Statue of Ganesh Offends Visitors at Calgary Zoo

When the “Elephant Crossing” exhibit opened at the Calgary Zoo in 2006, a private donor gave the zoo a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh — it was in honor .

For some reason, the zoo accepted it and stripped it of “all religious symbolism.” Which is ridiculous because an elephant in that pose is itself a well-known image of Ganesh. That’s like saying someone donated a statue of a man on a cross, and the zoo accepted it because there’s no indication that it’s Jesus.

The right thing to do would be to simply remove the statue.

But the zoo isn’t doing that:

“Our desire in putting the statue here was to demonstrate to our visitors the connection between cultures and animals, much like the same way the bald eagle for example depicts the American culture, the lion Britain, the beaver Canada,” explained Grahame Newton, the zoo’s director of corporate services, on Friday.

I think the problem is simply that most people don’t have enough cultural knowledge to make the connection that the statue is considered sacred for a part of the population. They don’t know it’s a religious icon.

Meanwhile, one Christian is very angry about all this… he actually makes some sense, up until the last sentence, when he gives away his true feelings:

Jim Blake, national chair of Concerned Christians Canada, sent a letter to the zoo on Thursday, calling for the sculpture to be removed.

“The zoo is not a place of religious indoctrination, it is supposed to be a safe family environment free of religious icons and selective religious partiality,” Blake wrote.

“The displaying of different gods in a public place like this is an offence to our beliefs and does not represent the diversity of views that should be reflected.”

If the zoo wants to keep the statue and “[embark] on teaching the public about world religions, Blake suggested that the facility also erect the cross of Jesus Christ, the Ten Commandments and Noah’s Ark

“The display of foreign gods is offensive and does not reflect the views of the majority of Canadians,” he continued.

The headline at Reddit summarizes that argument perfectly: “You can’t erect a statue to your elephant god because my sky fairy will be offended.”

(Thanks to Yuri and Brett for the link!)

  • ChameleonDave

    The fact that it’s a ‘foreign god’ actually makes it less of an issue, not more. A crucifix in a mainly Christian country raises the question of whether something is being forced on people. An exotic or historical superstition, however, is merely an unthreatening curiosity. They could put up a collection of beast-headed Egyptian gods, and no one would feel anything was being pushed on them or advocated.

    However, in the spirit of fairness, these things should probably be banned/discouraged. It’s best not to let Christians have an excuse to portray themselves as victimised.

  • Gordon

    The zoo is not asking anyone to worship at the statue, I think their position actually makes sense.

    Christians (not all of them, just the rabid ones) love too see themselves as victims, but the article quotes a reasonable Christian woman saying how she liked the statue.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’m actually OK with the statue staying, maybe because it annoys the xians. But I’m in favor of educating kids about world religions, and pointing out that elephants were the inspiration for a Hindu god, and also that Hindus have special ceremonies involving elephants, is certainly something worthwhile to learn about elephants. I also think there should be a statue of Thoth next to the ibis exhibit and totem poles near bear or raven exhibits, etc. Go ahead and talk about mythology, and how animals appear in it. The only way a crucifix would be appropriate, though, is if the zoo had an exhibit of humans, and I don’t know of any zoos that do.

  • mkb

    This does raise interesting questions. My first thought about the Egyptian gods analogy was that it didn’t fit because no one worships those gods anymore. Then I wondered if I was correct that. I also wondered about Native American totem poles. Are some of them displayed places as artifacts and do some people still worship the spirits they represent? The right answer is bound to be that if religious artifacts are to be displayed by a government body they should be displayed in appropriate educational settings where they can be accompanied by nonreligious text describing their origin and purpose.

  • Cynic

    The website of these particular cranks describe this statue as an ‘Idol’.

    ’nuff said.

  • littlejohn

    Wouldn’t getting rid of the whimsical elephant come uncomfortably close to the Taliban dynamiting the giant Buddhas? The pachyderm seems harmless to me.

  • Rian

    Darn foreign gods… Hey, wait?… Isn’t the christian god originally from the middle east? Damn middle eastern gods…. Stay Out of Canada! We only want to worship beavers and moose.

  • Tgr

    “The right thing to do would be to simply remove the statue.”

    And while at it, they should shoot all the elephants too. They are religious symbols, after all.

    Anyone who is not capable of making the distinction between promoting religion and educating people about it just shouldn’t blog.

  • Tony

    I think it is wrong to show Ganesh! Take down the evil dancing elephant statue (and replace it with one of my agonizingly tortured human being nailed to a bit of wood statue instead).

  • Solitas

    “if the zoo had an exhibit of humans, and I don’t know of any zoos that do.”

    US Congress?

  • http://rsenthilkumar.com Senthilkumar

    I had to laugh, imagining how a foreigner has taken up an issue like this. At this rate you cannot get any animal statue in there…

    Where’s your right to creativity now…and my goodness so much for Lord Ganesh, I am happy that you have educated so many people on this, otherwise they would not have known HIS popular existence….

