a normative truth-consequence of the gospel.”

7. Of course, the truth of political fairness for all citizens excludes the untruth of political discrimination or persecution of one or another religious group. Thus, precisely in order to live and proclaim the truth of the gospel, Christians should be willing to lay down their lives even for religious enemies in order to defend the truth of equal public justice for those enemies.

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Filed under Art, Civility, Free Expression, Freedom of Religion, Libel, Principled Pluralism, reformational philosophy, Religion

In Solidarity with #Charlie Hebdo

Excerpts from our Mideo Cruz blasphemy case pleadings:

Art calls for a democratic solidarity even in the face of an intense confrontation of values and perspectives because ultimately, if art is to exist in a society that promotes democratic principles, it must sometimes be allowed to express even those thoughts and ideas that may not sit well with what the majority believes to be within the limits of acceptability.

Solidarity expects that a majority sure of their convictions should be able to take it in the chin when their cherished beliefs are put to question by a counter-cultural dynamic; it expects that in the face of intense questioning the majority, since they are sure of their convictions and are secure in their cherished doctrines, will be able to hold up on their own and offer a counter-argument in a dialogical manner that shows both grace and civility.

Of course, this kind of democratic commitment requires a basic appreciation for the variegated function of art in society. Such an appreciation should be able to distinguish between what is shown at a rundown affair in a seedy part of town operated by criminal types, and an exhibit– albeit controversial because of the questioning it subjects society’s conventions to – set up at a government-run museum or cultural center.

It should be able to restrain itself from acting against a contrary opinion in the way the Talibans of Afghanistan did towards the cultural treasures belonging to the Buddhist minority in their country, but which their fundamentalist Islamic traditions considered to be idolatrous and blasphemous towards Allah, simply because it recognizes that societies rise and fall on their citizens’ commitment to a civility able to grant being to the Other who proffers an alternative vision of life. Indeed, it is such a deep cultural and spiritual malaise where – despite the best efforts of our schools and universities to nurture and develop in their students such an appreciation for the place of art in public life – a passionately but hopelessly underdeveloped and constricted view of art predominates in society…..

Yet, if we are to have a state and a society that respects principled pluralism – we must be prepared to heed what Justice Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg Tribunals, said in a landmark American case on compulsory courses in both private and public schools that infringed the rights of a minority religious group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

“We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

The alternative to a state and a society founded on principled pluralism is a return to a Christendom where the Inquisition [insert here any other repressive system] was the order of the day for those who dared to cast a different vision of societal order: “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

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Poleteismo and Principled Pluralism

ImageThe Center for International Law (Centerlaw)  said yesterday the dismissal by the Office of the Ombudsman of administrative and criminal charges against artist Mideo Cruz and 10 Cultural Center of the Philippines officials over the controversial Kulo exhibit should help clarify for Filipinos the value of free expression in a society anchored on “principled pluralism.”

“Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales deserves recognition for  highlighting the importance of reasoned albeit impassioned discussion about the values that are important to our society,” said Centerlaw lawyers Harry Roque, Joel Butuyan and Romel Regalado Bagares, who represented Cruz and CCP Museum Division Head Karen Ocampo Flores in the proceedings.

The case arose from Cruz’s “Poleteismo” – a wall collage of conflicting and contradictory images of popular religiosity, politics and consumerism – that was shown in the Kulo exhibit at the  CCP in 2011 along with 31 other art works celebrating the national hero Jose Rizal’s 150thbirthday and the University of Sto. Tomas’s 400th founding anniversary.

The exhibit, which opened on June 17, 2011, was prematurely shutdown by CCP authorities because of the controversies generated by Cruz’s installation, which, among other things, juxtaposed religious iconography with phalluses and other discordant symbols and images.

The lawyers said a society that respects principled pluralism should be able to yield space to controversial opinions, because it is at the heart of democratic deliberation, where the majority opinion is not necessarily shared by everyone and should not mean it should be accepted by everyone even without the benefit of discussion.

According to them, principled pluralism seeks to do justice to diverse religions and points of view and keeps the public square open to people of all faiths and points of view.

They said in their statement:

“Art calls for a democratic solidarity even in the face of an intense confrontation of values and perspectives because ultimately, if art is to exist in a society that promotes democratic principles it must sometimes be allowed to express even those thoughts and ideas that may not sit well with what the majority believes to be within the limits of acceptability.”

“Solidarity expects that a majority sure of their convictions should be able to take it in the chin when their cherished beliefs are put to question by a counter-cultural dynamic; it expects that in the face of intense questioning the majority, since they are sure of their convictions and are secure in their cherished doctrines, will be able to hold up on their own and offer a counter-argument in a dialogical manner that shows both grace and civility.

“Of course, this kind of democratic commitment requires a basic appreciation for the variegated function of art in society. Such an appreciation should be able to distinguish between what is shown at a rundown affair in a seedy part of town operated by criminal types, and an exhibit– albeit controversial because of the questioning it subjects society’s conventions to – set up at a government-run museum or cultural center.”

According to the lawyers, the alternative to a state and a society founded on principled pluralism is a return to a Christendom where the Inquisition was the order of the day for those who dared to cast a different vision of societal order.

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