Jesus and oral sex: Zealots demonstrate Christian values by destroying art

In the perpetual war of religious zealots against art they've formed outraged opinions about without any actual information, there are always three main arguments: 1. It's not art, it's smut. 2. Our tax dollars shouldn't be funding this. 3. What if our kids saw it?

In terms of stoking the fires of baseless fury, they're remarkably effective arguments -- particularly so this week in Loveland, when misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric about Enrique Chagoya's "The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals" provoked one woman's ire enough for her to walk into the Loveland Museum Gallery and destroy the piece with a crowbar. So much for a level-headed discussion, then.

But the crowbar was really just the culmination of a shitstorm that's been raging for at least a week. The offending illustration, the final panel of a larger piece in which Chagoya, a professor of art at Stanford University, incorporates pop-culture references and Catholic iconography into a commentary on the church's myriad sex-abuse scandals, depicted a guy who resembles the traditional Catholic portrayal of Jesus Christ evidently getting a blowjob. And yeah, it definitely looks like Christ is getting a blowjob.

Is it predictable that people in Loveland should be offended about that? Yeah. Loveland's a conservative town, and we all know how conservatives get about the Lord. In that way, you can almost forgive them for playing directly into stereotypes about their intolerance.

But that doesn't make it any less stupid.

In a photo accompanying the Denver Post's story on the art destruction, one woman holds a sign that reads thus: "Does Loveland protect our religious values?"

Which pretty much sums up the whole sadly misplaced sense of entitlement that leads to art being assaulted in an art museum. Because no, for God's sake, the municipality of Loveland does not protect your fucking religious values. That is not its job. Nowhere in any part of the American political foundation is there anything about it being the government's job to protect anybody's religious values -- in fact, it's arguable that the constitution protects against government favoring one set of values over another.

But, well, if the constitution doesn't favor my set of values just because I want it to, then at least my tax dollars shouldn't be paying for this.

As always, that's been a huge component of the outrage: "Boo hoo, tax dollars, tax dollars." It's been on protest signs and on the lips of nearly everyone who's had something negative to say about the piece. So guess what the total expense to taxpayers was. Give up? Zero dollars. Chagoya donated the piece.

But wait, what about the children? That's my favorite one. Because everyone knows that if you don't like something in a museum, you can choose just not to go to that museum -- it's unreasonable, of course, for grown adults to be offended on their own prerogative about something they've obviously never actually seen (several people were quoted complaining about "Jesus giving oral sex" -- if you look at the piece, it's pretty clear that he's actually receiving it), but we can conveniently avoid admitting we're being crybabies about it if we hide behind our kids. "I'm not a butthurt little child not secure enough in my own belief system to see it challenged without having a fucking tantrum about it -- but what about the children?

Here's what about them: Don't worry about it. At no point in the history of anything has a child ever walked into a museum on his or her own volition. If you don't take them there, it's guaranteed they're not going to go.

Seriously, museums are boring.

But whatever. This piece shouldn't even be in an art museum anyway, because "It's not art, it's smut."

In the art world, the line between what is and is not art takes on an almost metaphilosophical quality -- artists might spend their whole careers experimenting with pushing that boundary. Certainly, it's an unclear, ever-shifting line that that's inspired the some of the greatest works and most erudite theory of our time and that, ultimately, has no definitive answer.

So pardon me, protest-sign-carrying religious person, if I'm hesitant to leave that distinction to somebody who's just proved they don't know shit about art.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte