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Chocolate Christ = Bad, Cracker Christ = Good

An artist named Cosimo Cavallaro has created a very provocative sculpture entitled My Sweet Lord.  This piece of art is a naked, anatomically correct, 6′ 200 lb. milk chocolate Jesus posed as if hanging on the cross.

The sculpture was to debut Monday evening, the day after Palm Sunday and just four days before Roman Catholics mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. The final day of the exhibit was planned for Easter Sunday.

The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate, and features Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious portrayal of Christ, the Cavallaro creation does not include a loincloth.

That should be the end of the story, because we Americans all believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  Art is meant to push buttons and this one pushes a few.  It speaks to the commercialization of Christ’s (alleged) resurrection seen in the Easter egg hunts where kids search for chocolate bunnies.  Its nudity shocks the senses but reminds us of Christ’s humanity and probably more accurately represents how a real crucifixion would’ve looked than the typical loincloth-clad Jesus.  Knowing the sculpture is edible is an ironic statement about transubstantiation.

Transubstantiation:  The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the bread and wine of the Eucharist or Communion are miraculously transmuted into the veritable (literal) body and blood of Jesus, due to a literal interpretation of figurative language used by Jesus. It is not mere consecration of the elements — bread and wine — though in what the difference consists it is hard to define.

As you might imagine, the barking brigade of the babbling Biblical literalists screamed about this, led by the president of the Catholic League, William “What’s Wrong with a Gook Joke” Donohue.Donohue is a perfect example of why I love Jesus but I have a huge problem with most of His fan club.  It took only two or three clicks to come up with this laundry list of benevolent Christ-like behavior from this Catholic leader:

William A. Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has made 23 guest appearances on TV news programs in 2004. Donohue uses his appearances primarily to attack gays and progressives. He has referred to the “gay death style,” remarked, “God forbid we’d run out of little gay kids,” claimed that Senator John Kerry “never found an abortion he couldn’t justify,” and claimed that “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular … Hollywood likes anal sex.”

Donohue fired up the flying monkeys to wreak their havoc upon the Roger Smith Hotel.  I’m not sure which part of the sculpture bothers them the most.  Do you suppose it’s more about seeing a Jesus penis than anything as complex and nuanced as offense at an ironic statement about ceremonial cannibalism or a commercialized Easter?  I’m betting on the holy pee-pee.  Christians freak out when you suggest that Christ might have been married to Mary Magdelene.  The idea of Jesus being a sexual person is impossible, but they always told me he was a “man in body” just like us, which is why his tribulations were so difficult.  “Did Jesus masturbate?” I once asked a Mormon bishop when I was young, and I thought the poor guy’s head would spin right off.

The six-foot sculpture was the victim of “a strong-arming from people who haven’t seen the show, seen what we’re doing,” [the gallery’s creative director Matt] Semler said. “They jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions.”

But word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including [NY Cardinal Edward] Egan, who described it as “a sickening display.” Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever.”

Really?  I mean, at least the Chocolate Jesus wasn’t sitting in a jar of urine, a la Mapplethorpe.  Is it worse than “The Last Temptation of Christ” or “Jesus vs. Santa” on South Park?  I think certainly there have been far greater assaults on Christian sensibilities, like, perhaps, torturing our enemies and letting children go without healthcare.

I’m telling you, it’s got to be the Savior’s schwanz that’s got them in an uproar.  Can it be because he’s made of chocolate?  They’ve got gold Jesuses, silver Jesuses, marble Jesuses, alabaster Jesuses, Jesuses made of every material I can think of.  Is it offensive because it’s edible?  How can you justify eating a wheat flour cracker Jesus but not a milk chocolate Jesus?  (Apparently the recipe is important.  I blogged a couple of years ago about a gluten-intolerant girl who was denied Communion because her wheat-free crackers wouldn’t qualify under some Catholic rule.  So I imagine chocolate Communion is right out.)

Some Christians are quick to point out that at least these protests were peaceful, unlike the Muslims who riot violently at a mere cartoon of the prophet Muhammad.  Sure, I’ll give them that, but the effect was the same, wasn’t it?  An artist is silenced for offending a religion.  Also, it’s not as if the Christians protesting to the hotel were “doing unto others”, either…

The hotel and the gallery were overrun Thursday with angry phone calls and e-mails about the exhibit. Semler said the calls included death threats over the work of artist Cosimo Cavallaro, who was described as disappointed by the decision to cancel the display.

“In this situation, the hotel couldn’t continue to be supportive because of a fear for their own safety,” Semler said.

This cuts to the heart of the problem I have with the American Taliban.  You’re free to worship however you choose.  You’re free to say whatever you choose.  You’re free to live your life the way you choose.  My problem is when you decide that’s how I should worship, speak, or live, too.  I would love to see such artwork on display; I think it is very clever and interesting, but I won’t get to see it because some religious person is offended.  Why can’t religious people just live and let live?  You don’t have to go see the Chocolate Jesus; why does it harm you for me to go see it?

I feel for the staff of the hotel.  I support the right of anyone to express their displeasure with something, but death threats aren’t protected speech.  That’s terrorism.  At least now that the exhibit is canceled, the staff can rest easy, right William “Most 15-year-old teenage boys wouldn’t allow themselves to be molested” Donohue…

“While we are delighted with the outcome, we are not pleased with the comments of the gallery’s creative director, Matt Semler.  For him to say that our objection to this outrageous display constitutes hate speech and is the equivalent of a fatwa shows how deliriously irresponsible this man is.

“Because we did not like the way the Roger Smith Hotel handled the decision to drop the display, we have no intention of contacting the 500 organizations that we alerted to this assault on Christian sensibilities to inform them that the exhibition has been cancelled.”

So let the fatwa continue!

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