The "Truth;" There is only One – UPDATE

The image is – according to the press release, meant to be deliberately ambiguous: we see Barack Obama once again being presented in the image of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world – an image and narrative that some clearly can’t communicate enough.

He stands before the Great Seal of the President of the United States, which surrounds him like a golden nimbus, and the effect creates a pentagon over the seal. His head is lowered to the right, and his arms are outstretched, not because he is nailed to a cross, but because he is either raising or lowering (or rending) a dark veil. Or a stage-curtain, take your pick.

Obama wears a spotless white shirt, the red tie, the blue jacket. Yes, that’s the old “red, white and blue” of the U.S. standard, but in Orthodox icon-writing those colors, specifically when adorning the body, are meant to communicate Christ’s transfiguration (and resurrection), royalty and divinity. On the head of Obama -whose life from graduate school on has rolled pretty easy- we see the thorny crowns worn by the suffering servant.

If I did not happen to mention it, the painting is called “The Truth”.

For one such as I, who is rarely “outraged” by the all of the tedious pop-culture “art” that tries to provoke (and guarantees itself headlines) by bastardizing the name or image of The Christ, this image brought forth a surprisingly visceral reaction from me. I threw up a little in my mouth.

That, I suppose, means this is powerful art. After all, neither The DaVinci Code nor Madonna’s Summer Concert Tour Disco Crucifixions have ever elicited more than a yawn out of me.

Or, maybe the rise of my bile had nothing to do with the power of the image, and indicated only that I am powerfully sick of seeing the iconic trappings of my Lord and Savior adorning a man who -until the last 100 days- hadn’t so much as run a hot-dog stand. He’s healed no one, lifted no one from suffering and poverty, invented nothing, taught nothing. Though he has been raised-on-high by his connections and by a sycophantic press that has crumbled upon itself with the strain of supporting him, Obama has himself raised nothing but (for some) expectations, (for others) trepidations and, (for everyone) taxes.

“The Truth.”

The artist, Michael D’Antuono, who will be exhibiting this painting at Union Circle on Obama’s 100th day in office, says of the painting:

“‘The Truth’ is a politically, religiously and socially-charged statement on our nation’s current political climate and deep partisan divide that is sure to create a dialogue.”

According to the press release:

D’Antuono insists that this piece is a mirror; reflecting the personal opinions and emotions of the viewer; that “The Truth” like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. D’Antuono expects that individual interpretations will vary as widely as they do in the political arena. The work will be seen by one viewer at a time behind a voting booth-inspired public installation.”

Wow, art that subject to interpretation, we’ve never seen that before.

Look, as a piece of art, it’s clever. But cleverness is shallow, and this thing -like pretty much all of the messianic art being created around Obama- is part self-promotion, part adolescent provocation and not much else. That the nation is divided by perspective is not exactly an earth-shattering observation, so let us ask what else this artist, and <a href-:<all of the artists and photo-journalists who are inundating us with Oba-messiah imagery, really wishes to communicate.

Although they are more discrete than Louis Farrakan, who once opined that when Obama opens his mouth, it is the Messiah who is “absolutely” speaking, I begin to think that these artists and journalists really do want to communicate Obama-as-godling and messiah, even if they say otherwise. In this I am jumping off an idea from Richard John Neuhaus’s American Babylon; Notes of a Christian Exile, where he wonders if some Protestant Americans -those bereft of liturgy and sacraments- have not created a sort of ecclesiastical substitute for those things in their intense nationalism. That is, are they making up for what is lacking in their worship -the outward pageantry, the sensory cues- within their patriotism? An interesting question, it prompts me to wonder if the journalists, artists and others who are dipping toes into the Lake of Faith that is Obamism (or jumping in with gusto) are not also trying to supplement their Secular Humanist beliefs (or their insistent atheism) with a sense of transcendence that is otherwise lacking.

If you don’t like a Eucharistic Procession, an endless campaign with a messianic center will do. Anything to enhance the faith.

Speaking of faith, Obama is a guy who goes to Georgetown and has them cover the name of Jesus before he speaks. He tries to sell his economic plans on Jesus’ parable of the building on sand or rock, but can’t be bothered to utter Jesus’ name. But he has never, not once, told these people to stop with the messianic stuff. He’s a Christian, right? He sat in Jeremiah Wright’s (for better or worse) Christ-professing pews for 20 years. He allowed George Stephanopolous to correct him when he said “my Muslim faith” in order to clarify his Christianity.

