For a few months I've been perusing a community on here called absolute_jesus. If you're not familiar with this community, and you're a Jesus-lover of any sort, you should probably approach it with caution because some of the stuff on it can be shocking. I realize there are people who get off on "the more shocking the better", but there are others such as myself who do have a concern about "the point beyond which" when it comes to heartfelt things, whether we're talking religious images, the Stars and Stripes, or somebody's mom. Students of constitutional law who have been through all the flag-burning and KKK cross cases will understand what I mean.
I was raised in a household and culture that taught, without much thoughtful reasoning, that you do not "fill your mind" with irreverence or evil or bad stuff in general. In some cases this would extend to turning off not just gory horror movies, but Vietnam coverage on TV. This is a not uncommon viewpoint - certain things are just too much, too irrational, too depressing, too potentially harmful. People choose not to look, sometimes because they can't handle it, or don't WISH to handle it. A positive thing about this attitude is that it probably does keep people, or at least some people, from taking on information that disturbs them too much, that they can't handle. (It's wrong to try to show you're so tough you can handle everything - everybody has a cracking point.) I think a negative thing about this manner of thinking is that it can cause people to "turn a blind eye" to the unpleasant side of society, or about important things that people are trying to say that they're expressing in unpleasant ways. That doesn't mean everything that's questionable to look at is important information. Sometimes it's just shit, or worse yet, shit that's meant to get attention by being shitty, and that's that.
Another bad thing about making certain thoughts or sights "forbidden" is that it encourages the opposite effect, a kind of sick fascination with peeking at whatever we're not supposed to be looking at. The forbidden fruit. This aspect produces everything from the art of Diane Arbus and her concerns with "looking", to the banalities of Madonna and all the other cliched little girls who get off on making religious imagery into a sex object. And then we get into a whole power game with people saying "Thou shalt not" and you saying "Screw you, I SHALT" and the authority and resistance thereof completely obscure whatever point there was to be made in the first place. If indeed there was one besides resistance to authority.
So how does this relate to absolute_jesus? Well, there are a lot of images of Jesus posted there...some of them are funny, some of them are just plain awful, some of them are horrible to the point where you don't want to give the poster the attention of saying "that's horrible" because they so obviously WANT that. Why do I look? Well, Father I cannot tell a lie, sometimes it's funny. And sometimes it's thought-provoking. Photoshopping Terri Schiavo's head onto Jesus on a cross is a shorthand way of expressing what 1,000 politicians and journalists are trying to say more subtly. (wonkette of all people - if you don't know Wonkette, she's sort of like Matt Drudge updated into a younger, hipper female - had an entry right on point to that yesterday.) A picture of Jesus on a swastika has got so many potential aspects and avenues of meaning it would take me a couple of hours to list and analyze them all, like a law school exam "issue-spotting" question.
I suppose I am reading too much into a community that many would dismiss as a bunch of irreverent eejits with Time on their Hands committing blasphemy for amusement. I dunno. I'm always interested in the "whys" of why people post what they do, say what they do, think what they do. Sometimes it's just bad habit and they haven't thought at all, but even bad habits tend to have something behind 'em, like the person who drinks to excess half the time learned that trick from a family member. And good habits tend to have something behind 'em too, like the person who limits his drinking half the time does that because they were close to someone else who drank too much.
Underlying all the posts - and perhaps some would say this is a wrong way to think - but it's what I see - is this wish to make Jesus/God more accessible, to understand, even if it's to understand in order to reject. Now I know it's supposed to be bad to try to make God into our own image, or try to understand God, because we can't, and it's in giving up and letting him just sort of take us over (to people who aren't religious, that probably sounds like creepy pod people) and permeate us that we come to the greatest understanding. I personally am not huge into trying to understand or rationalize God or religion. I'm happy to just accept it. If it's about love at its base, that's enough for me. (AUUUGH I'm a hippie!!! :) ) But I understand that other people have this need to understand, and that they get caught up on technicalities. Plus, there's the dichotomy that all religious people struggle with. God/Jesus is simultaneously our friend who understands us and wants to be happy, but at the same time is this exalted being who we mustn't ever joke about and who could Smite us at any moment for being bad, or even for no reason if we've been good. DUDES, YOU CAN'T FEAR SOMEONE AND LOVE THEM AT THE SAME TIME...this is how people get into abusive relationships (*stomps around a bit muttering until gets brain back on track*) The generations past the 60s have flipped between lack of respect, bringing religion down to a human level (jeans and guitars in church and all that) and too much respect (right-wingers who use religion as a means of control, a hypocrisy, a political battering ram). I think "respect" for religion, society, everything is something we all have to figure out on our own, find the level where we feel most comfortable..."there'll always be room for the angry young man/ with his fist in the air and his heart in his hand" while at the same time trying to be reasonably polite, in a cut-tag sort of way, about it. Hmmm, difficult.
I suppose, like I said, it is that legal way of thinking that encourages me to consider everything, all the parts of the elephant that blind people feel around and try to draw pictures of, even when it's the elephant's asshole. I don't think I learned this thinking in law school, or at least not entirely. I was always that way, which is probably why I did well in law school, it's a natural tendency that was just encouraged more so by the environment. The bad part of being a more bloodless balancing thinker is, I guess, a lack of emotion that other people find hard to understand: why am I not horribly upset by a "bad" image of Jesus, or for that matter, by a murderer cutting somebody up and throwing the pieces in a Burger King trash can? My mom is the more emotional type who would have made a great lawyer because of her tenacity and heartfelt commitment, but who might have ended up getting admonished by the judge (probably sounding a lot like me) for a leap of logic or for not understanding the other guy's position. I'm more the type who would lose the moot court points for not getting excited enough up there.
Anyway, this is my Easter meditation. to remind that thought is good, that looking is good, but not to lose all fear (or respect?) because when "it's just too much" you need that trigger inside (some would call it the Holy Spirit, some would call it "conscience") to tell you when to stop looking and walk away. Diane Arbus killed herself in the bathtub, other people kill themselves, literally or figuratively, in other ways...
* * *
Feel free to comment, or not. Like I said, it's screened. I'm probably not going to respond to the comments, having said my piece above (or, in some cases, in other posts), but you can rest assured I will read and think about all of them.