Saturday, October 8, 2011

Repackaging Jesus

My Honourable Number 2 son (as Charlie Chan was wont to say) is in his last year of High School and is about to tackle his Higher School Certificate.

We recently attended his school’s graduation Mass, which was held at a local church, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church at Kingsgrove. It is a beautiful church with a soaring roof that is open inside, no ceiling, making it reminiscent of a Maori or Samoan meeting house.

Our Lady of Fatima Church, Kingsgrove

Whilst sitting, standing, wishing the peace of the Lord to each other and asking that He hear our prayer, I was looking around and my mind started wandering. What came to mind was the scene from the movie Dogma, where Cardinal Glick addresses the reporters at a press conference on the steps of his church:
Now we all know how the majority and the media in this country view the Catholic Church. They think of us as a passe, archaic institution. People find the Bible obtuse... even hokey. Now in an effort to disprove all that the church has appointed this year as a time of renewal... both of faith and of style. For example, the crucifix. While it has been a time honoured symbol of our faith, Holy Mother Church has decided to retire this highly recognisable, yet wholly depressing image of our Lord crucified. Christ didn't come to Earth to give us the willies... He came to help us out. He was a booster. And it is with that take on our Lord in mind that we've come up with a new, more inspiring sigil. So it is with great pleasure that I present you with the first of many revamps the "Catholicism WOW. " campaign will unveil over the next year. I give you... The Buddy Christ. Now that's not the sanctioned term we're using for the symbol, just something we've been kicking around the office, but look at it. Doesn't it... pop? Buddy Christ...
Buddy Christ from Dogma

(As a digression but item of interest, Buddy Christ was featured in an advert for the UK based Phones4U. A cartoon graphic depicting him was featured alongside a range of Android phones with the message "Miraculous deals on Samsung Galaxy Android phones". Unfortunately for Phones4U the Advertising Standards Authority didn’t see the funny side, saying that whilst they understood that the ad was intended to be lighthearted and humorous, “their depiction of Jesus winking and holding a thumbs-up sign, with the text ‘miraculous’ deals during Easter, the Christian Holy Week which celebrated Christ's resurrection, gave the impression that they were mocking and belittling core Christian beliefs.” Bad call, Phones4U, unless even the controversy boosted their profile.)

Whilst it may see a bit sacrilegious for me to be thinking of Buddy Christ in church, in my defence I will explain.

I mentioned that the Kingsgrove church has a soaring open roof inside, wood panelled and without internal cross beams. Hanging from the roof is a large wooden cross.

The symbol of Christianity is the cross, representative of Christ’s crucifixion and his sacrifice for sin. As such it is a central feature in most Christian churches, either empty or with a sculpted Jesus crucified upon it.

I remember as a very young child, being horrified by the image in church of a man nailed to a cross. The crucifixes of my childhood that I recall not only depicted the crucified Jesus, they did so in graphic detail: the pained expression and pleading eyes looking towards Heaven, the crown of thorns, blood dripping from the wounded scalp, hands and feet. Real Stephen King stuff.

The newer churches have moved to an empty cross.

It is interesting to note that the Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists do not display crosses, believing them to be contrary to the Bible admonition not to have craven images and that the symbolism of the cross has pagan origins. A common comment is "If they had shot Jesus with a firing squad, would they have hung a gun on the church?"

Moreover, there are compelling arguments for the Mormon view that Jesus was not crucified on a cross but on a stake or upright post. It is not my intent to go into deep discussions of Bible translation or historical research. Those who wish to look further into the discussions on whether Jesus was crucified on a single pole without a cross piece can visit such sites as:

 Crucified on a post

Another interpretation of the cross

Coming back to Our Lady of Fatima Church and my thoughts of Buddy Christ, I mentioned that there was a large wooden cross hanging from the roof. Upon that cross was a carved wooden figure of Jesus. Not the crucified Jesus of the Bible and of my youth, tortured and bleeding, wearing only a cloth at his waist for modesty and with Roman letters above his name, but a kind and gentle, fully clothed Jesus, arms lovingly outstretched to those within the church:

Jesus on the cross at Our Lady of Fatima Church

We are becoming an increasingly secular society with diminishing Christian church attendance, reduced intake of clergy and decreasing religious belief. Christian churches have been unfavourably portrayed in respect of such issues as child abuse, views on abortion, the use of condoms, church wealth and religious intolerance.

At the same time we are a multicultural society in which competing faiths – Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism etc – seem to be increasing in numbers and influence.  Does it make sense to rebrand and repackage if that assists in market share being at least maintained, if not increased?. At what point does tweaking the product lose the essence of the product? Will Christianity survive as a major religion in our society? Does anything need to be done to keep current a faith that is 2,000 years old?

As I have said in the past, don’t look to me for answers, I’m just asking questions.

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