One would think that as a Christian, Barack Obama would have long-ago asked his supporters to stop the messianic stuff. He is a politician; he could diplomatically have said, “you know, guys, I’m not the messiah, let’s tone it down, can we? The comparisons to JFK, FDR and Abraham Lincoln really are enough…” That would have been charming and it would have stopped this nausea-inducing messianism in its tracks.

But Obama did not do that. He’s never said a word against the images which create a sub-conscious narrative, and so his silence implies a troubling consent. It will be interesting if, when he makes his controversial trip to Notre Dame for its Commencment, he wears the traditional ND robe, threaded with the name of Jesus Christ.

The “Truth”? In its press release, we read: D’Antuono even invites the public to email him with reactions to the piece, answering his posed question, “What’s your truth?”

More and more, as I talk to college students and as I encounter people who are committed to the notion of relativism and individual “truths” I am moved by the prophetic nature of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s last warning to us before he became Pope Benedict XVI, against “building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

And all of this reminds me of a story recounted by Daniel Johnson in the New York Sun:

Günter Grass, in his memoirs, recalls an encounter with the young Joseph Ratzinger while both were held in an American prisoner-of-war camp in 1945. The young Grass, a Nazi who had been proud to serve in the Waffen-SS, was taken aback by this soft-spoken, gentle young Catholic. Unlike God, the future pope played dice, quoting St. Augustine in the original while he did so; he even dreamt in Latin. His only desire was to return to the seminary from which he had been drafted. “I said, there are many truths,” wrote Grass. “He said, there is only one.”

The truth; there is only one.

Not, notice, “won.”

UPDATE: Mark Hemingway of NRO had an opportunity to talk to Michael D’Antuono on the painting and finds D’Antuono surprised and apparently distressed to learn that his image has been taken badly by people of faith. Read the whole piece. D’Antuono sounds thoughtful and I think everyone deserves the benefit of a doubt; I’ll take him at his word that he intended none of what many of us found in his work. After all, it’s easy enough to be misunderstood in speech and print. Widgets

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  • Ellen

    I don’t think the image is at all clever. It’s religious tatty. Silly even. If I were Obama, I’d be deeply embarrassed.

  • Mimsy

    How can anyone see this schlock and call it art? It’s the painterly version of drivel. The B0 should be mortified, but he probably doesn’t have the dignity to realize it.

  • cathyf

    I saw something different (probably because I need a new prescription for my glasses, so details fade to blurry on me while other things stand out). I saw a 10-yr-old boy with a bedsheet on his back and a Wonder Woman headdress getting ready to jump off the porch roof shouting, “Look at me! SUPERMAN!!!”

  • amcalabrese

    >If I were Obama, I’d be deeply embarrassed.

    Something tells me that is an impossibility.

    Frankly, when I saw it, I could not decide whether it was yet another example Obama kitsch or whether it was a subtle commentary on Obama kitsch.

    I think the plates and tee shirts will soon be available.

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  • March Hare

    Look carefully at the expression on President Obama’s face. Is that a smile–or a smirk? He certainly doesn’t seem to be suffering…

  • dellbabe68

    I understand your revulsion at this picture, especially since you took Easter to heart and follow His steps so very closely. For me it still elicited a yawn! Maybe because I work in higher ed and so many seem content to push controversy as scholarship, I am immune from being impressed or outraged by too many people’s artistic crappola. I don’t put it past artists to be snake-oil salesmen. Their main thing is to be noticed. It’s why they do what they do. To goad the rest of us presumed sheep into looking more closely at their BS. Now, I liked the chocolate Jesus from one or two Easters ago! It seemed like the only way to get a crucifix in the public square without someone having the vapors.

    BTW – this phrase, I loved:

    “Though he has been raised-on-high by his connections and by a sycophantic press that has crumbled upon itself with the strain of supporting him, Obama has himself raised nothing but (for some) expectations, (for others) trepidations and, (for everyone) taxes.”

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  • ShanaSFO

    I agree. It’s pathetic.

    The only ‘truth’ about it is that it declares that the ‘artist’ is probably a fool.

    (if this appears twice, sorry. I got a ‘data base error’ first time)

  • pabarge

    I don’t buy the faux outrage.

    You were sufficiently clever today on the Ed Morrisey show today, insulting Protestants by twice quoting a

    Catholic priest’s insinuations that Protestants sublimate the lack of pomp and circumstance in their

    religion into misplaced love for their country.

