When Christians argue that Jesus Christ has no religious significance

An Ohio public school superintendent is defending the ginormous reproduction of Sallman’s “Head of Christ” that hangs in a Jackson City school building. He says the iconic portrayal of a white Gentile Jesus does not privilege or establish religion, but merely reflects “the culture of our community.”

You can use a lot of words to describe a larger-than-life reproduction of this particular painting, but I’m not sure “culture” should be one of them. (OK, yes, fine — everything is culture. But still.)

Hemant Mehta says the portrait is a clear endorsement and privileging of sectarian religious and that it has no place in a public school. He’s absolutely right.

This is not Sallman’s “Head of Christ.” This is Hunstein’s Head of Cash. I like this better.

It’s not just that this is an illegal establishment of religion, but that it’s just plain not fair to privilege one particular sect over everyone else. Instead of plastering pictures of Jesus in our public spaces, forcing non-Christians to see that our team outnumbers their team, Christians should try to think about what Jesus told us. He said we should be fair. He said “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Hemant doesn’t quote that verse from the Gospel of Luke, but he cites the idea of it in another post about yet another public school where a teacher has turned her classroom into a sectarian shrine, covering the walls of the room with Bible verses. Hemant writes: “Can you imagine what the response would have been like if [the teacher] were Muslim, with Koran verses lining her walls? Or an atheist, with quotations from Christopher Hitchens greeting students each day?”

The Jackson City Sallman’s “Head” print was a gift to the school in 1947 from a student YMCA club. The YMCA had distributed pocket-sized versions of the picture to GIs during World War II.

After the war, interestingly:

Groups in Oklahoma and Indiana conducted campaigns to distribute the image into private and public spaces. One Lutheran organizer in Illinois “said that there ought to be ‘card-carrying Christians’ to counter the effect of ‘card-carrying Communists.”

So there’s quite a history of using this particular image as a tribal totem for culture warriors.

In other words, this isn’t about “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” This is just about pissing on trees to mark our tribal territory.

On the positive side, though, at least the Jackson City school just has the painting hanging in a stairwell. It could be worse — they could be using it in art classes.

Sallman’s “Head of Christ” can be found in almost every evangelical church in America. It is a popular, iconic, beloved image of Jesus for millions of American Christians. Yet defenders of having the painting in a public school argue that this devotional icon of Jesus Christ has no sectarian meaning.

This is why the separation of church and state is vitally important for Christians. When Christians are standing around arguing that Jesus Christ  has no particular religious significance to us, then something has gone horribly wrong.

For a good history of Warner Sallman’s ubiquitous image, see Victoria Emily Jones on “Sallman’s Pretty Jesus.”

 

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  • P J Evans

    If Jesus has no particular religious significance, then why do they want everyone to be Christian, and why do they feel the need to have pictures of him in public buildings?
    They seem to be a bit confused.

  • Mary

    It is just another example of the poor “persecuted” Christians wanting special privileges. And then lying about their motives. Maybe the ten commandments SHOULD be posted in schools (NOT). Why don’t they start with “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

  • Jurgan

    So, a couple of questions I’m not clear on.  First: Does a teacher putting up Bible verses in her classroom automatically make it a “shrine?”  I can see why plastering every wall would be improper, but having, say, a page-a-day Bible calendar on her desk would be appropriate, correct?  At what point is the teacher a representative of the state, and at what point is she a private individual?  Second: Would the painting be appropriate if there were paintings significant to other religions there?  I’ve never been clear on this one.  Some people say disestablishment simply means that the state cannot privilege one religion over another, but does that mean it’s okay if they have other religious iconography present?  How many religions need to be represented- every one that a student at the school claims?  And what about atheists?  Or Jehova’s Witnesses, whose religion (I believe) forbids any sort of iconography at all?  I’ve heard similar arguments about nativity scenes on public land- they’re okay if other religions are represented as well, but certainly we can’t accommodate every religion in the world.  Do we wait for adherents to request a new display put up before taking action?  I’m confused on this point- any legal scholars out there?

  • Amoros Pierre

    ” So, a couple of questions I’m not clear on.”

    Let me try and help, with my perspective as a french atheist.

    “First: Does a teacher
    putting up Bible verses in her classroom automatically make it a
    “shrine?””

    If the verses are put “up”, displayed for students to see, yes.

    “I can see why plastering every wall would be improper, but
    having, say, a page-a-day Bible calendar on her desk would be
    appropriate, correct?”

    Probably, if it is turned to face the teacher. Once you turn it towards the kids, you display it, and you fall back to the case above.

    ” At what point is the teacher a representative of
    the state, and at what point is she a private individual?

    From first bell to last bell, (s)he’s a representative of the state. From the moment (s)he’s not working, she’s a private individual. Breaks are a grey area, I’d say (s)he’s a representative of the state when interacting with the kids, a private person if secluded in some way. Depends on his  or her contract, I think.

    “Second: Would
    the painting be appropriate if there were paintings significant to
    other religions there?”

    No

    ” I’ve never been clear on this one.  Some people
    say disestablishment simply means that the state cannot privilege one
    religion over another, but does that mean it’s okay if they have other
    religious iconography present? How many religions need to be
    represented- every one that a student at the school claims?”

    In theory, you’d have to have icons for everyone of the hundreds of religions practiced today (or even the thousands f religions practiced throughout history). In practice, any religious icon does privilege one religion over another, so isn’t it simpler not to put up any?

    “And what
    about atheists?”

    We don’t have religious icons. Because we don’t have any religion.

