Religous art/Protestant hypocrisy?


#1

I recently posted this on Morality (b/c I am new and stupid!), but I think this is a better forum for this.

Recalling the success of the Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson), I have been questioning the protestant objection to religious art, as per our catholic tradition of painting and sculpture. I suspect the same individuals who are quick to criticize our crucifixion paintings, are first in line to see (and buy) this film. And I see this film as nothing other than a motion picture adaptiation of our own religious art tradition!

Consider also that they have shown this film in protestant church buildings which otherwise are vacant of any art. How odd.

Can anyone explain the warm reception this film has found among evangelical and born again Christians who would not themselves ever deign to own or display a crucifix? Yet when they view this in home or church, is there not the same imagery being used in the same way - to inspire and encourage religiosity, and to educate and edify the faithful? Hmm.

I am not intending to be mean, but I see an apparent contradiction.


#2

The contradiction is not between truth and what you learned, but between what your preconceived notions about Protestants and religious art were, and what you observed.

I like near Bob Jone’s university. Way Evangelical Christian!
They have a museum of Christian art that would blow you away. I mean simply bring you to tears at the beauty of this priceless collection. They are the keepers and caretakers of this amazing art. The great majority of it Catholic. But they also host shows of other religious art. I have seen Judaic and Egyptian religious art there as well.

It is the use of art in religion that I think many Protestansts are leary of. Statues and icons in the sanctuary, or where people are lighting candles or leaving offerings can appear suspiciously like idols, and honestly, I have seen some people who have had a troublesome devotion to a particular statue.

This is quite different from being inspired, exhaulted and moved in the heart by an artistic depiction of a Biblical story or other moment of faith.

It is not the art, but the use of art that is the difference.

cheddar


#3

Very well put, Cheddar. There are very few Protestants I know of who object wholesale to religious art. Such Puritanism is not much in fashion right now. In fact, many of my Evangelical friends have prints of religious art in their homes. Walk into any Christian store, and you’re likely to find Protestant religious art. (Personally, I don’t like most of it, but it does exist.) But you won’t find anyone kneeling in front of it or lighting candles or gazing at it. Most Protestants just don’t know that when a Catholic does these things, he is only using the art as a tool for worship of the one true God. Even when they do know it, they don’t often understand it, as such use is completely foreign to the Protestant mindset.


#4

[quote=Kristina P.]Very well put, Cheddar. There are very few Protestants I know of who object wholesale to religious art. Such Puritanism is not much in fashion right now. In fact, many of my Evangelical friends have prints of religious art in their homes.
[/quote]

I think the Passion is as much a graven image, an idol, as anything Michelangelo ever painted or sculpted.

These are good insights (above) - thanks both of you. It is news to me than any evangs have religious art in their homes. I have never seen a picture of even Jesus, let alone Mary or Joseph, in the homes of any evangelicals I ever knew, and the many catholic homes without any religious art in them are the catholics that I felt exhibit strong leanings toward either protestant thinking or faithlessness.

If they are coming around to this, like you observed, then great. I always find it odd if people have all kinds of pictures on the walls, things they care about, people they care about, and not anywhere a picture of the Lord and His loved ones, the saints. It seems unhleathy to be missing that.

The irony I saw in the TPOTC issue is still hard to shake off. The strict protestant says NO GRAVEN IMAGES, because they are “idols” in their way of thinking, which unfortunately seems ok when it is George Washington or Lady Liberty, but not ok when it is Jesus. And film is as graven as a painting (which is not strictly “graven” anyway), so imagining this winding up back in a protestant church building seemed a return to at least some kind of sensibilities, or maybe a return from some of the meanderings of the Reformation, which went into lots of places.

You should note that high Art in Europe after the Reformation marks the culture split, as the protestant artists immediately abandoned the religious subjects and switched to secular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Even if you find good religious art from protestants, I assure you it is the “catholic” side of them doing it, though they may not know it.