    If you could be that clueless as to make those kinds of comments twice and justify them as reasonable, then

    why in the world would you decide to pretend to be outraged at some artist’s rendition of Barak Obama.

    Unless you’re trying to make the point that the Catholic Church is the one true church and everyone else is

    a misguided leftist or an unconsciously frustrated Protestant. Catholics have done that before. A lot. Over

    a long history.

    Is that your point?

    Because if it is I can assure you that we still have copies lying around somewhere of Reformist principles

    that we would readily nail to a virtual door.

  • DaveW

    I didn’t think it clever either.

    Silly, juvenile, even, at this point, trite? Yes. Clever? No.

    I thought this sort of thing would stop a while back because of simple embarrassment. It appears I was wrong and I’ve decided we may be facing 4 years of this Obamessiah nonsense. Its gonna be a long 4 – or heaven help us 8 – years.

  • YogusBearus

    It’s not so hard to understand how a “work of art” that is this tacky, offensive, and sophomoric is getting this type of coverage. That seems to be the way the game is played anymore.

    What is totally puzzling to me is the lack of response by the President to these types of comparisons. While I’m not convinced there is enough evidence to convict Mr. Obama of being a Christian, it surprises me that such a consummate politician would not speak forcefully to distance himself from the ludicrous Messianic comparisons. I don’t get it.

    Pabarge, you obviously don’t get it either.

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  • Joseph

    Speaking of faith, Obama is a guy who goes to Georgetown and has them cover the name of Jesus before he speaks.

    Now Anchoress I am perfectly certain that had you seen a clip of Obama speaking with IHS above his head, you would have gone into a tirade about the nefarious use of Christ’s name to glorify Obama’s pretensions. There’s a name for this. It is called a double bind. Your running commentary on him is a chronic double bind. He can’t merely be mistaken, he must be willfully evil. His faith cannot be inconsistent or confused, it must be hypocritical. His political views cannot be “moderate”, or even “liberal” [i.e. different than yours but animated by the same common desire to see America thrive and prosper], they needs must be “socialist” [i.e. subversive to everything "genuine Americans" believe in and want for their country].

    I suppose there is no telling you that it is exactly that exclusivity of attitude ["If yuh ain't fer us, yer agin' us."] which has marginalized your Conservative Christian point of view, and is driving the Republican Party into the wilderness in search of ideological purity. In his acceptance speech last year, Obama asked a perfectly reasonable question: we may disagree about x but why can’t we agree about y? People who seek ideological purity of any kind have no reasonable reply to it.

    Hence you cannot persuade, you can only revile. You cannot compromise on anything, you can only make “non-negotiable” demands about everything. And I suppose there is no telling you that governing with an “enemies list” like this is ultimately self-defeating, despite the shining examples of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

    Since the process of Democracy is one of persuasion and compromise, the quest for ideological [or theological] purity is Democracy’s sworn enemy. Or, to quote Lyndon Johnson, a master of the democratic process if there ever was one, “Don’t spit in the soup. We’ve all got to eat.”

    Now Protestant Pabarge up there is a little thin skinned. But, without the hyperventilating, his reaction to the crusade against “moral relativism” is a perfectly rational one. Too strident an assertion that your point of view is the truth is also an assertion that what everybody else thinks is a lie. To avoid such stridency is not moral relativism, it is merely good form. And it is good form, not absolute truth, that puts the civil in civilization, and keeps oil in the gears of Democracy rather than sand.

    This is something that Pope John Paul understood quite well [He learned it in the hard school of Communist Poland. And it put him among the greatest of Popes] and something that has passed Pope Benedict by. It is also something that Barack Obama understands quite well. And, not surprisingly, Americans who are not in quest of ideological purity like him for it.

    If you stopped fixating on passing silliness and gush like this “artwork”, and took a good long objective look at why Obama is widely popular [and he is] , even among those who have doubts [liberal or conservative] about his policy proposals, you would see that this is not because millions have been bewitched into thinking him a Messiah, but because they think him [with justice] a reasonable and likable man who is not in pursuit of ideological purity, who is positive about what America and Americans can accomplish, and who is trying to help America thrive and prosper.

    This does not mean in the least that he has all, or even any, of the right ideas of how to go about it. But it does mean he has made clear to most Americans that they can disagree with him about his views and proposals, without either he or they having to treat it as a call for personal abuse or contempt.