    ” Or Jehova’s Witnesses, whose religion (I believe)
    forbids any sort of iconography at all?”

    Well, another argument for not putting up any religious display at all, don’t you think?

    ” I’ve heard similar arguments
    about nativity scenes on public land- they’re okay if other religions
    are represented as well, but certainly we can’t accommodate every
    religion in the world.  Do we wait for adherents to request a new
    display put up before taking action?”

    One solution I have seen was to put the display spot as winnings in a lottery. I’m OK with that. The thing is, when atheists entered and won that lottery, it’s the christians who complained that they were persecuted.

    ”  I’m confused on this point- any
    legal scholars out there?”

    All my answers are my own. I’m not a lawyer, especially not one familiar with americain law.

  • EllieMurasaki

    At what point is the teacher a representative of the state, and at what point is she a private individual?

    Is she in her classroom? Is she on the clock? If either answer is yes, then she’s representing the state.

    Would the painting be appropriate if there were paintings significant to other religions there?

    It’d be less inappropriate.

    (Unless the classroom is dedicated to a survey of religion. Which is frankly a course I think public schools ought to have, on the grounds that the public’s knowledge of the diversity of religious belief is appalling. Case in point, forty-five percent of US folks think the Golden Rule is one of the Ten Commandments; even if we make the (false) assumption that every US nonChristian is among that number, that leaves eighteen percent of the US population who ought to know it but don’t. And a survey-of-religion course ought to be permitted religious classroom decorations, same as the English classroom gets poetry on the walls and the history classroom gets maps. But fuck if I know how to make sure that all public schools with a survey-of-religion class would be teaching it in a manner neutral to all the flavors of religious belief including nonbelief,)

  • Matthias

    I don’t think it is so easy to differentiate when you are a representative of the state and when not. To take an examples from my own class: When one of the students was unable to pay for a trip to Rome this would have ment that the whole class couldn’t go and the state was unwilling to make up for the difference. So our teacher payed the mony from his own pocket. It was certainly in his class room and on the clock but it was definitly not as a representative of our state as the state had pointedly refused to pay.

  • Leo_k_lyons

    Well, no, the teacher’s still a representative of the state. Teachers can wear other hats in the classroom, sure, but if there’s a contradiction between what a teacher wants to do and what the state says a teacher needs to do, the state wins. You can follow state law and choose to be generous with your students. You can’t follow state law and choose to proselytize to your students.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s just the same problem, only more expensive, as teachers paying for their students’ pencils and/or textbooks on account of the school ain’t funded for shit. I would argue that such teachers are indeed representing the state in that exchange–the part of the state actually doing its job.

  • Photon

     Is she in her classroom? Is she on the clock? If either answer is yes, then she’s representing the state.

    This leads  to a difficult question, though (at least in my country): What about teachers who feel the religious obligation to wear certain headpieces* or other religious symbols?

    *headscarf for female Moslems, turban for male Sikhs, pirate head for adherents of the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  • EllieMurasaki

    I would say it’s fine as long as they’re not calling attention to it (which is the same justification by which I would allow cross necklaces), but the turban and the pirate hat are likely to call attention by their mere presence, and so might the headscarf depending on the frequency of headscarfs (for secular or sectarian reasons) in the local population.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     So… they should be forbidden? Observant muslims, sikhs and pastafarians should be forbidden from public office?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Didn’t I just say in the next comment that no they should not?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     It’s not clear to me what your follow-up was saying. Something like “No, I don’t mean to oppress minority religions. So long as those minority religions agree to not require adherents to wear anything ‘intrusive'”?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I do not see how I can forbid the wearing of headscarfs by female Muslim teachers unless I also forbid the wearing of cross necklaces by Christian teachers. (Which I would like to do but am not stupid enough to try.) If the headscarf teacher keeps drawing attention to the fact that she is wearing the headscarf because she is Muslim, that is a reason to ban her from wearing the headscarf. The Christian teacher keeping drawing attention to the fact that she is wearing the cross because she is Christian, that is a reason to ban her wearing from the cross. The headscarf is going to get more attention than the cross regardless of what their respective wearers do; that is not a reason to ban the headscarf or the cross.

  • P J Evans

     Turbans and headscarfs stop being a problem after a bit, since they’re pretty much just another piece of clothing.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     There’s the confounding factor that there’s a lot of places where any attempt to cover or obscure your face is taken as evidence that you are Up To No Good. (There’s a bank near where I used to live with a sign on the door saying that you had to remove any hats or head-or-face-coverings inside so that the security cameras could get a good look at you. Seems like that is like five different lawsuits waiting to happen.)

  • Dan Audy

    I’m not sure that religious signifiers ever become just another piece of clothing though having them be more common does make them seem less intrusive but they still remain cultural signifiers as much as wearing a super-tight muscle shirt or a LOL-Cat shirt does.  It places you into a group because we use clothing as a major means of self-identifying and maintaining group cohesion.

    I had a really hard time explaining this to my daughter when she decided that she wanted to start wearing stylish headscarves like one of her friends did.  To her it was just a different pretty piece of clothing but before we allowed her to do so we felt she needed to understand what sort of message other people would be reading from her choice and accept how people would treat her differently as a result.

  • http://vovinyl.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    I’m not sure that religious signifiers ever become just another piece of clothingthough having them be more common does make them seem less intrusive but they still remain cultural signifiers as much as wearing a super-tight muscle shirt or a LOL-Cat shirt does. 