#5

Just so you know, most modern Protestant art doesn’t really involve any of the conventions of Catholic art. You’d be hard-pressed to find Mary or any saints, other than maybe a depiction of Christ with the apostles. Usually, it’s what I term “feel-good Christian art,” like prints involving Jesus and a modernly-dressed Christian either in peril, or praying, or just going through his day. It’s meant more as an inspirational reminder of God’s presence than as a tool for devotion. Also, many Evangelicals have crosses (NOT crucifixes) on their walls, many of which are very ornate and beautiful. These usually serve as a notification to any guests that it’s a Christian house, as well as serving the reminder function mentioned above.
Of course, I have no religious art in my apartment, mostly because I grew up Protestant with very little religious art. (No one in my family has a taste for the Protestant art out there.) I have to say, while it makes perfect sense to you to have up pictures of Jesus and his friends, it’s totally foreign to my culture and upbringing, not to mention that most of the Catholic saints are foreign to my culture and upbringing. I don’t think you can really fault Protestants in this; they just don’t see it the same way you do. For them, I’d think that a Bible on the nightstand or a family Bible prominently displayed, serves the same purpose as having a picture of Jesus. Protestants, for the most part, are much less sensory about their faith, not usually as a matter of theology but as a matter of custom. The popularity of movies like The Passion may be due to a long-suppressed thirst for involvement of all their senses and faculties in the expression of their faith.


#6

[quote=Kristina P.]Just so you know, most modern Protestant art doesn’t really involve any of the conventions of Catholic art. You’d be hard-pressed to find Mary or any saints, other than maybe a depiction of Christ with the apostles. Usually, it’s what I term “feel-good Christian art,” like prints involving Jesus and a modernly-dressed Christian either in peril, or praying, or just going through his day. It’s meant more as an inspirational reminder of God’s presence than as a tool for devotion. Also, many Evangelicals have crosses (NOT crucifixes) on their walls, many of which are very ornate and beautiful. These usually serve as a notification to any guests that it’s a Christian house, as well as serving the reminder function mentioned above.
Of course, I have no religious art in my apartment, mostly because I grew up Protestant with very little religious art. (No one in my family has a taste for the Protestant art out there.) I have to say, while it makes perfect sense to you to have up pictures of Jesus and his friends, it’s totally foreign to my culture and upbringing, not to mention that most of the Catholic saints are foreign to my culture and upbringing. I don’t think you can really fault Protestants in this; they just don’t see it the same way you do. For them, I’d think that a Bible on the nightstand or a family Bible prominently displayed, serves the same purpose as having a picture of Jesus. Protestants, for the most part, are much less sensory about their faith, not usually as a matter of theology but as a matter of custom. The popularity of movies like The Passion may be due to a long-suppressed thirst for involvement of all their senses and faculties in the expression of their faith.
[/quote]

Kristina, I liked what you wrote. Can you clarify whether you are catholic?

What you explained was good because it made sense. Yes, I do understand now, through your firsthand insight, what is probably going on with this mentality.

But I want to bat this around a little more, just to cast more light on it. It is not to dismiss anything you said, which was all very good.

Do you think there is an unconcious protestant intention to make sure that religious are, if any, is at least not very good? That the urge is there to have it, for some, but not to have it be good enough to be VERY inspiring? Maybe there is a case to be made here.

I drive by billboards for their churches sometimes. They have names like Family Church. So generic. And the picture is like a handsome dad and pretty mom and exactly 2 kids, one girl and her younger brother. They are smiling. I’d have put Jesus, Mary and Joseph on it, myself. Or else a picture of just some clouds with maybe a ray of light coming thru. I would do that kind of billboard for maybe a meteorology school. I am not making fun on purpose. I think they sabotage what they might aspire to by lowering some kind of bar, which is a bar that I suppose is measuring itself more against a catholic standard they are avoiding than an objective standard of beauty and inspiration.

I think 500 years later they still unconciously define themselves more in terms of what they are NOT than in terms of what they are.

Sorry if I am all over the place with this. It really does get stuck in my mind sometimes. And you are good at explaing it, so I am taking advantage.


#7

[quote=papa_k]Kristina, I liked what you wrote. Can you clarify whether you are catholic?

[/quote]

Thanks. I am currently in RCIA and hope to be received into the Church this Easter.

[quote=papa_k]Do you think there is an unconcious protestant intention to make sure that religious are, if any, is at least not very good? That the urge is there to have it, for some, but not to have it be good enough to be VERY inspiring? Maybe there is a case to be made here.

