Love & Blasphemy

In “Young Gay Rites,” a New York Times Sunday magazine story, Benoit Denizet-Lewis artfully renders the attractions of marriage for young gay men. Profiling several Boston-based couples, Denizet-Lewis suggests that the under-30 crowd is creating a new norm that (hopefully) blends the best of gay and straight relationships. Ready to commit and to publicly affirm their devotion, most of the pairs plan a ceremony for friends and family. We learn what they wear and whom they invite, but we never hear about the role of religion in their lives. The absence is noteworthy, since homosexuality has been both a contested arena for many religious traditions and yet many members of the LGBT community have strong ties to their faiths. Perhaps, as the religious right contends, Boston is a secular humanist haven, but even so, mentioning that their weddings rites were devoid of religious rituals would have been interesting.

Elsewhere in New England, Aliza Shvarts, a Yale senior, probed the intersection of religion, politics, and free speech with an art project that purportedly included blood from an either a self-induced miscarriage or menstruation. Writing in the Yale Daily News, she explained, “For me, the most poignant aspect of this representation… is the impossibility of accurately identifying the resulting blood.” Yale administrators did not find the piece poignant; they forbade its exhibition unless Shvarts confessed it was a put-on—something she refused to do. The controversy generated a fair amount of buzz as Shvarts managed to offend proponents on both sides of the abortion debate, as well as feminists, artists, fellow students, and bloggers. But it also roused First Amendment advocates who weathered previous wars over objets d’art including “Piss Christ” (a photograph of crucifix in a glass of urine) and “The Holy Virgin Mary” (a collage splattered with elephant dung).

What’s interesting to consider is why works of art loom as threats to religion. As a countercultural force, religion is often offensive: the prophet Hosea wed a prostitute, Jesus attacked the moneylenders, and Siddhartha Gautama (who became the Buddha) abandoned his wife and child. Outrage is often the first step to enlightenment, compassion, and justice; but apparently not in New Haven.

Might some evangelicals feel outrage on visiting Daniel Radosh’s Web site? As online testimony for his new book Rapture Ready! the site is a miracle of kitsch, commercialism, and great links. We learn that the book, a self-proclaimed “perfect blend of amusement and respect” for the “often hidden world of Christian pop culture” reveals the artists, artifacts, and experiences that propel the $7 billion faith-based industry. Be sure to check out the candy, comedians, and holographic eyewitness (as well as a wonderful clip of Victoria Williams on Jay Leno).

Here’s what really interests me: the line between amusing and offensive. Radosh will sell a lot of books, while Shvarts becomes a pariah. One pokes fun and the other draws blood. In reporting on the two, the mainstream media colludes in defining religion as commodifiable (that’s acceptable—those 3-D glasses are cute) or confrontational (unacceptable—urine, feces, and blood). Faith, art, and commerce collide but instead of understanding why (and how the news mediates our perspectives), we’re left with the feeling that, as in Denizet-Lewis’ article, something’s missing.