    I have a question if there is no religion why at all be bothered about it…

  • mb

    Seems to me that the zoo’s intention presupposed that the Ganesh statue had no inherent religious ‘value.’ (Or, perhaps, that the ‘religious value’ was irrelevant.) It was being presented as a interesting cultural/artistic statement about animals and their native habitats and interactions with aboriginal people. The very use of the statue in the non-religious setting serves to denigrate the religious significance of the piece. The xian insistence on quid pro quo serves to re-elevate the ganesh statue or, in turn, denigrate the xian symbols used to ‘balance’ the message. From the xian perspective, it seems this would be a lose-lose proposition.

    Clearly it was not the zoo’s intent to establish a temple to ganesh. It seems so silly for xians to react to things like this in the way they do. Stupid is as stupid does.

  • http://deleted Siamang

    There are similar statues at the LA zoo.

    I think they are there in terms of cultural education, and not as promotion of a religion.

    Also, tgr makes a good point, educating about a religion isn’t the same as promoting a religion.

  • http://lyonlegal.blogspot.com/ Vincent

    The clear solution is to put the statue in a suit with a bow tie and put a crown on its head.
    Nobody would be offended by Babar.

  • Richard P

    I can’t see to much being done about this. I have seen the statue. The only people that would identify it as a god or idol would be those who have religion stuck in hyper mode inside there brain. Most people like that around here will be ignored, that is if CBC doesn’t decide to become obsessed with it. I hope it is not a slow week in the news. Go Iran!!!!
    To me it looked like a happy elephant dancing, Some Indian heritage piece, never would have thunk it to be a god. Like Vincent said, Babar.
    I think this kind of thing is good. It tends to remove the irreverence of such things and bring it down to it’s rightful place. A neat statue.

    Let the christians skwak, keeps them from being on the streets preaching. It lets them pretend their doing something worthwhile. Fifteen minutes of fame to make them proud of themselves. Then they can ride on that coat tail for years. Really could we ask for anything more??

    It’s a shiny little disk to keep them occupied while the rest of the world moves on.

  • Wendy

    The zoo holds celebrations every year for Easter and Christmas. As long as they insist on continuing to do so, the statue should stay, simply in the spirit of fairness.

  • Gruntled

    I’ve been to that exhibit several times and I’ve always really loved seeing that statue. I’m an atheist who believes strongly in the separation of church and state but I also happen to enjoy learning about world religions and mythology.

    I think the issue here is that the Calgary Zoo is not trying to promote Hinduism. If anything it should be the Hindus getting offended that kids are climbing on the statue and wiping their runny noses all over it. Its hardly an object of veneration.

  • Shannon

    As ChameleonDave said, I think most people don’t have a problem with it because it’s a “foreign god”. Having a statue of Ganesh and saying it’s just an elephant is really no different than having a large wooden cross set up and calling it a lower case T.

    I like it and have no problem with it myself but I also would have no problem with other religions, including Christianity, being represented in a way that made sense. The Christians wouldn’t have to have a cross, they could have a statue of a lamb. Almost every religion I can think of has some symbol of an animal involved, even if it’s not exactly a god.

    I think the people complaining have a point but I’d go the other way and include all rather than toss the Ganesh out.

  • MH

    A statue of a fat elephant hula dancing seems pretty tacky to me. I mean it has a pot belly and a skirt. If it had six pack abs maybe it would look a little more god-like.

    But as Stephen Colbert said you have to be impressed by a deity that can eat without using its hands.

  • Richard Wade

    Meanwhile, one Christian is very angry about all this… he actually makes some sense, up until the last sentence, when he gives away his true feelings:

    Actually, Jim Blake contradicts himself nonsensically in the first two sentences quoted. First he says this correct and sensible statement:

    “The zoo is not a place of religious indoctrination, it is supposed to be a safe family environment free of religious icons and selective religious partiality,” Blake wrote.

    But then he makes this oxymoronic statement:

    “The displaying of different gods in a public place like this is an offence to our beliefs and does not represent the diversity of views that should be reflected.”

    So, the displaying different gods at the zoo offends him, but a diversity of views should be reflected. So he wants the zoo to be both a completely secular place and a pantheon at the same time.

    You know, Jim, if you took those pills that the doctor gave you, after a while The Voices would stop bothering and confusing you.

    “The display of foreign gods is offensive and does not reflect the views of the majority of Canadians,” he continued.

    Once again, we see theology by democracy. Whichever is the true god is determined by majority vote, rather than by the god itself.

    I just realized what that Ganesh statue reminds me of. Without all the heavy jewelry and headdress, it looks like that nauseating Digital Dancing Baby.

    Now that’s an abomination if ever there was one.

