The “Piss Christ” is an artwork of the American photographer Andres Serrano. The photography shows a crucifix immersed in a yello/orange liquid consisting in a mix of blood and urine. On April 17th, three catholic men entered in the art gallery in Avignon (France) where it was exposed and destroyed what they believe being a blasphemous artwork with a hammer. French Minister of Culture François Mitterand condemned the act of destruction and claims that it “undermines” fundemental principles, french political parties such as the Communist party and the Socialist party also consider it offensive and regressive.
The analysis of this event is quite enlightening and allows to draw a few conclusions. First, the artwork itself, although offending the belief of 1.5billion people worldwide is considered as admissible by States, represented by Ministers, politicians, attorneys, etc, and worth being protected by ‘freedom of expression’. Another recent well-known blasphemy affair is the Quran burning by priest Terry Jones, was the occasion for politicians to condemn firmly the act of a Christian disrespectful for Muslim feelings. One can easily imagine if instead of being produced by Andres Serrano the Piss Christ was made by a Muslim person (artist or not), similar offended reactions towards the blasphemy of the Christ would have been expressed… and they would be right to do so: burning a Quran and immersing a crucifix in urine is of equal blasphemy, and this has to be condemned, regardless of who commited the blasphemy. Apparently, there is a ‘moral order’ that makes suitable to care for believers feelings if you are a believer yourself, but allows you to not bother at all to shock them if you are an atheist. In other terms, blasphemy is right only if the blasphemer is an atheist, seen as an ‘absolute’ source of moral values while a non-atheist (believer) can only act and think relatively to others.
The second conclusion one can draw from the Piss Christ issue is that although there seem to be a tolerance for the blasphemous picture, there isn’t acceptance of blaspheming the blasphemous picture, despite the fact that immersing a crucifix in urine and destoying an artwork is at least of equal violence. It has to be noted that most of the press refers to the destructors of Piss Christ and those who, the day before the destruction, gathered for a peaceful demonstration, as being ‘integrist catholics’, as if only integrists could be offended by the blasphemy of sacred art; on the other hand, Andres Serrano has never been described by any journalist or politician as being a ‘integrist atheist’, despite the fact that he cannot ignore how hurted are hundred of thousands of Christians by his photography. The blasphemors find it right to blasphem other’s people icons but offensive if these other people react in blaspheming theirs.
I consider this last point interesting: it clearly shows that the blasphemators do not at all oppose to sacralization, they only make a substitution consisting in replacing a sacred idol by another. Agreeing with Piss Christ while condemning the destroyed Piss Christ is no more than trying to state the superiority of materialist values over spiritual values: a sacred item is to be symbolically destroyed, but a physical attempt to an artistic item is a taboo. What really bothers the politicians condemning the attack of the Piss Christ: isn’t it the fact that there is no consensus about the sacrality of a materialistic good? Blasphemy is nothing than the expression of the despair of those who cannot accept the world do not worship the same idols/gods than them.
Blasphemy is a lost battle: after all, the piss Christ is a photography, it can be reproduced a billion times, and nothing, no destruction, would make it disappear from Earth. On the other hand, all blasphematory acts (Piss Christ, Quran burning, Prophet cartoons) will never succeed in finding a substitution to transcendental beliefs in the heart and mind of billions of human beings: it is not by showing how ungly can unfaith be that people will be renounce to faith.