    My mother swears up and down that cross necklaces became non-religious in the 1990s, that she read interviews with (or heard personally from?) people who had no idea what they stood for but just like how they look.
    I still think she got a mistaken impression of how widespread this is or could be. And yes, in the U.S.But then it was part of a much longer conversation about how Christians are “almost always” portrayed negatively in most fictional media. Which I found a mind-boggling claim, but one shared by most Christians I know (and generally most of the ones I actually have conversations with that include sociological, political, or religious matters like that are not the sort you’d be heavily disinclined to discuss those matters with if you’re reading here). Still, it meant I didn’t hold her to the specifics of this for long, as it was only one point in an overarching discussion.

    I don’t know–I still can’t imagine this is anything like a significant group, even as she took it as sign to assume nothing about the religious beliefs of anyone wearing a cross from then on (thus the context: “Even if a character is shown wearing a cross?” “Not everyone wears a cross because they are a Christian!”)

  • P J Evans

     I’ve seen a lot of people wearing rosaries as necklaces, but I don’t think they were necessarily Catholics.

  • http://vovinyl.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    I’ve seen a lot of people wearing rosaries as necklaces, but I don’t think they were necessarily Catholics.

    I know several people who wear cross necklaces who aren’t Christian. They aren’t unaware that the cross is a Christian symbol though; they just don’t think that it precludes them from wearing one if they like the look of it.

    That I find absolutely believable–and I’d be inclined to believe it would be somewhat difficult to go so far as a rosary without knowing something, but people are rather strange.

    Then again, I live in the southeastern US, and have spent half the time here in more rural areas, wherein the assumption of Christianity is only recently becoming less accurate, it feels like…

  • The_L1985

    A lot of areas with little to no Catholic population will have people wearing rosaries as jewelry because they don’t know it’s a rosary–it’s beaded, it has a cross on it, it’s about the right size to be a necklace, so it must be a necklace, right?

  • http://vovinyl.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    Well, good point.

    I would think (possibly wrongly, of course) that this would tend to show in people thinking “Ah, a cross necklace!” who just don’t understand what it specifically is, but apparently I’ve been living in and moving between bubbles of people who either don’t wear many crosses, or accompany them with accoutrements primarily indicating religious intention seemingly without exception.

    Certainly, the last rosaries I saw were with a Catholic I knew very well…and the handful of people praying in front of Planned Parenthood, who were fingering the beads in such a fashion as to obviously be using it as an actual rosary.

    Whom I asked if they were familiar with Matthew Chapter 6 in a bout of frustration. They at least admitted they weren’t.(Not the brightest of moments on my part, but I was extra annoyed in general, this was the millionth time I saw it, and the very same Catholic I mention above really, really didn’t like people doing this from her own church–for the same reason, and for the shaming involved. Especially as she knew firsthand they do plenty more anyway. Though, to be fair, this was a Sunday and there was no one there anyway. Which kind of makes me wonder what the object was at all…)

    I do have one myself, but then I also have a Bible. I just use neither, as they were simply inevitable gifts as a result of being a preacher’s kid. Mostly tended to make me uncomfortable for accepting them knowing I had no use for them myself (and if I really wanted to read a Bible, I could borrow my mom’s. Any of them. Nevermind my dad’s.)

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    If they were Catholic they’d know a rosary isn’t a necklace.

  • P J Evans

     They might be, and still wear it. (Hard to believe they wouldn’t know: it’s California.)

  • JayemGriffin

    Anyone wearing a rosary as a necklace is almost certainly not Catholic. I was always taught that it’s for prayer only, and wearing it as jewelry is extremely disrespectful.

  • The_L1985

     Not all Catholics got taught that, though.  Remember, Ordinary Catholics who go to CCD/PSR for several years in a row are the exception, not the norm.

  • DorothyD

    I don’t remember ever being taught not to wear a rosary, it was just something that most definitely Is Not Done. The only people who wore rosaries visibly were members of religious orders, and then it’s usually attached to a waist belt.  

  • Tricksterson

    But if you dont wear your rasary, what will you use in case of vampire or demon attack?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I know several people who wear cross necklaces who aren’t Christian. They aren’t unaware that the cross is a Christian symbol though; they just don’t think that it precludes them from wearing one if they like the look of it.

    —–

    I wear a cross necklace myself–the cross is small and wooden, with no adornments, and the necklace part is a thin strip of leather. It usually sits under my shirt. It’s beautifully simple and my dad made it for me so it has enormous personal value.

    I’ve been wearing it for 15 years, and in that time I’ve been given a fancy gold “pretty” cross necklace by different (non-religious) friends on three separate occasions. I appreciate that they’re being generous in giving me a gift, but it’s hard not to hear “I see that you like cross necklaces, so here’s a ‘nice’ one”. I’ve never worn them, because they lack of the things I value in the one I do wear.

  • Mary

    I understand that the cross you wear has a special meaning for you, but I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that your friends mean anything by giving you “nicer” ones. They may just assume that you like crosses. A relative of mine was given a turtle figurine and when she displayed it in her home people assumed that she had a special fondness for them. Before long everyone was giving her turtle figurines and when she died she had a collection of hundreds of them. Now don’t get me wrong, she liked them, but it was kind of a family joke because she really wasn’t a collector at all.

  • Mary

    I see celebs wear crosses all the time, who are not Christians at all. It is difficult to know exactly what they believe. This started in the 8O’s with Madonna. She stated that she likes crucifixes because “they have a naked man on them”

    I don’t assume that everyone who wears a cross is a Christian, anymore than I assume that someone who wears an ahnk (a cross-like symbol from ancient Egypt) subscribes to ancient Egyptian ideology.  Wearing religious symbols are a fad for some people.

