Faith in Focus

Te Papa - Whose place?

As the Church largely focuses its attention on the death and resurrection of Our Lord throughout the world, many images fill our newspapers and television screens showing the diversity of understanding the significance of the passion events. No doubt there will be pictures of people crucifying themselves in the Philippines and South America, people carrying crosses along the via dolorosa in Jerusalem and messages from the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. But closer to home other images have captured the headlines. As I write this editorial I have no idea what the outcome of the debate will be in the media, but when it first occurred, the debate seemed to me to involve issues for Protestants that were not touched upon, inspite of much in-depth analysis.

Protestants who have rushed to the defence of the Madonna - a figurine clothed in a contraceptive device - perhaps forgot that the reason the Roman Catholic opposition was so vehement was because the Madonna was considered an object of worship or veneration. For this reason alone Protestants should not be demonstrating with the Roman Catholics at the museum. For many Roman Catholics (although probably not all) Mary is worshipped as a co-redeemer along with Christ. She is prayed to and exalted as one who is more than a mere mortal. Recent dogmas like the bodily assumption and the immaculate conception are considered absolutely true by many. And it is not just Mary in the abstract who is venerated in this way. She is worshiped through created images like the figurine in Te Papa.

Knowing this what should our response be to this piece of 'art'? I suggest that in spite of the idolatry that lies behind the Roman Catholic perception of this image, we should be offended also. Even though it is an idol for many that is being desecrated, for the 'artist' and the liberal supporters of this type of 'art' they are really trying to have a dig at Christianity nevertheless. The alleged message that a condom over the Madonna signifies security suggests that Christianity is about safe sex outside the context of marriage, and contraception. We should notice also that the condom has become promoted in the context of homosexual sex and the spread of aids. It is about the legitimacy of recreational sex. We would deny that this is the case at all and that Christian symbolism, no matter how wrong in itself is being used to denigrate God's purposes for procreation within marriage and the mandate to populate the earth. So this pathetic object becomes a metaphor for overturning the purposes of God for His creation. It symbolises rebellion against God. That is its blasphemy and the blasphemy of the taxpayer funded museum that claims the right to display such folly.

There is another image in Te Papa that is more associated with Easter and that is the parody of Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last supper. There a naked woman is interposed for Christ. Here again, as Protestants who take the 2nd commandment seriously, we cannot accept any images of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless in the minds of the ignorant and uninformed and in the motives of the artist we see a hijacking of the idea of the substitutionary atonement signified in the Lord's Supper by a feminist agenda that wants to replace Christ with a woman. The Lord's Supper no matter how inappropriately portrayed by Da Vinci has been denigrated by this 'art'. Blasphemy has been added to blasphemy. The eternal purposes of God have been trampled upon in such an arrogant way that one trembles at the thought of what is in store for the 'artists' and those like Te Papa who would display these things.

But there is also another aspect to this which the media have discussed and that is the insensitivity of the displaying of these objects. It is to Tau Henare's credit that he has come out to criticise Te Papa and to suggest that there is cultural insensitivity here. It is true as Christians that we do not in any way condone idolatry, but we believe that there is a right way to address such evils. It is with the Word of God that we are to address idolatry. We are not given any mandate to ridicule through 'art' or any other form of expression. But as I have noticed, from the point of view of the 'artists' in these cases, their desire is to attack their understanding of Christianity and of the central doctrines of the virgin birth and the atonement. In doing so they show absolutely no sensitivity at all to the feelings of others. In the name of liberalism and freedom of expression they denigrate a belief system. Paradoxically they accuse those who would deny them the right to do it in the way they attempt to. They accuse them of intolerance. But the essence of tolerance, particularly in its politically correct form in late 20th century New Zealand, is to not criticise another belief system but instead acknowledge its right to exist without abuse. I am not suggesting for a moment that Christians should be tolerant of evil. But I am noting the inconsistency of the liberal humanist who would claim a catholic embracing of all beliefs - except Christianity. There is nothing new under the sun.


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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / / revised April 1998 / Copyright 1998