[/quote]

Heheh. I think that might be a little too conspiracy-theory. Really, there is some very good Protestant art out there, but just as in secular art, the less-than-great stuff tends to be popular.

[quote=papa_k]I drive by billboards for their churches sometimes. They have names like Family Church. So generic. And the picture is like a handsome dad and pretty mom and exactly 2 kids, one girl and her younger brother. They are smiling. I’d have put Jesus, Mary and Joseph on it, myself. Or else a picture of just some clouds with maybe a ray of light coming thru. I would do that kind of billboard for maybe a meteorology school. I am not making fun on purpose. I think they sabotage what they might aspire to by lowering some kind of bar, which is a bar that I suppose is measuring itself more against a catholic standard they are avoiding than an objective standard of beauty and inspiration.

[/quote]

The generic thing is a pretty new phenomenon. It’s an attempt to be modern, to draw “reasonable” people into the church. Much of this trend is due to the monstrously popular book, The Purpose-Driven Church. It’s all about making faith “relevant” to the post-modern “seeker” and taking away anything that would make church foreign, uncomfortable, or threatening. I view it as a kind of sneak-tactic evangelizing, and I don’t think it works.

[quote=papa_k]I think 500 years later they still unconciously define themselves more in terms of what they are NOT than in terms of what they are.
[/quote]

I was ready to disagree with you on this, but I don’t think I can. To be fair, Catholicism started out defining itself largely by what it was not, e.g., not Gnostic, not Catharist, etc. Sometimes, in order to come up with a positive statement of belief, one must first sift through all the negative statements. Unfortunately, many of the positive statements that define major Protestant beliefs are based on a rejection of straw-men that they think are Catholic beliefs.


#8

I might be inclined to agree with this first part more in terms of how the Church has had reasons, like in the 16th cen, to REdefine itself, as in reaction to periods of confusion about its nature. But the original defining I believe was done in the 1st cen, when Christ revealed His divinity and gave them the Holy Sprit and effectively said, be the Church, and spread the faith. It seemed like a totally positive event, versus a negative one.

An organization can sometimes be revealed as a cult when it defines itself in terms of what it hates, versus what it loves. And I think there is some “cult” in everything, but this is my major bone with Prot’sm, esp its art or sometimes lack of it, where this is sometimes revealed.

As to the larger context of both statements - I think it’s weird how they never look to the Greek (Orthodox) churches for any kind of neutral or objective example of what may or may not be the “original” culture of Christianity. After all, those are the very descendents of the people St. Paul was writing to, and their art culture, and devotional culture are pretty much like ours, in essence, if not in formal appearance. And Ethiopia is arguably the oldest Christian country, and there again, bears no resemblence to the outward expression they invented in the West, espeically here in the states, rather far away from there.

Am I running a tangent or what!


#9

I see images of the living or risen Jesus, and scripture quotes more often displayed in Protestant homes and churches.Where in Catholic homes and churches I see the Crucifixion and saints displayed. I have seen last supper images in both.

In my experience most Protestant’s are not overly concerned with how the “original” Christians did things. They are applying the Gospel to the modern world, the one in which they are called to minister. So it doesn’t really strike me as odd that they don’t look to other cultures for artistic examples.

Protestantism, at least main stream, seems more rooted in the now. In a current dyanmic relationship with Christ, in transforming this world through the teaching and living of the Gospel message. It is less focused on tradition and ancient practices. Respect for the past and history, but with a sense that the Spirit is very much with us today, and guiding us in current times.

While I know there are protestant denominations out there that seem focused on “how not to be Catholic”, I think they are in the minority. In 10 years of attending Protestant Churches, the subject never came up. They were very much focused on what their mission was, rather than what any other denomination was up to.

cheddar


#10

[quote=cheddarsox]I see images of the living or risen Jesus, and scripture quotes more often displayed in Protestant homes and churches.Where in Catholic homes and churches I see the Crucifixion and saints displayed. I have seen last supper images in both.