    Actually my sister, who is a devout conservative Christian, hates crosses because to her they are a symbol of death and cruelty. As far as I know, this isn’t a part of her church’s teaching. It is just her personal preference.  So even among Christians, crosses have different meanings to different people. 

  • http://vovinyl.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    I see celebs wear crosses all the time, who are not Christians at all. It is difficult to know exactly what they believe. 

    I should clarify, I suppose: I am most disbelieving of the notion that there is any significant group that does it completely unaware of the meaning, or at least origin (I believe Madonna was raised Catholic, for instance?), and that even those who do it knowingly are near as significant as the group that wears them as religiously representative.

    But, of course, the entire discussion started from the idea of a character in a film or television wearing one, which I usually see implying faith. Which may be an inaccurate sample, considering how little (and selective a set of) television I’ve watched for the past decade.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which I hit send and then realize that could be taken as me not wanting to allow religious apparel from less common religions, which is not at all the intention. Cross necklaces are background noise, turbans are not, which is a problem, is where I was going with that.

  • Photon

    Cross necklaces are background noise, turbans are not, which is a problem, is where I was going with that.

    I agree that it is a problem. But I think it would be a bigger problem to forbid them. This is a big issue in Europe and it varies form countries who allow everything (UK) over countries who forbid everything (Turkey, France) to some German states who openly privilege Christians and openly deny this privilge to Moslems.
    Which leads me to think that it is better to allow it for every religion and only act if there is evidence that a teacher is abusing this freedom.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Cross necklaces are merely necklaces. I even have one.  (My grandparents bought it for me when I was still Christian and lamenting that evil wingnut Christians had taken over the conversation, and Christian had become synonymous with evil wingnut.) They are unimportant except as tribal and personal markers. Turbans are very important to Sikhs. Mandatory for men, in fact. Telling people they may not wear turbans, on their own bodies, is trampling on their religious autonomy, and it is not okay. A turban draws attention? Good! Maybe some students will ask about it and learn something.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    [Crosses] are unimportant except as tribal and personal markers. Turbans are very important to Sikhs.

    What’s with the difference?

  • Dan Audy

    Well, as a general rule, Christians don’t believe that wearing a cross is a religious requirement – their religious obligations involve prayers, baptism, and taking communion along with a variety of others based on the particular denomination.  

    Sikh’s on the other hand are commanded to prayer and to wear at all time 5 articles of faith as a symbol of their devotion.  As a sign of respect to the perfection that God created them with, Sikhs do not cut their hair.  After they comb their hair twice a day with a Kanga (another article of faith that they must wear) it is tied in a knot and wrapped in a turban because it grows so long that it would otherwise interfere with their obligation to be prepared to fight injustice at a moments notice (what the remaining 3 articles symbolize).  You will also see (mostly older) Sikh men wear a ‘beard net’ to keep their facial hair tidy.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I understand all that. I’m just not crazy about people being told by someone else that a religious symbol is unimportant because it’s not codified in the laws of their religion. I think people should get to decide for themselves if a symbol is important, not have it dismissed as just a tribal marker (usually a negative connotation, especially around here).

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     For what it’s worth: tribal markers are often important.

  • Mary

    I don’t know what the law says, but I think there should be a difference between displaying your personal religious affliation and promoting it, especially when it involves a religious requirement. I don’t think that people should have to hide their religious beliefs. They just shouldn’t evangelize. 

    Of course in real life it is difficult to put that into practice.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    This leads to a difficult question, though (at least in my country): What about teachers who feel the religious obligation to wear certain headpieces* or other religious symbols?

    I say completely legit–it should absolutely be OK.

    That said, I live in a country with neither a state religion nor a constitutional separation between church and state, and I’m pretty relaxed about individual displays of religious association in general. But I think that attempts to ban headscarfs, in particular, are wrong from a whole bunch of different angles.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    I’d really be a bit more lenient in when the teacher isn’t a representative of the state (/school). The best conversations I’ve ever had with teachers is when they were speaking as private individuals, with opinions that would have gotten them in trouble with the hoity-toity private school I attended. These were often after class, but also during my lunch breaks as I was a sad child and had very few friends my own age. 

    I’d have no problem with a teacher privately counseling a student or two and sharing their religion during breaks/after school, in the same way my Spanish teacher would share her extreme anti-capitalist and anti-US intervention in Central America (that should date me) views with me over lunch and after school. 

  • David Starner

    I think that a classroom should be devoted to the job. Personal expression should be there where it adds, not detracts, from the subject. A science teacher should not be taking space by putting up non-sciencey posters. It steps beyond poor teaching when they’re pushing a political or religious position.

    As for the painting, I think it’s telling that multiple paintings from multiple religions are rarely a question. Occasionally, we get a menorah mixed in with Christmas stuff, but that says something about the complexity of where Christmas sits in our culture. This is a purely religious message, and nobody has any intention of sending a mixed one.

  • Tricksterson

    Not a legal scholar but my own guess would be on the first question that have a calendar on her desk would be fine if she didn’t read it aloud every day to the class.

    On the second question, the inability to reconcile verybody’s religious views is exactly why they’re all excluded.

    Any actual legal scholars out there feel free to correct me.

  • Maryanna

    Are these really questions you need answers to? It’s pretty simple, all lined out by the notion of separation of church and state that America was really excellent at prior to Reagan.

    She’s a private citizen at home. She can have her crosses and pentacles and altars at home. There’s no point in having that stuff on the wall of her classroom. If she’s that insecure about her faith, she should become a pastor instead of a teacher.

