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There’s The Rub

Still, what’s wrong with us?

The bishops want the officials of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to resign for showing Mideo Cruz’s works in an exhibit. Those works, they say, are obscene, perverse, and indicative of Satanic possession. Not to be outdone, Congress wants the CCP investigated. The CCP, it says, is paid for by taxpayers’ money. The last thing it may do is disparage the faith of the taxpayers who are generally Christians.

The public itself has been caught up in the frenzy. The social media are rife with vituperation against the CCP and Cruz. The more impassioned have proposals that range from excommunicating Cruz to sending him into permanent exile, from lynching him to cutting off his balls and stuffing them in his mouth.

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You wonder: Why can’t we be this incensed about corruption?

At the very least, you compare Cruz’s transgression with that of the bishops’ and congressmen’s corruption and there’s just no contest. The first is merely apparent while the second is patent.

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I say apparent because Cruz’s blasphemy or obscenity or perversity remains debatable. Our violent reaction to it must also compel us to wonder about our own conceptions or preconceptions of things. I say this because I too have had experiences, though milder ones, along these lines. I once wrote a Christmas piece saying that the greatest miracle Christ performed was not making the blind see or the lame walk or even the dead come to life but coming into this earth in the utterly bereft conditions that he did. And I went on to depict the manger in the stark way it must have been: cold, dark, smelly. Completely unlike the belens that dot Filipino homes during the season. Divinity, I said, is for those who have the eyes to see it.

Before I knew it, a couple of people had written in Letters saying that a special place in hell awaited me. Arguably that was the exception rather than the rule. But it drove home the point to me about preconceptions. Specifically, it drove home the point to me about how we have reinvented the images of Christ and the people around him. Mary could never have looked like a labandera though she was a carpenter’s wife. And Christ could never have looked like he came from the slums, notwithstanding that he was born in a way that would make an urban poor family look privileged. Hell, he can’t even be portrayed as “colored folk” though he was Jewish, he always has to look like Jeffrey Hunter. Or a blond and blue-eyed Wasp.

So when you react violently to Cruz’s apparent defamation of Christ, you might want to stop to wonder too what exactly you are objecting violently to. Maybe your own version of Christ the King, which was the subject of Cruz’s works, has little to do with Christ’s declaration, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

You needn’t do any similar soul-searching about corruption. There is nothing debatable about it. It is a thoroughgoing bane, it is a certifiable plague.

In the end, what’s unfortunate about Cruz’s exhibit is not only that it has closed the minds of the faithful instead of opening them up but that it has also given the bishops and the congressmen an excuse to turn things around. Not too long ago, this country’s attention was drawn toward corruption. Not too long ago, this country’s attention was focused toward the corruption of the congressmen and the bishops. Now suddenly, that has disappeared like a magician performing a trick. Now suddenly the bishops and congressmen are leading the charge against an apparent obscenity that violates the very core of the Filipino’s being.

But which is really the more patently obscene, art that depicts the face of Christ as having grown a phallus for a nose or not very petty thievery that shoves a dirty finger at that face? The business of art is to disturb, unsettle, shock, and to that extent Cruz’s works arguably live up to it. The business of legislation and religion is to guide, lead, and inspire, and to that extent, the corrupt congressmen and bishops screw them. Which is more likely to displease God, being represented by artists in ways that defy convention, or plain good taste, or being represented by his self-professed representatives in ways that defy virtue, or plain common decency?

Who are really the more patent defilers of Christ, the artists who throw mud at his face figuratively speaking or the Pharisees (and their secular brethren) who throw mud at his face literally speaking? Didn’t Christ say, “Not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of God”? Didn’t he say, “Whatever you do to the least of your brethren, you do to me”? You steal from the least of your brethren, you steal from him. You piss on the least of your brethren, you piss on him. You screw the least of your brethren, you screw him.

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Who knows? Maybe that was Cruz’s point all along, that religious hypocrisy is transplanting a phallus in the face of Christ. That the betrayal of Christ by those who speak his name is an obscenity like the one you are beholding.

Why can’t we be as incensed about a patent harm the way we are about a dubious one? Why can’t we be as incensed about corruption the way we are about Cruz’s works?

The only reason I can think of is that, like the Pharisees or the Damasos, we figure that if we just raised our lances against infidels, we can make up for a lifetime of screwing the Ten Commandments. We figure that if we just railed against unconventional, or outrageous, depictions of divinity, we can go ahead and go against all the “Thou shall not’s” of our faith, chief of them stealing and killing. We figure that if we just proclaimed ourselves loudly to be willing to die (or kill) for Christ, we don’t have to work quietly to live (or cultivate) Christian lives. Still you have to wonder:

What the hell is wrong with us?

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TAGS: bishops, Christian lives, congress, congressmen, Cultural Center of the Philippines, mideo cruz, Satanic possession, taxpayers’ money
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