    This is a rather refreshing change after the last 20 years of the Limbaugh/Coulter era.

    [I don't like him but this remark by you, Joseph, is wrong: "Now Anchoress I am perfectly certain that had you seen a clip of Obama speaking with IHS above his head, you would have gone into a tirade about the nefarious use of Christ’s name to glorify Obama’s pretensions. There’s a name for this. It is called a double bind."

    No. I wouldn't have even noticed it. And that's the truth. Also, excuse me, Joe but I don't call the president evil or other names; you're confusing me with the left. Have I speculated that he is a manchurian? Yes. Evil? No, I have never called him that. I have never said that Obama uses Christ for his pretensions, but I have suggested that as a professed Christian, he might have made a point of gently dissuading others from calling him the messiah. The rest of this comment of yours...I wonder how much of it you believe, yourself, having read me for 5 years. You're angry, fine. I think you're off the mark on a lot of this. -admin]

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  • newton


    I’m sorry. Obama’s silence before his Deification implies consent. He loves every minute of it. One can see it from a mile away.

    You must have been too busy to realize Obama’s First Commandment: “Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” Many people have seen the Obama deification process, including jewelry with his symbol on sale at JC Penney, tacky commemorative plates a la Elvis Presley and fake coins, and “inspirational” posters and t-shirts with his face and that of Martin Luther King. Don’t deny it: the evidence is everywhere.

    A “reasonable and likable man” would have told people to stop that crap the moment it began, but guess what? He never did… or did he? Don’t deny it!

    One president “who is trying to help America thrive and prosper” will never enslave taxpayers, their children and grandchildren with a debt that will, in practical terms, become impossible to pay back, thus making hundreds of thousands of us go out on the streets to protest that abuse of power for the first time in their lives.

    The way things are going, this nation will become as economically hopeless as Argentina. That nation was well on its way to become a South American powerhouse, until its government began to play Monopoly with its economy and paid more attention and gave more gifts to labor unions rather than those who wanted to make a living on their own terms. (Yes, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-musically-celebrated Evita Peron and her husband were big union pleasers then, just like Barack Obama is today. His consent to the UAW having controlling stake at GM is the first Peronian hint of Obama.) Eventually, everything went to pot over there – plus persecutions and “disappearances” of dissenters, to boot! Nowadays, its government has taken control over every persons’ retirement savings, even private accounts, so they can hog more and more taxes. And even more, and more… And many Argentineans, over time, and tired of the shenanigans, have voted with their luggage and arrived here.

    That is exactly what Obama wants for America: a government hog feeding off the blood, sweat and tears of the American people. When the people complain of the burden he has given them, the government will give them the equivalent of “swine flu”. And businesses, not seeing any signs of a break, will go “John Galt” and leave the country. Is that what you call “progress”?

    Besides, I know only one Truth, and that is that Jesus is Lord – not Barack Obama. If that means I’m going to be thrown to the lions to be eaten, so be it. When Obama raises the dead, then come back to me. But he will never have my loyalty or my vote.

  • GM Roper

    Anchoress, dump the above hyperbole from dissatisfied readers. You have created the perfect blogpost over this faux-art. Challenging? Nah, merely juvenile!

  • ultraguy

    Two quick thoughts:

    1) Imagine a painting depicting Obama as the prophet mohammed, then imagine the reactions from him, from his supporters (including the media) and from Islam. Interesting contrast, no?

    2) Another prominent politician did not resist comparisons to Jesus and, over time, began to embrace and explicitly incorporate them into some parts of his power-schtick. Despite thinking I knew a lot about that world leader and his era, I was shocked to brush up on the telling details of that blasphemy the other night. (See especially, pages 27-33).

  • Joseph

    Well, Newton, all I can tell you is that I still think a mountain is being made out of a molehill. In my town at least, the kitchy souvenirs are already on the closeout racks, the “artwork” above is never going to rival the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and 64 percent of Americans [AP today 4/29/09] think Obama is doing his job well.

    It is the refusal to confront this last fact that is driving the other 36% into political exile. It is a matter of hubris: your point of view on what the country should be doing [not what Obama should be doing--after all, he strongly disagrees with your point of view] is not irrational, but it is also not self-evident. As long as you continue to live on Coulter Street in Limbaughville, Foxnewsland–where there is no need to persuade anybody of the obvious correctness of what you think–Obama is likely to retain popular support.