     No religions should be represented; that’s why church is church and school is school. Your walls should be covered with the periodic table and historical timelines, not Bible/Torah/Koran/Bhagavad Gita verses. Public spaces should be kept free of religious iconography unless it’s a specific culture day where anyone who wants to gets a turn. Every other day of the year, school is for learning, not for expanding faith.

  • Maryanna

    Not trying to be snide, but this isn’t a complicated issue at all. I’m a Doctor Who fan; I wouldn’t (or shouldn’t!) be allowed to plaster pictures of TARDISes and William Hartnell all over my classroom instead of things relevant to schooling.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Nah, Fred, I think they’re just telling the truth when they say that. There are quite a few Christians nowadays for whom Jesus and his words are nothing more than a flimsy projection they use to further their own goals. Money, power, what have you.

    This school guy just seems to have accidentally been honest about it all. 

  • Tricksterson

    Nowadays?  I think as soon as you have any organized religion you’re going to have this right from the beginning and unfortunately those types tend to be ones who rise to the top.

  • SisterCoyote

    Bill O’Reilly made a similar argument, IIRC – that Christianity was not a religion, but a philosophy, a way of life. It’s all… very strange.

  • arcseconds

    I’ve never seen that painting before. 

    But it’s awful. 

    Forget about the non-establishment clause.  There’s got to be something in the constitution, or the universal declaration of human rights, or somewhere, about not being subject to hideous kitsch, doesn’t there?

  • konrad_arflane

    I’ve heard similar arguments about nativity scenes on public land- they’re okay if other religions are represented as well, but certainly we can’t accommodate every religion in the world.  Do we wait for adherents to request a new display put up before taking action?

    My understanding is that some towns and cities have tried to make their public-property nativity displays legal by declaring whatever area houses the display a “public forum”, meaning that anyone who wishes to put up a display can do so. This gets around the need to “accommodate every religion in the world” by limiting the number of displays to those religions who have adherents in the area who can be bothered to put up a display (and implicitly stating that any religion not represented only has itself to blame).

    Of course, this solution tends to piss off the RTCs, since what they *actually* want is not a nativity display so much as territorial marker.

  • Ken

     There have also been a few cases where the creche proponents tried to argue that a nativity scene was secular, like an inflatable snowman or Santa on a sleigh.  And wasn’t there a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court, regarding a cross in a national park, where the court held that the cross was OK because it wasn’t really a religious symbol?

  • EllieMurasaki

    I dunno about any crosses, but according to the Supreme Court “In God We Trust” is nonreligious and can thus stay on the currency.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Supreme Court “In God We Trust” is nonreligious

    Now I know they put something in the water over at the SupCt.

    My reaction to that decision? http://jpegy.com/images/uploads/2012/09/hahahaha-no-cat.jpg

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, it’s called ‘Scalia’.

    Wait, no, Aronow v United States was a 1970 case in the Ninth Circuit that the Supreme Court declined to hear appeal and Scalia was appointed to the Court in 1986. Oops. Sorry.

  • Steve Morrison

    And wasn’t there a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court,
    regarding a cross in a national park, where the court held that the
    cross was OK because it wasn’t really a religious symbol?

    You’re probably thinking of the Mojave Memorial Cross and the case of Salazar v. Buon; Scalia did deny that the cross could be understood to preferentially honor the Christian war dead. (The Friendly Atheist has some posts about it; unfortunately I have trouble posting links with Disqus.)

  • Steve Morrison

     Aaaagh! The case was Salazar v. Buono.

  • http://vovinyl.blogspot.com/ FangsFirst

    And wasn’t there a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court, regarding a cross in a national park, where the court held that the cross was OK because it wasn’t really a religious symbol?

    While there are a load of cases regarding such thinges (especially big crosses), I think you may be thinking of the Mount Soledad cross?

    That IS the argument: “No, it’s a war memorial,” but it hasn’t been upheld as legitimate by any courts. Peter Irons wrote a cool book on the whole subject, which actuallly has the Soledad cross on the cover.

    EDIT: nevermind. I think Steve Morrison is correct, I remember that case as well. I have a semi-masochistic/trainwreck-morbid fascination with Establishment Clause cases.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    And wasn’t there a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court, regarding a cross in a national park, where the court held that the cross was OK because it wasn’t really a religious symbol?

    Gotta say, I find this line of argument wildly offensive–to Christians and non-Christians alike.

  • Mrs Grimble

    If they want a picture of Jesus, I can think of many that are far better than  Sallman’s pretty-pretty effort.  For instance, how about a Caravaggio?  He painted quite a few Jesus portraits.  Some of them – ‘The Deposition”,  “The Flagellation”  and so on – might be a bit icky for a school, but “The Supper at Emmaus” would be perfectly appropriate; it depicts the astonishing effect of the resurrected Jesus on the representatives of humanity sitting at the table.
    Plus, it’s a damm good painting that you can sit and look at for hours, finding new things to look closer at and wonder about.  Meanwhile Sallman’s portrait is, as somebody said, exactly like a magazine ad for hair shampoo, with about as much depth and meaning.  In fact, that school superintendent is quite right – it’s NOT religious. They may as well put up a Thomas Kinkaid Christmas print.

  • Launcifer

    A shampoo ad? Nah, with that much forehead, the guy’s quite obviously in the pay of the Advanced Hair Studio.

    Being serious for a moment, I don’t quite get it either. There are so many pieces of distinctly Christian artwork that are just astonishing displays of technical ability, whereas this thing is – to put it mildly – a bit crap. If I was going to foist a piece of sectarian anything on someone, I rather hope that I’d at least exhibit enough good taste to pick one that was worth looking at in its own right.

