Priest rushes under the flames inside Notre Dame Cathedral to save a ... STATUE of Jesus?

Priest rushes under the flames inside Notre Dame Cathedral to save a ... STATUE of Jesus?

OK, Catholic readers of GetReligion (and you know who you are), we have a solution to a journalism mystery that many noticed in the wave of coverage following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral.

The big question raised by coverage in The New York Times: What’s the difference between a “statue” of Jesus and a priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament”? Hold that thought.

Let’s start with Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade and one of the heroes of efforts to save what could be saved inside the iconic cathedral. Quite a few people are reporting stories about the actions that he took when it became clear that there was no way to stop the flames in the wooden structures holding up the cathedral roof.

Here’s the top of my “On Religion” column for this week, which led with this angle of the story:

As the flames rushed through Notre Dame Cathedral's wooden rafters -- each beam cut from an individual oak -- a squad of firefighters began a strategic mission.

Their leader was Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade. The goal was to save a crown of thorns that pilgrims have venerated for centuries as part of one worn by the crucified Jesus. King Louis IX brought the relic to Paris in 1238, after receiving it as a gift from the embattled emperor of Constantinople.

Fournier and his firefighters were, according to KTO Catholic Television, able to "save the crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament." Forming a human chain, they retrieved as many relics and works of sacred art as they could, until the flames won.

Meanwhile, American television networks solemnly told viewers that "art," "artifacts" and "works of art" had been retrieved from this iconic structure at the heart of Paris. In a major story about the fire, The New York Times noted that Notre Dame Cathedral had "for centuries … enshrined an evolving notion of Frenchness."

So here is a basic religion-beat journalism challenge: How does one describe the “Blessed Sacrament” in a few phrases? Some journalists struggled with that.

For some reporters, the crucial issue was trying to turn “sacraments” and holy relics into “art” and “artifacts.”

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Portrait of a lady: Concerning missing art treasures and a contested cathedral

Portrait of a lady: Concerning missing art treasures and a contested cathedral

“Cognitive dissonance” is a mellifluous phrase I’ve heard bandied about in the media during these first days of the Donald Trump administration.

The new president’s supporters are in the grips of this psychological malady, the Daily Kos tells us. In an interview broadcast by MSNBC “Bill Nye” the “science guy” postulated the president also suffered from “cognitive dissonance,” and as he had a “worldview that disagrees with what you observe.”

Writing in 1962 in Scientific American about this new psychological theory, (cognitive dissonance, not Donald Trump), Leon Festinger offered this explanation:

This theory centers around the idea that if a person knows various things that are not psychologically consistent with one another, he will, in a variety of ways, try to make them more consistent. Two items of information that psychologically do not fit together are said to be in a dissonant relation to each other. The items of information may be about behavior, feelings, opinions, things in the environment and so on. The word "cognitive" simply emphasizes that the theory deals with relations among items of information.

Such ideas are not new. Scripture tells us: A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). Once upon a time, a double minded man was one with a character flaw. Now he has a pathological condition.

If the president and his supporters are not sick, they must be evil, the pundits tell us -- witness the contretemps over “alternative facts” and Kellyanne Conway.  Moral opprobrium like burning coals has been heaped onto the head of the presidential counselor in disputes over alternative narratives of reality.

Stepping back into the GetReligion harness has resulted in a bout or two of cognitive dissonance for me -- the neural pathways used in my work as a country priest are not those of a journalism critic.

Nor did I keep all my bookmarks on the web. Looking for interesting items has led me to some odd corners, and the odd corners have unearthed odd stories.

I learned just the other day of a gallery opening in Minsk. The Belarusian Telegraphic Agency reports:

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Washington Post's Jewish-Art-About-Jesus 'taboo' extends to theology, too

Washington Post's Jewish-Art-About-Jesus 'taboo' extends to theology, too

That Jews have issues in considering the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth should come as little surprise. Christ, as Jesus was later called, challenged the spiritual orthodoxy of his day, and remains a challenge to the faith of millions. The bottom line: If Jesus is the Messiah, then Jews (and everyone else) has to make a decision to accept or reject Him.

In Israel, where, cultural sensitivities are high, then, it’s no surprise that Jewish art challenges the taboo of Jesus,” as the Washington Post noted recently.

Nevertheless, it is a little surprising that at the very epicenter of news coverage of this issue in Jewish and Christian experience, there’s practically no discussion of, well, theology.