  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    I like the statue. Maybe it’s illogical because I’d be pissed if they put up a cross… although I can’t think of any way possible to make a cross be related to the zoo, so it just would not fit. I’d love to see Egyptian god statues in the zoo, too. That would be fun!

  • zoo

    I can’t say I think Blake makes much sense. This Ganesh statue is not an idol or trying to indoctrinate anyone. He’s essentially saying “some people use animals as religious symbols” [a fact] is the same as saying “this religion is really great, you ought to follow it” [an opinion]. I’d love to see more zoos have displays drawing the lines between animals and people (and if the zoos in my state are any indication it is becoming more common, whether it’s left as decor or discussed with signage). It makes good sense when so many people in city settings are becoming disconnected from nature.

    Blake ought to see the jaguar exhibit at the Palm Beach Zoo. . . it’s clearly indoctrinating people into the Maya religion. . . . And at Jacksonville too!

    (He obviously does not know any zoo people either. Zoo people as a general rule are really not into indoctrination. They may follow a particular religion themselves, but they’re not the type to try to force others to. Of the 10-12 people I’m sure of their religion at my zoo (out of 150 staff and volunteers, give or take), five are Christian, four are Jews, there was a Buddhist for a while. I’m the only one I know of right now that specifically identifies as atheist. We’d rather discuss the animals, weather, each other’s families, than each other’s beliefs.)

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I think they should put up more animal themed deities in the zoo. In Egyptian mythology Anubis had the head of a jackal, Bast the head of a cat or lioness. In Hindu myth there was Ganesh of course with his elephant and Hanuman with a monkey head. Even the Hebrews had a Golden Calf.

    A Golden Calf would look excellent next to Ganesh.

  • Pseudonym

    You can’t do anything these days, no matter how innocuous, without a dumb vocal minority getting upset about it. Was it a slow news day?

  • http://www.christiangiftshome.com Crucifix

    Crucifix must be from Holy Land and then it will have a real power

  • Indigo

    “The display of foreign gods is offensive”
    Damn straight. Let’s stick to displays of Raven and Glooskap.
    All joking aside, the naked racism in this is pretty shocking. Most Hindus in this country are of East Indian descent – something which makes them no less Canadian than fellow citizens who are of French or British ancestry.

  • cypressgreen

    Alright, I’m in the US, not Canada, but I bet they’d still say, “The display of foreign gods is offensive” even if they lived here.

    So I’ll have to sign off right now, march up to my very American friend’s office, and inform her Hindu ass that her god is FOREIGN. Right.

    Incidently, I have a small ‘rock garden’ in a bowl on my desk here, which includes tiny Ganesh and Buddah statues. Why? They came from the estate of a friend who traveled the world and killed himself a few years ago. There are also a few scraps of stone he brought back from the top of the great pyramid, interesting rock samples from my childhood collection, glass from a friend’s visit to China, gems in the rough, and rock samples from Aswan and Valley of the Kings brought for me by my Hindu friend form Egypt.

    Oh yeah, and a rosary with a medal of St. Expidite instead of a cross. Very helpful for work.

    Culture is interesting. I say keep the Hula Ganesh. LOL

  • infideljoe

    I did release God was Canadian.

  • Shane

    Sorry, but neither Jim Blake nor the blogger are making much sense here. The statue is clearly being used in a cultural not religious format. Is there any calls for the the orca statue at the Vancouver aquarium brought down, seeing as how its an aboriginal religious symbol as well? Of course not! and neither should there be any such calls for this statue.

  • http://www.streetchurch.ca Artur

    This statue is an abomination!

    • http://www.facebook.com/kenton.forshee Kenton Forshee

      Why? It’s not depicted eating shellfish or anything.

  • Tony Partridge

    I agree with the zoo’s rationalization regarding the dancing elephant: that its a cultural expression linked to the place this species occupies in Asian societys. Also, to suggest that “religion is something more than a cultural artifact or expression is to give religion much more credit than it deserves. Religion is if nothing else, a cultural/mythological narrative that gives meat to the bone of collective and individual identity. Whether you take it as a literal belief system or as a poetic/literary albeit mythical symbolic expression I suppose is the divide between believers and non-believers. Although I am a non-believer, I enjoy exploring the rich world of myth, magic and metaphor to be found in biblical and other religious text.

    However, having stated the above it is also critical to point out that true believers thrive on confrontation, it feeds their sense of righteousness and makes them feel alive in relation to their core religious beliefs. They even strap bombs to their bodies or willingly throw themselves into the flames to prove their faith in the deluded belief that they have been granted one form or another of eternal life due to their unwavering faith and degree of submission or obedience. How dangerous is that? It certainly warrants from those of us rooted in rationality, a very close examination in order to avoid and protect ourselves from such madness.

  • ildi

    We only want to worship beavers

    Rian has the right idea!