In my experience most Protestant’s are not overly concerned with how the “original” Christians did things. They are applying the Gospel to the modern world, the one in which they are called to minister. So it doesn’t really strike me as odd that they don’t look to other cultures for artistic examples.

Protestantism, at least main stream, seems more rooted in the now. In a current dyanmic relationship with Christ, in transforming this world through the teaching and living of the Gospel message. It is less focused on tradition and ancient practices. Respect for the past and history, but with a sense that the Spirit is very much with us today, and guiding us in current times.

While I know there are protestant denominations out there that seem focused on “how not to be Catholic”, I think they are in the minority. In 10 years of attending Protestant Churches, the subject never came up. They were very much focused on what their mission was, rather than what any other denomination was up to.

cheddar
[/quote]

Except in the matter of religious art, it seems we’ve had different experiences of Protestantism. In my Southern Baptist upbringing, many and various beliefs and practices were often justified by saying that it was the way the early Christians did things. This is especially true in the matter of baptism, which I suppose could be expected given that it’s a Baptist church.

I wouldn’t say that these churches weren’t focused on what their mission was or that they were focused on how not to be Catholic; however, often, a sermon on a theological point (not all sermons were of this type, so it’s not like they talked about Catholics every Sunday) would begin by saying, “The Biblical position is A. By the way, the Catholic position is B, and here’s why it’s wrong.” To be fair, such sermons would occasionally include examples of wrongness from other faith traditions, but it was usually Catholicism. I’m not sure this means they were defining themselves by what they were not, but it strikes me as odd that these pastors and leaders felt the need always to contrast all their right views with the Catholic wrong views.

Even in my Episcopal congregation, where theological points were never, in my experience, discussed from the pulpit, my confirmation classes involved a lot of contrasting various beliefs with their Catholic counterparts. This might have been more necessary, though, in light of the outward similarities between the Anglican and Catholic churches.

I guess we’ve experienced different parts of Protestantism. I have some experience with an Independent Christian church where the above isn’t true, but the majority of my experience was in two separate Southern Baptist churches and under 4-6 different head pastors over the years. It’s very possible that it’s not typical of Protestantism.


#11

[quote=cheddarsox]The contradiction is not between truth and what you learned, but between what your preconceived notions about Protestants and religious art were, and what you observed.

I like near Bob Jone’s university. Way Evangelical Christian!
They have a museum of Christian art that would blow you away. I mean simply bring you to tears at the beauty of this priceless collection. They are the keepers and caretakers of this amazing art. The great majority of it Catholic. But they also host shows of other religious art. I have seen Judaic and Egyptian religious art there as well.

It is the use of art in religion that I think many Protestansts are leary of. Statues and icons in the sanctuary, or where people are lighting candles or leaving offerings can appear suspiciously like idols, and honestly, I have seen some people who have had a troublesome devotion to a particular statue.

This is quite different from being inspired, exhaulted and moved in the heart by an artistic depiction of a Biblical story or other moment of faith.

It is not the art, but the use of art that is the difference.

cheddar
[/quote]

This actually proves the point that protestants are in fact hyppocritical when it comes to the use of images. The very reason that Catholics have statues and images in their churches is to “inspire, exhault, and move our hearts” by artistice depictions of Biblical stories and characters. If a church is where you worship God, doesn’t it make sense for us to have images in that church that will help you get closer to Him? Protestants have no problem kissing their Bibles b/c it reminds them of Christ, yet when they see us doing the exact same thing with a statue, they should, idolatry, idolatry!

Obviously, not all Protestants are like this, but the people at Bob Jones “University” certainly are. That “institution” is a hotbed of pure anti-Catholicism and has spewed more lies and spawned more anti-Catholic movements in the last few decades than any other Protestant organization. They will claim that our use of statues and images is “Babylonian idolatry” (for proof of this, just see what Tim LaHaye, Bob Jones alumna, has said about Catholic devotions, and the more recent statements by Bob Jones III back in 2000 on Larry King), and yet at the same time make a museum containing the largest collection of Catholic artwork after the Vatican because they want to be “moved” by it? They see nothing wrong with saluting the American flag, or with kissing a Bible, but the moment that they see us Catholics doing the exact same thing with statues they accuse us of committing idolatry, even though the most rudamentary reading of the Catechism will show that we don’t do this? If this isn’t hypocrisy, I don’t know what is. They’ll condone the “Babylonian idolatry” of the Church when it suits them, but then will enjoy her art in the very same way that we do, in that they use it to be “moved” and brought “closer to God.” Unbelievable. I pray for that place.