  • arcseconds

    I’ve just finished watching The Power of Art, and I’ve completely fallen in love with Caravaggio.  Such fantastic use of light! And ‘The Incredulity of St. Thomas’ is supremely icky.

    I was also going to mention that Sallman’s painting seems to be a bit of a precursor to Kinkaid’s light-porn.

    Other things that are pretty awful about ‘Head of Christ’:

    *) Jesus is looking pretty emaciated there.  Eating disorder?
    *) Victoria Emily Jones already points out that his raised eyes make it difficult to interact with him.
    *) it looks like he could be crosseyed
    *) Presumably he’s supposed to be communing with his Father, but he just looks kind of vacant to me.  Stunned, maybe, or possibly stoned? he doesn’t look compassionate, stern, or much of anything, really.
    *) does he pluck his eyebrows?
    *) so much brown.  why?  Brown can be effective, but here it just seems kind of pointless, and gloomy, without actually being interesting.

    I think what’s really troubling me about this is that not only does Christ seem to have a rack of hair products in his bathroom, but the lack of anything resembling personality about him presumably allows the viewer to project whatever they like on him, which is one strong respect that this painting is kitsch (and may help to explain the painting’s popularity).

    If you don’t project, you just end up with a shallow Christ with no personality.  This just seems… wrong.  Whatever we think of Christ, he surely couldn’t have been vapid and ordinary.

  • The_L1985

     I always thought of that painting as ordinary, though.  When I first read the article, my thought was, “Wait, the cheap Jesus print from Grandma’s dining room?  They’re arguing over that?

    It just seems like such a silly thing to put in a school, simply because it has a veneer of Redneck that I can’t really get past.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    On a Christian talk radio yesterday, there was a caller who shrieked: “How do they even knooow it’s a picture of Jesus???  No one knows what The Lord really looked like!!!”
    Okay, then.  Why do you want a picture of an unknown person in a place of honor on your wall?

    It ALWAYS happens this way when it comes to placing religion in public places.  According to the RTCs, it is either the most important thing in the world or the least, depending on the audience. 

    A little ole picture of Jesus?  Oh, how like you whiny atheists, to make so much of something that is No Big Deal.  Why, I never even knew the picture was there until you atheists brought it up! 

    How like those evil atheists, to try to STEAL our precious history and religion!  They are oppressing us!  They are intolerant of our intolerance!  Those COMMIES!

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I wonder how that caller feels about Piss Christ, then. It’s just a piece of plastic in urine, after all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisalgoo Chris Algoo

     I just want to applaud your dedication; listening to Christian talk radio can’t be easy!

  • KevinC

     My guess is, the RTC’s see it like this:  The sectarian tribal markers (pics of Jesus, Nativity scenes, Ten Commandment plaques, etc.) are [supposed to be] “unimportant” because, since this is their country, such things ought to be just part of the background, like American flags in front of every public building and flag lapel pins on politicians.  It’s only when somebody tries to change the background to accommodate anybody but them, that–ERMAHGHERD!  SocialistIslamicAtheistCommieNazis!  We gotta Take This Country Back!

  • The_L1985

    We totally don’t notice these things until they’re gone!!  So please leave them here because they’re an important part of our cultural heritage!

    Wait, what?

  • Kirala

    This is tangential to Fred’s point, which is about a patently false rationalization for an obviously unConstitutional and sectarian act. But it’s a tangent on my mind lately.

    As a public school teacher, I worry a lot about the boundary between my personal faith and my professional job. Obviously, no proselytizing or being a professional Christian on the clock; that’s easy enough, I’m not inclined to it off the clock. I respect my students’ religious views, encourage a class environment where students respect one another’s views, and avoid presenting mine altogether, let alone presenting mine as an example. Well enough.

    But what do I do when a Christian student is trying to use my faith to argue against abortion in a debate class? Is it really inappropriate for me to talk to them privately to explain where there are sectarian as well as secular flaws in their argument? What about the student who is tearfully wondering why other people just don’t love Jesus like she does? What about the student who is passionately interested in proving to his conservative parents that homophobia is wrong and unBiblical? These are all actual scenarios I have had to face. Then there are the students who have experienced spiritual abuse at the hands of Christians, to whom I wish to apologize on behalf of the conscience-bearing members of my faith. To whom I wish to say, “That parent/authority figure was wrong to treat you that way, and you are a wonderful person who has every right to be an atheist/Pagan/Muslim etc., and this Christian authority figure wants you to believe that.” I wonder, sometimes, if it were generally known that I were a Christian, if students would be able to take that speech more seriously.

    When a teacher is merely an instructor, the separation is clear and professional. When a teacher finds themselves in the position of mentor, counselor, helper – as we often do – it suddenly becomes very hard to hide any fundamental aspect of our life philosophies.

  • Lori

     

    But what do I do when a Christian student is trying to use my faith to argue against abortion in a debate class?  

    The thing is, unless the student says “According to Kirala’s religion” then the student is using his/her faith to argue against abortion, not yours. I understand why that can be awkward when you and the student share the same basic faith, but I think great care still needs to be taken in arguing against it, even privately. It would be all too easy for the student to get the impression that you’re grading his/her theology instead of their argument construction and presentation.

    I think there are acceptable ways to note in class when an argument is religions in nature and that people’s religious views vary, even within a given religion. I don’t think it’s a good idea to say anything to a student that could possibly smack of “I’m right about our shared religion and you’re wrong” or “Your argument is inappropriate because I disagree with it”.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     My $0.02; far from definitive.

