Why should the CCP be compelled to shut down an art exhibit simply because Mideo Cruz’s iconoclastic works are deemed by some religious quarters to be blasphemous and obscene? Why should religious beliefs be exempt from satirical criticism and be deemed worthier of respect than freedom of inquiry and expression, which is the lifeblood of democracy? The problem with the state’s accommodation of religious prejudices is that it dignifies a mindset that claims immunity from criticism and any obligation to prove its ideas to be true and thus worthy of respect. When the state indulges sectarian sensibilities to the extent of censoring criticism of sectarian prejudices out of fear that criticism might incite religious unrest, it reinforces religious fanatics’ sense of entitlement and emboldens them to engage in acts or threats of violence that would have incurred legal recrimination had they not been committed in the name of god and faith.
Who is the offended party in the case of a painting of a long-haired and bearded man, with a wooden penis attached to his face where his nose should be? Does the figure represent any real person, living or dead, which warrants the flak that Mideo Cruz received? Knowledgeable scholars such as archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and bible experts Robert Price and Bart Ehrman have produced volumes of evidence that cast doubt on the historical authenticity of biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that Jesus has been portrayed in varied and often conflicting ways with cherry-picked bible verses – as a preacher of prosperity by dollar-waving evangelists, as a Che Guevara-like revolutionary by liberation theologians, as a miracle-working mystic by Pentecostals, and as a pleasure-hating moralist by conservatives, etc. – should prompt Christians of all sects to critically examine their faith and to observe prudence when their most cherished beliefs are challenged. The “blasphemous” works of Mideo Cruz are no more an excuse for a faith-driven riot by Christian fanatics than the portrayal of Batman and Robin as gay lovers are an excuse for superhero fans to lynch the spoof-makers.
Am I trivializing the anger and pain felt by those offended by the “blasphemous” exhibit? Let it be so! Had I the talent of a Michelangelo, I would have done a wall painting of the 4th century C.E. Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia, a heroine for the cause of reason and secularism. Hypatia was murdered by a mob of Christian fanatics who, at the agitation of Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, dragged her from her chariot, and repeatedly stabbed and cut her up with oyster shells, for her criticism of religious dogmatism and advocacy of separation of secular and religious authority. There would be two images of Hypatia – one at the bottom featuring her mutilated body, over which her murderers gloat and brandish the symbols of their faith, and the other one on center top, with the transfigured body of the resurrected Hypatia being surrounded by historical figures known for their advocacy of freedom, reason, justice and universal fellowship such as Giordano Bruno, Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller and the like. The heroes of the painting would be set against the background of varied images suggesting humankind’s struggle for progress in science, economy, politics and ethics, reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s wall painting. Hypatia’s torturers would resemble John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa, Aloysius Stepinac, Escriva de Balaguer, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini and other modern-day theocrats. Though the theocrats would be set against the background of a pit with fire and brimstone, they would be unaware their infernal predicament and would even appear to be reveling in it. The principal villains will be surrounded by a supporting cast of cheerleaders that includes Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Tito Soto, Manoling Morato and other religious hypocrites attired in miniskirts and with matching pompoms. The victims of theocracy will be depicted at various phases of their emancipation – some enduring torture, others discarding their burqas or breaking their chain-like rosaries, and the rest of them climbing out of the infernal pit to take part in the ascent of human progress.
Image taken from womanastronomer.com