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Observer's Jesus story upsets archbishop

Tuesday, April 26, 2011    

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THE Observer was yesterday chastised by Archbishop of Kingston Donald Reece for its front-page display of an artist's sculpture of a nude Jesus. Reece, while calling the prominent placement of the story distasteful, questioned, in a scathing letter to the editor, whether the same judgement call would have been made had the sculpture been of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

According to the Roman Catholic archbishop, the Observer's decision represented "a piece of a trend" to attack what is sacred in Western society and an attempt to undermine the Christian faith.

"...For the life of me I cannot begin to fathom the Observer's rationale for a full three-page exposition of Christ's naked body with reference to the sacrosanct belief of the Eucharist," said Reece.

"I wonder if an artist had caricatured the prophet Mohammed or some aspects of the Koran, if you would have featured it so readily and prominently in your newspaper," Reece questioned.

Unflattering depictions of prophet Mohammed have been known to spark violent protests in countries where the Islamic faith is prominent.

In July 2007, a series of drawings by Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks depicting Mohammed as a 'roundabout dog' resulted in protests and threats on the artist's life. Several art galleries in Sweden declined to show the drawings, citing security concerns and fear of violence. The controversy gained international attention after the Örebro-based regional newspaper Nerikes Allehanda published one of the drawings on August 18 to illustrate an editorial on self-censorship and freedom of religion.

The publication of the cartoons also drew official condemnations from several foreign governments, including Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Jordan, as well as by the inter-governmental Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

In contrast, Christians' reaction to the many artworks of Christ and criticism of them over the years have never rose to the level of violence.

The piece complained of by Reece — a 10-foot-high Styrofoam sculpture of a nude male torso, with exposed genitalia, by artist Laura Facey, is titled Body and Blood of Christ and is on display at the PanCaribbean building in New Kingston.

Facey, who told the Sunday Observer that she enjoys that her work triggers debate and thought, said "...If you don't create a stir, then what's the point of doing the work? Not that that's my aim. I'm happy that it does, actually. It makes me feel that we're alive, I'm alive, my work is doing something."

Facey is also known for her controversial 2003 piece Redemption Song, the sculpture of a naked man and woman that graces the Oxford Road entrance to Emancipation Park in New Kingston.

Yesterday, the archbishop made clear that his contention was not with Facey's expression, saying that, "she, like other artists, must have her reasons for the preoccupation with nudity". Reece, however, said he found the article to be in "poor taste for the commemoration of the holiest day for Christians, Easter".

He also complained that Christianity "is fair game for one and all, especially at this time of the year which we could call 'religious silly season' for at every Easter there is some farfetched notion being put forth either to belittle or to call into question the Christian faith".

Added Reece: "In western society, nothing seems to be sacred anymore: sex is no longer sacred, it's now a commodity; religious beliefs or objects are no longer held sacred; and the human body is forever being trivialised, and considered disposable.

"In sum, the mystery of life is slowly being eroded. Then we wonder about the mores of our society, and hypocritically wring our hands in desperation about occurrences like 'no panty days' by schoolgirls. We adults have opened the sluice gate of relativism, inappropriateness, and indecency; the result is far-reaching. Sanctity of life linked to a sense of mystery is fast disappearing. Do the media have a role to play in this sorry pass?"

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