    But what do I do when a Christian student is trying to use my faith to argue against abortion in a debate class?

    I would say it depends.

    Are they making demonstrably false claims (e.g. “All Christians agree that blah blah blah” when you, a Christian, don’t agree to that)? If so, treat it like any other case of making a demonstrably false claim in debate class.

    Are they making claims that your religious tradition objects to or rejects? If so, treat it the same way you would want a different religious tradition to treat claims you endorse. (For example, the way you’d want another teacher to react when a Christian student tries to use your faith to argue in favor of legalizing abortion.)

    Is it really inappropriate for me to talk to them privately to explain where there are sectarian as well as secular flaws in their argument?

    Not necessarily, no. If you happen to have a relationship with this student that makes sectarian instruction appropriate — for example, if they are also in your church’s religious instruction class on Sundays — then great, go for it. But being their public school teacher is not such a relationship, and for you to presume to offer sectarian instruction without such a relationship is at best presumptuous.

    What about the student who is tearfully wondering why other people just don’t love Jesus like she does?

    Again, it’s probably presumptuous and inappropriate for you to give her sectarian instruction, but you can certainly counsel her, much as a Buddhist or atheist teacher could. If you can’t distinguish between sectarian instruction and personal counsel, then you should leave that task to someone who is better qualified to provide personal counsel.

    What about the student who is passionately interested in proving to his conservative parents that homophobia is wrong and unBiblical?

    Again, you can certainly counsel him, much as a Buddhist or atheist teacher could. If his conservative parents happen to belong to your sect you can even provide him with useful facts about that sect, much as you could a Buddhist students if you happened to know a lot about Buddhism.

    Then there are the students who have experienced spiritual abuse at the hands of Christians, to whom I wish to apologize on behalf of the conscience-bearing members of my faith.

    In general I distrust such “apologies,” which are often veiled demands, but assuming it’s an appropriate apology in general I wouldn’t say being a teacher bars you from making it.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    What about the student who is tearfully wondering why other people just don’t love Jesus like she does?

    Again, it’s probably presumptuous and inappropriate for you to give her sectarian instruction, but you can certainly counsel her, much as a Buddhist or atheist teacher could. If you can’t distinguish between sectarian instruction and personal counsel, then you should leave that task to someone who is better qualified to provide personal counsel.

    This actually seems to me the easiest of all the questions to answer from a secular point of view–surely children of school age are old enough to begin to learn the simple but profound lesson that not everyone in the world thinks alike.

    The interesting part is that this kid felt free to open up to a teacher about her love of Jesus.  I hate to overuse the word “privilege,” but wow–I would never have felt comfortable expressing my lack of faith to any of my teachers. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    the easiest of all the questions to answer from a secular point of view [..] not everyone in the world thinks alike

    Sure, but that answer only goes so far.

    If an atheist student is tearfully wondering why other people just don’t value truth like she does, I can certainly start by pointing out that different people don’t necessarily think alike.

    But I would probably also try to move her further into an understanding of what kinds of goals different people try to accomplish with their beliefs, and that different ways of thinking are better suited for accomplishing different kinds of goals.

    I would never have felt comfortable expressing my lack of faith to any of my teachers

    I had some relationships with teachers I would have felt comfortable discussing it with, but they were rare. (Several of those teachers I still talk to, thirty years later.)

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Well, going “only so far” is sometimes all you need (or should do).  Whether the student is tearfully asking about Christianity or skepticism, the teacher is neither obligated nor (probably) qualified to deliver an answer on Life, the Universe, and Everything.

    I wouldn’t want a teacher explaining to my kid the goals and better-suitedness of “spirituality,” so I can only assume that a Christian parent would like it no better were an atheist teacher to speak on the goals and better-suitedness of skepticism.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    To use your examples: there are goals for which expressing skepticism is well-suited, and there may be  goals for which “spirituality” (whatever you mean by that) is well-suited.

    How important each goal is to me is a value choice, and it’s not appropriate for a public school teacher to explain to me why “spirituality”‘s goals are better than skepticism’s goals or vice-versa. I agree.

    What strategies work most reliably for achieving each goal is a fact about the world, and I don’t have a problem with qualified public school teachers explaining that. You seem to disagree, but I can’t tell whether that’s because you’re not separating “what goal Dave should have” from “how Dave can best achieve Dave’s goals”, or whether you believe both of those are (independently) inappropriate things to teach in school.

  • Kirala

     I’d feel a certain way as a parent… but I recall, as a high school student, being very grateful that my biology teacher told me that he had no problems with the theory of evolution as a Sunday School teacher, which made it much, much easier for me to feel okay about the conclusions I was already reaching independently. And high schoolers are in a very precarious zone between being under authority and having autonomy. I’d hope, as a parent, I’d be able to allow my child some autonomy in asking and choosing their own religious/philosophical authorities. As a student, I always preferred teachers who were willing to be honest when asked. So the question about what I should do if all players feel like me is straightforward. There is, however, a rather crucial conditional in that sentence that doesn’t apply to real life and complicates my decision-making.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I think a teacher who constantly pays attention will end up doing far more harm than good. It’s impossible to remove the core beliefs from the person entirely. But treat your students fairly, don’t privilege one group over another, etc. There are some beliefs that I want teachers to use in their classrooms: feminism, for instance, especially if you’re a science or math teacher. And my own life was immensely helped after school hours by a certain French teacher who was the only adult to ask me if I needed any help when my parents got divorced.

