Antithesis I:3 (May/June, 1990) Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

Obscenity and Absurdity
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen


"The public has been so bullied intellectually by the proponents of contemporary art that it has wearily resigned itself to just about any idiocy that is placed before it." Those are the words of Frederick Hart in last fall's issue of Arts Quarterly. And they are on the mark.

But I believe that the idiocy of so many objects of contemporary "art" is far surpassed by that of their proponents who vehemently defend the financial subsidizing of such works by the civil government. The late twentieth century has here seen further confirmation of the words of the Apostle Paul that a culture which has been given over (abandoned) by God to idolatry and homosexuality is likewise a culture given over to absurdity in its reasoning (Romans 1:21-28).

The artistic expressions of modern American culture are, for the most part, not simply indifferent to the Christian outlook on life and values, but positively hostile and hateful toward it. We witness this whether the subject is Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ' or Madonna's rock album "Like a Prayer." One need not be sympathetic to the religious use of the crucifix (I am not) to recognize that submerging it in urine and displaying such as art - as did Andres Serrano - is an attempt to denigrate Christianity publicly.

Doug Bandow reminds us in a syndicated column that "art has been used as an ideological weapon throughout history." Today's art functions as a powerful tool for the tearing down and wearing down of a Christian view of the world, of man, and of ethics. Chelsea's Kitchen Theatre in New York features pornographic actress Annie Sprinkle masturbating and urinating on stage. The San Francisco art gallery Southern Exposure plays sexually explicit videos. Robert Mappelthorpe gains wealth and notoriety by his exhibits of homosexual and sadomasochistic photographs. Such obscenities as these are clearly an affront - and intended as such - to Christian morality.

What is even more outrageous, however, is that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) - a government agency financed by the public treasury - is responsible, directly and indirectly, for the partial funding of the obscene exhibits mentioned above and the crucifix dipped in urine. The taunting of Christians is paid for by the taxes of Christians! We are expected to subsidize those who detest our values. It is perfectly understandable that a tremendous public outcry was raised against NEA's audacity.

But it is precisely at this point that the absurd reasoning of an unbelieving culture becomes evident. When certain U.S. senators attempted to restrict the NEA from funding obscene and indecent works and one congressman even suggested dismantling the NEA and removing art from the public tax-trough, the response of America's cultured elite was as though the Nazis had come to arrest the Jews. Their tormented cry was that this amounted to censorship.

We see here how artistic perversion can be matched by intellectual perversion. Censorship attempts to prevent an artist from producing or displaying his artistic efforts. But nobody in the recent controversy came anywhere close to advocating that the government remove or even curtail the freedom of a Serrano or Mapplethorpe from presenting to the public whatever they might deem "art." Critics did not seek to force artists to stop their work. They simply argued that others should not be forced to pay for it. You are not guilty of "censorship" if you choose not to buy the Los Angeles Times. Nor if you protest tax subsidies for sacrilege.

The unspoken but audacious assumption of those who champion the NEA is that artists (or at least some artists, chosen by the irreligious) have a right to be funded by others (even against their wills). Resisting such coercion is confused with censorship because there is no genuine commitment to freedom for all. Defenders of the current obscenities are the first to cry out for freedom, but the last to grant it. Their recent whimpering about censorship is as politically arrogant as it is intellectually absurd.

But let us answer these fools according to their own folly (Proverbs 26:5). We should begin to advocate government tax-subsidies for Christian schools and churches - then wait around to hear the howls of our opponents. Only now they themselves will have handed us what to call them in return....