  • http://s2solutions.us/wordpress Seth Strong

    Zoos don’t have people in cages and that’s a big reason why Jesus wouldn’t fit in there. Ganesh is cooler by far. Not cool enough for me to put any belief into him, but it looks like he avoided the fate of being hung like a picture which has been the death of other popular one-third deities.

  • Doubting Thomas

    That’s a typical Christian response: “How dare they put up statues to these false pagan gods? They need to put a display up to honor the one true God. You know, the one I worship.”

  • http://jessicasideways.com Jessica Sideways

    “You can’t erect a statue to your elephant god because my sky fairy will be offended.”

    I love that! ^_^ But yeah, I lived in Calgary and I feel sad that I never got to visit the Calgary Zoo. I passed by it all the time when I lived in Northeast Calgary.

  • http://nonais.org Esbee

    I would like to ask an atheist if the reason they are so against believing in God because in the Bible it states how God told his people to go wipe out certain peoples, then lists the Crusades as evidence of a bloody God, then are atheists equally against communism, which has totaled 110,000,000, dead since the early 20th century? One of the tenants of Communism is that there is no God. I would think under the same reasoning for being vehemently against God because a good God should not kill especially innocents, then by the same reasoning, an atheist who spends much time deriding and writing against religion and outwardly stating the ludicrousy of religion, should also spend equal if not more time, decrying communism. Would you actually face a communist leader who murders their own people and tell them how you feel about what they believe that they are hypocrites and murderers? After all, communism started as a system for the common people to have equal rights, yet became what it is today, the few in power have all the perks and total control over the lives of the citizens who face death or prison for having independent thoughts and labor for the good of the few in power.
    Below are stats taken from http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/COM.ART.HTM
    With this understood, the Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these. Most of the deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and transit thereto. Communist China up to 1987, but mainly from 1949 through the cultural revolution, which alone may have seen over 1,000,000 murdered, is the second worst megamurderer. Then there are the lesser megamurderers, such as North Korea and Tito’s Yugoslavia.
    Obviously the population that is available to kill will make a big difference in the total democide, and thus the annual percentage rate of democide is revealing. By far, the most deadly of all communist countries and, indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his crew likely killed some 2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978 out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot’s rule of slightly over just over 2 to 1.
    In sum the communist probably have murdered something like 110,000,000, or near two-thirds of all those killed by all governments, quasi-governments, and guerrillas from 1900 to 1987. Of course, the world total itself it shocking. It is several times the 38,000,000 battle-dead that have been killed in all this century’s international and domestic wars. Yet the probable number of murders by the Soviet Union alone–one communist country– well surpasses this cost of war. And those murders of communist China almost equal it.

  • http://www.concernedchristians.ca Jim Blake

    Thank you for posting this article. All in all it was a good article.

    I felt it important to add some clarification to your article. In the CBC interview, you linked to, the CBC failed to properly document all of the comments I made which would have brought a more balanced view of my message. But they did at least include one important quote which you left out, “The displaying of different gods in a public place like this is an offense to our beliefs and does not represent the diversity of views that should be reflected.”

    In the interview I made the point very clear that the zoo is funded by millions of tax payer dollars. It is therefor a public facility not exclusively a private one, nor a Hindu one. If tax payer dollars of non-Hindus are going into the zoo, then the zoo needs to honor the fact that the zoo should be a neutral place free from any religious icons and more importantly open to people from all religious and non-religious backgrounds.

    There is no need to include, either a Noah’s Ark, or a statue of Ganesh at the zoo, even though both have animal themes. When people go there, they want to see animals.

    If people want to have a Hundu zoo, where they connect their Hundi beliefs with animals, let them create one and pay for it with private funds. If Hindus want to stand at the public zoo and pass out literature on their god Ganesh, on their own time let them. Christians could do the same and so could other religious groups, that is a matter of freedom of religion and expression. But when the zoo erects a statue of Ganesh they are endorsing that religion with public funds.

    I run a Christian organization called Concerned Christians Canada and we do not ask for nor receive government funds to run our organization. In fact, we lobby government for the removal of tax payer funding of special interest groups. Special interest groups should operate free of government funds. Let the people who believe in the organization’s views and agendas fund them.

    If you have any questions or need further clarification on my interview or my views on the Ganesh statue or any other topic, please feel free to e-mail nationalchairman@concernedchristians.ca

  • Royalimportsindia

    WOW! I love this Ganesha statue

  • prairienymph

    A Christian woman told me she blamed the deaths of the rays who were located in the building behind the statue on the statue.  According to her, Ganesha was a demon of death and a convenient scapegoat for all animal deaths at the zoo.
    I think a religious symbol can lose its strong link to religion and remain a popular cultural icon.  Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and Halloween have all managed to do this in North America so I have no problem with this Ganesha.