NEW YORK (AP) — A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude,
anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled
Friday amid complaints from Catholics, including Cardinal Edward Egan. The
“My Sweet Lord” display was shut down by the hotel that houses the Lab
Gallery in Manhattan, said Matt Semler, the gallery’s creative
director. Semler said he resigned after officials at the Roger Smith
Hotel shut down the show.
The artwork was created from more than
200 pounds of milk chocolate and features Christ with his arms
outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious
portrayal of Christ, the artwork does not include a loincloth. The
6-foot sculpture was the victim of “a strong-arming from people who
haven’t seen the show, seen what we’re doing,” Semler said. “They
jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions.”
word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan,
who described it as “a sickening display.” Bill Donohue, head of the
watchdog Catholic League, said it was “one of the worst assaults on
Christian sensibilities ever.” The hotel and the gallery were overrun Thursday with angry phone calls
and e-mails. Semler said the calls included death threats over the work
of artist Cosimo Cavallaro, who was described as disappointed by the
decision to cancel the display.
Death threats? A “sickening display”? “One of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever”? Really? At first, thinking I had missed something, I tried to figure out precisely what it was about the sculpture that set off the Cardinal and Donohue. There were really only three possibilities: (1) the chocolate; (2) the goofy name; (3) the nudity. Surely not the nudity, I thought. Maybe, it occurred to me, they figured the chocolate medium or the silly name had the tendency to trivialize the crucifixion. Fair enough, I supposed, but clearly not “[o]ne of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever.” There’s nothing inherently repugnant about chocolate. It’s not elephant dung or urine, after all. [In fact, maybe, as Jean suggests in her comment below, the medium (and
name) were meant to be understood as a comment on the degree to which we Christians
have trivialized the challenging message of Jesus. The artist, by the way, denies this, as you'll see from the CNN interview linked below. He has a history of working with food as a medium, and he claims he used chocolate in this case because it is sweet and he thinks of the message of Jesus as sweetness.] But then I found this quote by the Catholic League’s spokesperson:
“Would they do similar things to other groups? I doubt it,” said Kiera
McCaffrey of the Catholic League. “Would they show a statue of Mohammed
naked during Ramadan? I don’t think so. But yet they have no problem
doing this to Christians.”
So it was the nudity. Is this also the problem the Cardinal had with the sculpture? I can’t tell from the quotes I’ve read. If anyone has seen any other statements by him that clarify the basis for his objections, please link to them in the comments. I can understand Donohue’s involvement in this. It’s pretty much par for the course for him. But the Cardinal? Does anyone else think this makes Catholics look pretty silly? Surely there’s nothing inherently offensive about depicting Jesus naked on the cross. He is virtually naked in most depictions of the crucifixion I’ve ever seen. And for all we know, he was actually naked when he was crucified. There must be more pressing problems on which the Cardinal might focus his attention.
UPDATE: One of the commenters below notes the precedent of Russell Stover’s chocolate crosses and asks why all the outrage about the Chocolate Jesus. He has clearly underestimated the steely consistency of Roman Catholicism’s Theology of Confection. Here is the reaction to the Russell Stover crosses from a humorless spokesman for the Bridgeport diocese in 2005 (Jean and Cathy will please note the reference to the unholy Peeps):
Chomping on a chocolate cross can be offensive to some, said Joseph
McAleer, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic diocese in Bridgeport,
“The cross should be venerated, not eaten, nor tossed casually in
an Easter basket beside the jelly beans and marshmallow Peeps,” he
said. “It’s insulting.”
UPDATE IV: What will we tell the children?
UPDATE V: (Who knew this would blow up like this?) More Christ-like sentiments from Bill Donohue on the Chocolate (Naked) Jesus. Note in particular the threatening, thuggish tone of the last clause (“they may have” as opposed to the expected “they would have”):
All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react
the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended—otherwise they may
have more than their heads cut off.
UPDATE VI: Here’s the video of an interview with Donohue and the artist on CNN. This really is a must see. A school-yard bully in action.