Diving in:

At the center of the Israel Museum’s newest art exhibit stands an imposing, life-size marble figure of Jesus. The sculpture, titled “Christ Before the People’s Court,” would not be out of place in a church in Rome.
Yet in this depiction, the Christian savior wears a Jewish skullcap.
The sculpture, created by Russian Jewish artist Mark Antokolsky in 1876, is part of a collection of more than 150 artworks by 40 Jewish and Israeli artists who have used Christian imagery to challenge long-held taboos in both communities. It showcases the evolving attitudes of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli artists toward a figure whose place in Jewish history has been negotiated and reinterpreted over more than two millennia.
It is a risky statement for an Israeli museum.
Throughout history, Jews have traditionally shunned Jesus and his gospel. And while the Holy Land might be his accepted birthplace, for Jews in the modern state of Israel there is often resistance to learning about or even acknowledging Christianity.

Again, that's no surprise: As the Post notes, the better part of the past two millennia have been occupied by those blaming Jews for the death of Christ, culminating in the Shoah, the attempt to exterminate the Jewish race undertaken by Germany's National Socialist, or Nazi, party.

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In story about Muslim women art exhibit, follow-up questions are not on the menu

In story about Muslim women art exhibit, follow-up questions are not on the menu

Ever taste only part of a good meal? An article on an art exhibit on Muslim women in the Tampa Bay Times feels like that.

The Times raises several tantalizing questions about Muslim women -- their garb, their self-image, their public image -- but doesn't follow up most of them. The result reads less like dinner and more like a canape. 

It's a timely and urgent topic because traditional Muslim women  face more profiling than so Muslim men. With headdresses variously covering their hair, or wrapping around their necks as well, women are instantly identifiable as non-Jews or non-Christians -- and non-secular people, for that matter. So "Loud Print," the show at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, has the potential to open some eyes.

The artist, Ameena Khan, seems acutely aware of the issues herself:

Khan uses her artwork to initiate conversations about Muslim women. Her paintings portray a diverse group of women wearing hijabs, a cloth wrapped around their heads. One of the most striking paintings shows a woman struggling to keep her head up because her yellow hijab is so big. It's meant to represent the struggles Muslim women face wearing a hijab in public.
Meant to keep Muslim women hidden, the hijab seems instead to draw unwanted attention and sometimes hateful comments, Khan said. 
"You have this burden that you're carrying around," she said. "That's all people see."

Sounds pretty evocative, but it stops short. If a woman's most prominent garb is a symbol of her religion, and if a hijab is meant to keep women hidden, how are people to see the individual underneath? How is she to express herself otherwise? The Times doesn't say.

It does explain the idea of starting a conversation about Muslim women -- partly. Interestingly, the artist did it via social media:

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Angels and religion ghosts in American Bible Society's flight from New York City

Angels and religion ghosts in American Bible Society's flight from New York City

Let us now praise the fact that The New York Times offered a story about the departure of the American Bible Society from the Big Apple, even if that story was labeled as a "Building Blocks" feature that focused on the architecture of the building at 1865 Broadway, rather than covering some of the cultural implications of this symbolic evangelical group's flight to a less demanding location.

As the old saying goes: New York, New York. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere. Well, what about the opposite?

There are moments when this piece hints at the larger dramas behind the architectural lede. Still, let's let the Times team start where it wanted to start:

“Behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
Angels have never been especially conspicuous around Columbus Circle in Manhattan. But it is hard to look at 1865 Broadway, the former headquarters of theAmerican Bible Society, and not think for a moment about the ladder of Jacob’s dream, as described in Genesis 28:12.
If the bold, Brutalist rungs of the main facade do not persuade you of a biblical provenance, you are also free to read symbolism into the 12 deep recesses at each floor. Might they represent the 12 tribes of Israel? Or the Twelve Apostles?

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Generic person of God (or gods) busted for selling fake art

So, if you read a news report about a politician who did something really stupid or really bad — illegal even — what is the first question that would leap into your mind? Right. You’d want to know what kind of politician, what brand of politician, the story was talking about. Ditto for all kinds of other cultural figures, from scholars, to musicians, to business people or to any other kind of work frequented by a wide variety of people who believe a wide variety of different things.

Thus, a former GetReligionista emailed us the URL for an interesting New York Times piece, but it’s a piece with a rather strange hole in the middle of its facts. The headline:

Pastor Who Tried to Sell Fake Damien Hirst Paintings Is Sentenced to 6 Months

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Baltimore Sun looks at art and religion, but not really

From the beginning of this weblog, your GetReligionistas have urged mainstream newsrooms to do a better job of covering liberal religious believers — as RELIGIOUS believers.

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Do Nativity scenes owe more to artists than historians?

I am blessed to be a member of an absolutely wonderful congregation. It’s a healthy mix of people who work together to keep the mission of our congregation going and thriving. Our regular focus on the Divine Service inspires all of our mission work, including a parish school and community programs.

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