    As an atheist and as a woman living in this society, I desperately want — no, need — decent Christians like yourself to speak up. I get slut-shamed by loud Christians for being female on a college campus, and no Christian says to them, “stop”, no Christian says to me, “that was wrong and they were wrong, and this is why, as a Christian, I am opposing them.” Please stop being so quiet. It’s not all or nothing. Making quietly known that you are Christian is not going to lead to you imposing your beliefs on others. Instead, it will give less weight to those Christians who do impose their beliefs — their misogynistic, homophobic, violent beliefs — on others.

  • Water_Bear

    I’m mostly surprised people are still surprised by this kind of stuff. I was in high school not a few years back, in a pretty diverse liberal area, and we still had to say “under God” every day in the pledge* and had a small squadron of kids and teachers praying around the flag-pole every morning. And our football team was the “Indians,” complete with goofy  hilariously racist logo. It’s not like this kind of thing only happens out in Alabama, even in the blue states we have to deal with this shit.

    *What the heck ever happened to that guy who was trying to get the pledge amended  Did he finally run out of money or has he just fallen off the news radar?

  • EllieMurasaki
  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    This is why the separation of church and state is vitally important for Christians. When Christians are standing around arguing that Jesus Christ  has no particular religious significance to us, then something has gone horribly wrong.

    Well, yes. But this is not unique to the establishment clause. This is more generally true of any situation where a religion claims cultural hegemony or political power. The non-sectarian realities of culture and government will necessarily start to be seen as part of the religion, even by its practitioners. Which, unless the important parts of the religion just happen to coincide perfectly with the demands of cultural hegemony, will distort the important parts of the religion.

    In this vein, I have often said about Judaism that one of the best things that ever happened to it was the destruction of the Temple.

    In fact, now that I think about it, it’s not unique to religion. Any philosophy, even secular philosophies, will become distorted to the extent that they become hegemonic within a culture, unless they happen to already be hegemonic philosophies that align perfectly with cultural norms (in which case what use are they?).

  • MaryKaye

    My Moslem students wear headscarves and my Sikh colleague wears a turban, and after a very short while you just stop noticing–it’s just what those people wear, just like I wear caftans and science-geek t-shirts.  I think we should be able to make space for people to wear what they want, including religious things.  If we could get rid of the cases in which religion really is being used as a tool of dominion, one paradoxical result would be that we could be a lot calmer about religious garb because it wouldn’t be such a threat.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    Since headscarves aren’t actually mandated in the Koran, you could argue that they’re cultural symbols, not religious ones.

    It may be arguing in bad faith, since I don’t know how many Arabic/Middle Eastern women wear them without subscribing to Islamic beliefs. Even so, I think you’d be on firmer ground there than claiming that a painting of Jesus isn’t religious.

  • vsm

    Well, it’s not like the Bible mandates anyone to wear a torture device pendant around their neck or to own images of Jesus. Religion is a lot, lot more than what is said in the holy books. Some religions don’t even have such things.

  • banancat

     I think Christianity is unique in its deference to one particular holy text.  All other religions that I know of that have holy books only consider them one aspect of the religion and not the entirety of it.  The holy texts don’t necessarily trump everything else in Judaism or Islam.  Even within Christianity, there are denominations that don’t idolize the Bible as much as other groups do.  It seems to be a conservative, fundamentalist idea that the Bible is complete and perfect and if you just hand someone a Bible they will have all the information they could ever need to perfectly understand RTC Christianity.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I think Christianity is unique in its deference to one particular holy text. All other religions that I know of that have holy books only consider them one aspect of the religion and not the entirety of it. The holy texts don’t necessarily trump everything else in Judaism or Islam. Even within Christianity, there are denominations that don’t idolize the Bible as much as other groups do.

    Yeah, instead of “Christianity” you should have said “Protestantism”.

  • DorothyD

    Since headscarves aren’t actually mandated in the Koran, you
    could argue that they’re cultural symbols, not religious ones.

    Cultural symbols that for a lot of Muslim women are as a good as
    mandatory. So telling them they can’t wear a headscarf is a good as
    telling them they can’t be a teacher. I seriously doubt there’s any
    Christian teacher whose family will tell her she’ll have to quit
    teaching if can’t wear a cross.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    How about everyone wears what they want to wear and, unless it’s obscene, dangerous or outright abusive of others, no one has to choose between their job and some deeply meaningful personal symbol?

  • DorothyD

    How about everyone wears what they want to wear and, unless it’s obscene, dangerous or outright abusive of others, no one has to choose between their job and some deeply meaningful personal symbol?

    Yeah. Then we can just debate over how exactly to define “outright abusive of others”.  Should keep us busy for a while. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     If we get bored, we can switch to debating what is and isn’t obscene.

  • DorothyD

    Heh. And once we’ve exhausted that, we’ll move on to dangerous.

       Gimli said, “But you speak of him as if he were a friend. I thought Fangorn was dangerous.”
        “Dangerous!” cried Gandalf. “And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli son of Gloin; for you are dangerous yourself, in your own fashion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.servalis Sara Servalis

     
    Jesus, Hymens & Aliens  
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qc7GRZ_4t-U

  • http://www.facebook.com/allpowerful.nateboi All Powerful Nateboi

    This may be old news, Mr. Clark, but I chose to talk about this topic on my own radio show today. While doing some research, I’ve come across something odd.

    …I can’t find a single bit of evidence that the face book page the news report mentions ever existed. No sign of it on facebook, no google cache in case it was deleted, not even a single report that gives a dead link.

    I’m certainly not claiming these news reports are lying when they say the page existed and got 11K likes in three days, but…I can’t find any evidence that it ever existed.


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