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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