A tale of two blasphemies

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 10: Conor Munro (R) joins a protest across the street from Dove World Outreach Center where Pastor Terry Jones had scheduled a Koran burning for tomorrow on September 10, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. Jones has said that he would cancel the planned burning of Korans on Saturday if he was able to meet with the organizers building the Park51 mosque near Ground Zero. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So we lived through the media circus related to the threat to burn copies of the Koran. I keep thinking back on that with a shudder. A reporter I know was wondering why a few religious groups hadn't taken to the airwaves to denounce the threat. Because, of course, what the world needed was more people weighing in against the Koran burning. But that was the media environment a few weeks ago --- religious and/or political groups sensing an opportunity for favorable coverage by riding the coattails of a media stunt. And reporters having a publication/broadcast-friendly story ripe for the picking. I think we're all a bit ashamed of the surface-level coverage we experienced.

But did you hear about the Colorado museum showcasing a piece of art by a Stanford professor? It hasn't been big news, although it has been covered a bit. First a description of the art:

The piece, on display since Sept. 11 at the tax-funded Loveland Museum Gallery in Loveland, Colo., includes several images of Jesus, including one in which he appears to be receiving oral sex from a man as the word "orgasm" appears beside Jesus' head.

It has triggered protests and even calls to police by critics asking for an investigation into whether it violates a Colorado law that protects children from obscenity, the Loveland Reporter Herald reported. The city attorney determined it did not.

That comes from Fox News, which is highlighting the art because it was attacked by a woman shouting "How can you desecrate my Lord?"

I'm glad that Fox mentioned it was a taxpayer-funded museum but also that the city had determined the piece of art to be legal. These are both key issues. The woman who attacked the artwork was able to tear it but otherwise the damage was contained. The artist, Enrique Chagoya, had this to say about the attack:

Chagoya says he's sad that his book and the First Amendment were attacked.

"Should we as artists, or any free-thinking people, have to be subjected to fear of violent attacks for expressing our sincere concerns? I made a collage with a comic book and an illustration of a religious icon to express the corruption of something precious and spiritual," Chagoya told FoxNews.com. "There is no nudity, or genitals, or explicit sexual contact shown in the image. There is a dressed woman, a religious icon's head, a man showing his tongue, and a skull of a Pope in the upper right corner of the controversial page. I did not make a picture of Christ. I used symbols as one would use words in a sentence to critique corruption of the sacred by religious institutions."

Those institutions, he says, need to be criticized when they get corrupted and people have every right to dislike his criticism, just as he has a right to express it.

"Violence is the opposite of what Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha taught. I am amazed that some of the followers don't adhere to the teachings. Agree to disagree and love thy neighbor," he said.

I think the art sounds like something that I would find both cliched and blasphemous but I certainly oppose the attack on it. The woman who attacked it is from Montana -- not a taxpayer to the city, for what it's worth.

This story by Diane Macedo was good. I thought she emphasized the First Amendment much more than the blasphemy but it contained a lot of helpful information. This Denver Post story, on the other hand, de-emphasized both the First Amendment issues and the blasphemy. The description of the offending art was also pretty brief. It did explain one City Councilman's objections to the art well, however.

Anyway, I bring this sad story to light just for a thought experiment. How would this story be covered if the Loveland government had brought in a piece of art showing Mohammed receiving oral sex? And how would this story be covered if an offended Muslim had committed violence against the art? Would coverage of the would-be Koran burner been different if he would have given the equivalent of the speech above? Would there have been calls for public officials to denounce the art? How high would those calls have gone? Why the difference? And speaking of differences in the two stories ... did Newsweek's Jon Meacham attempt to mediate a draw-down with the artist? It's all just interesting and worth considering the next time we have another media circus.

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