The fact of the matter is, the original Protestants (and many anti-Catholic ones to this day) used the Second Commandment as justifying the destruction of Catholic statues and images. They insisted that God did not permit even the building of images in churches, even though He ordered images to be build in Solomon’s Temple. Protestants will no doubt say that images aren’t condemned in the Second Commandment, but only the use of them in worship. Well, that is nitpicking with the text. If you interpret the text “literally,” and out-of-context as the Protestants do, you have to come to the conclusion that it bans ALL ARTWORK of ALL things for ANY purpose. “Thou shalt not make a graven image,” in the linkeness of anything in the heavens, on the earth, or under the sea. By a “literal” interpretation of this, that means that we can’t have wooden rocking horses for children, water fountains that depict people and fish, statues of lions at the entrace to art museums (like the Art Institute of Chicago), and a whole bunch of other things.

When looked in context, though, it is clear that the commandment only forbids idolatry, nothing more. Of course, people at Bob Jones University aren’t very big on the Truth, so they don’t look at this verse for what it actually says, but rather falsely interpret it in order to satisfy their absolute hatred for Christ’s True Church, while at the same time indulging in Her artwork.

I pray for them. It is quite sad.


#12

If you interpret the text “literally,” and out-of-context as the Protestants do, you have to come to the conclusion that it bans ALL ARTWORK of ALL things for ANY purpose. “Thou shalt not make a graven image,” in the linkeness of anything in the heavens, on the earth, or under the sea. By a “literal” interpretation of this, that means that we can’t have wooden rocking horses for children, water fountains that depict people and fish, statues of lions at the entrace to art museums (like the Art Institute of Chicago), and a whole bunch of other things.

Some offshoots of the offshoots (like the Amish, or one of those groups that like to live like it is perpetually 1850 I can’t remember which one for sure) took it to that logical end. If they made dolls, they had no face. They made nothing that fully resembled what it was supposed to because all of that smacked of idolatry. Imagine, a simple child’s doll a pagan idol! Come on now! :rolleyes:


#13

[quote=ComradeAndrei]Some offshoots of the offshoots (like the Amish, or one of those groups that like to live like it is perpetually 1850 I can’t remember which one for sure) took it to that logical end. If they made dolls, they had no face. They made nothing that fully resembled what it was supposed to because all of that smacked of idolatry. Imagine, a simple child’s doll a pagan idol! Come on now! :rolleyes:
[/quote]

That doesn’t get them off the hook! Dolls still have arms, legs and heads, even if they have no face! That’s still a “graven image,” in the “form” of something “on the earth”! Oh, my! The Amish were pagan! :smiley:

I’m just taking their arguments to their logical conclusions. Understanding the Second Commandment in this manner, this would also mean that the fake Christmas trees that we all use are also condemned, because, since it resembles a pine tree, it is also a “graven image” in the form of something “on the earth.” Ha! :smiley:


#14

That is exactly what I thought-who cares if it doesn’t have a face, it is still obviously made to represent a human. After seeing one of those dolls I remember asking my parents if they (the Amish) used money since it has people’s faces on it. Even as a kid I knew that such a position doesn’t make sense.

I personally think it boils down into the fact that the fundamentalist types see statues, pictures, etc. of the saints, Mary, and even Jesus as too Catholic. So, concoct the “idolatry” charge and run with it. Its already been tried before with the Iconoclasts, but, why not go with it again?

There is nothing new under the sun.


#15

You are absolutely right! Forgive me for trying to inject some perspective into "Protestants are horrible, miguided and LOOK, I found something else we can villify them about! " thread.

Now I see that my contributions were off topic.

cheddar


#16

Well, forgive us for being to general but I don’t really feel like writing pages of particular explanation of what each sect individually believes about religious art. Yes, some are OK w/ it (but with a different perspective) and some hold an incoherent and hypocritical possition. Agreeable?


#17

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