    Consider Arlen Spector or, if his “betrayal” is too much for you, consider Olivia Snow. These senators are not just isolated, unprincipled charlatans. About 15% of the country ["moderate" Republicans and "conservative" Independents] have approximately the same point of view as they do. And this is the 15% that you have to persuade first if you want your point of view to even get a fair hearing, let alone prevail.

    You will not be persuasive with a Conservative ideological purge led by Sarah Palin and Grover Norquist. You have to engage people like Protestant Pabarge and you even have to engage people like me [on many issues I am far closer to conservatism than you might suppose]. And you will not accomplish this by fixating on Obama the Messiah and not bothering to tell anyone why what he proposes is bad public policy.

    One thing I can tell you that changed in the progressive community over the past eight years is that we finally got it through our heads that we have to persuade a majority that what we want to do is a good idea, and that persuasion takes active work, and at least some empathy, if not agreement, with the opposing point of view. The Anchoress herself, I think, overlooked the fact that for every ill-mannered lout shouting Bushitler there were 10 or 15 people quietly manning the phone banks in makeshift offices or repeatedly knocking on voters’ doors–who were, in other words, practicing democracy instead of just loudly preaching it.

    I haven’t been writing here lately because my bipolar condition waxes and wanes, so GM Roper probably doesn’t know that I am the Anchoress’ good friend, and friendly adversary. Nor that I respect and enjoy both her faith and yours. Nor that the Anchoress herself does not discourage adversarial commentary that minds its manners.

  • Joseph

    You must forgive me if I appear testy, Anchoress. Even when I feel good [which I do now] writing is a fire in my brain that tends to get out of control. Exaggerations of this kind slip away from me and my judgment about how much they may hurt or annoy appears to be permanently damaged, which is why I now write so little–I’m sorry that these did so.

    That said, I still think that worrying over things like this “artwork” is fundamentally frivolous, as is pursuing that stupid stunt with the Presidential plane. And I still assert that this fixation on Obama the man at the expense of examining his policies or proposals in any depth is rapidly eroding the conservative position in the national dialog. The Republican Party has been nearly unanimous in opposing the legislation Obama has proposed. In and of itself, this is not a problem. But when 70% of those polled agree with the statement that this has been done due to purely partisan motives rather than real principles, it is a problem. Worse, it might even be true.

    Strictly speaking, it’s not my problem. But I have cultivated the empathy for the opposing point of view that I described above. This leads me to suggest that this 70% are really not all that interested in whether Obama had a pediment temporarily altered at Georgetown University. They are interested in how he is permanently altering the country and the world. So am I. Aren’t you? The perception that conservatives are not interested in it except insofar as it serves their own political ends is making anything you might have to say about it irrelevant.

    As partisan as I am, I don’t much care for this. But then I have some rather old-fashioned ideas about the value of all points of view, and I ask you who you expect to explain your views in a way that everybody else takes what you say seriously? Kos? The NYT editorial board? They need that kind of explaining at the moment. Badly.

    You like baseball, so I’ll put it this way. Obama is on the mound. He has the ball and you have to hit it. As always, there is less than one chance in three that you will hit it, even if you aren’t in a slump, which you are. Obama is clearly a sinkerball pitcher, like old Tommy John for the Dodgers who was well nigh unbeatable if he could get through the first three innings and find his groove.

    He’s got you chasing after pitches that are outside and low so he’s just not going to give you a big fat change-up chest high and over the center of the plate. It’s the top of the second and more of his pitches are starting to clip the corners.

    Batter up.

    [Joseph, I totally understand that sometimes it all gets a little firey and fuzzy, and I offer my apologies if I seemed sharp. I have been more than a little testy these last few days as I've been battling some technical issues that were getting me nuts. At one point I actually was crying about it, until I realized that you know...God could have been telling me to use my time better, and differently, so I tried to listen to that. BUT...when I was really in the heat of thing thing, I was very, very bad. My Li'l Bro Thom can tell you I was uncharacteristically malevolent and spewing fire in all directions. Some of that, I am sure, is because of my HUGE technophobia and insecurity about it. And of course, there is also that other part, where I am just a bitch. Tomorrow is another day! I'm glad you're feeling better, I had missed you as I think you knew! Btw, I AM interested in both the small things and the big things re this administration, and the press too...just as I was re the last admin. It all matters. admin]

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