May 2012 Print

The Phenomenon of Christophobia

by Claude Polin

This past fall and part of the winter, it has been seen fit for the intellectual glamour of Paris, notably by the mayor of the capital, that some theaters be awarded public subsidies to promote a new war on Christians. Three different plays were first performed in different provinces and finally in Paris, under such revealing titles as Golgotha Picnic, or Piss Christ, the third one being The Concept of the Face of the Son of God (a pretentious title for presenting a caricature of the Holy Face).

The New War on Christians

The war on Christianity is nothing new. But on the whole the main targets used to be on one hand the Catholic Church, both as an institution and as the guardian of a partial form of Christian faith (the French in particular are famous for their anti clericalism), or, on the other hand, religious faith in general (atheists do not usually bear a particular grudge against Christianity specifically).

This new war is different. The hostility to religion, or to the Church, was traditionally kindled by the arrogance of consciously assumed human pride, harbored by men claiming the right to unfettered freedom and trying to rest their case on what they thought was a philosophy, a well thought justification for their revolt against God. These were articulate sinners.

The new enemies of Christianity do not trouble themselves any more with words bearing any semblance of an idea. Assaulting directly the very person of Christ Himself, incapable even of articulate insults, they resort to expressing their rage by the vilest language and the crassest acts that come to their befuddled brains. They actually turn the stage they are supposed to be standing on into a sort of latrine that is not shielded from view: no more acting, no more meaningful dialogue, no more unraveling of a plot; they move about with no other visible purpose than to actually urinate into stoups and throw their own excrement, not at the proverbial fan—since they don’t seem able to think of using one—but at a giant painting of Christ’s face exhibited in the background.

In other times, such sick displays of ghastly taste and profanity would have earned these self-proclaimed artists nothing but contempt, public shame, or at least a severe punishment. Today what cannot be ignored is the attention attracted by this exalted disclosure of a passion for emitting bodily waste in public. Three things must then be pointed out.

One is that far from being regarded as a display of mental backwardness, this public worship of scatology is supposed to be a form of art, worthy of an audience—so much so that, again, it must be subsidized as such by the taxpayer’s money. The other is the unmentionable coarseness, abysmal vulgarity, and subhuman grossness (Freud would find himself in a scientific trance if he could behold such empirical proof that there is in the mental development of man an anal stage that some are unable to overcome). And the third is the depth of the anti-Christian resentment all the more remarkable as it is obviously unable to attain anything resembling thought.

Stretch Tolerance to Its Limits

These are the facts. They raise one main question. Why did this come about? What is the motivation for the production and the imposition of the product upon the public with the enthusiastic assistance of the authorities? Let us try to review and assess some possible answers.

One may discard some kind of Islamic desecration of Christ. Even though Christianity is obviously the prime target of the perpetrators of these expectorations, they make it clear they don’t mind offending any religious faith, and are no Islamists; and whatever one may think of Islam, it is not thinkable that Islamists, whatever grudge they may harbor against Christ being God, can afford to be considered irreligious, not to mention atheistic, pure and simple.

There may be a willingness to try out and stretch to its limits one of the fundamental dogmas of our self-proclaimed modern culture, which is freedom of thought and correlative tolerance. A true artist these days is supposed to be one who is eager to unearth prejudices the better to combat them: one has to be a rebel to be considered an artist (whether there are true errors or not is irrelevant). But again assuming there is something intellectual in their activities, and even though these disciples of modernity obviously do not care about religion and religious faith in general, it is clear that, whatever their tolerance for other creeds, they harbor none for Christianity. They are true to the Jacobin sectarian spirit that used to proclaim: “there shall be no freedom for the enemies of freedom.” They don’t make a show of tolerance, but rather of undisguised intolerance.

Shock to Promote

There is another way to look at their acts, since we are dealing with simpletons rather than high-flying intellects. As a matter of fact, as their biography shows, the so-called authors of these so-called plays are all people whose original profession was advertising. They are therefore the ones, if any, to know how to promote a product, which means primarily, since in this particular case they aren’t selling anything, how to promote themselves. Their techniques all boil down to one device: to shock. A good ad must attract attention, therefore it must display something out of the ordinary, it must unsettle the passer-by, it must stop him dead in his tracks. Hence the notion of inflicting the vilest treatment on what the passer-by supposedly most reveres. These disgusting and offensive acts would then be simply a kind of perfect ad. But there is a catch. Wittingly or not, such an advertising campaign presupposes our societies still to be Christian enough to be offended by profanity, but are they? I think it difficult not to see that indifference to religion runs deep in the public soul. Some may argue that our societies don’t suffer from a lack of exotic new faiths, but to me this only means that what attracts the new converts to these pseudo religious creeds is that these faiths somehow satisfy their egos.

Hatred for Whatever Is Noble

Then dawns another possible explanation for these self-proclaimed artists taking such pains, and to me a more convincing one. It may be that our pseudo freethinkers perceive our societies not only as still Christian, insufficiently de-Christianized, so much so that they wish to contribute to the acceleration of their de-Christianization. Which then implies they are moved by a hatred of Christianity.

One can indeed feel, as I do, that, lurking under the apparent desire to shock, there lies, deep in the heart of such obviously intellectually and morally mediocre individuals, a sort of half realized but intensely active hatred for whatever is noble and inspiring to men. A hatred for whatever calls men to go beyond their immediate contentment with themselves and to realize the pettiness of their own individual world. A hatred for whatever prevents them from resting satisfied with what they are. A plebeian hatred for whatever allows some men to become more accomplished than others, to become therefore both models and incentives for others, because they cannot at the same time help becoming an occasion for others to take stock of what they are, as compared to what they should be. Such hatred makes it understandable why they hate Christ Himself first of all: what they perceive in Him is not so much God incarnate as the perfect man created by God, the perfection of man’s nature humbling the others in their imperfections and making them ashamed of themselves. To put it in a nutshell: we hate Christ because He prevents us from reveling in our excrement, to use their own favorite tool.

If this is the case, it is no wonder their productions smack of a sort of half-conscious nihilism. For it is in the nature of things that, unless he turns schizophrenic, a man without a cause outside of himself cannot but fail to find enough meaning in himself to make it worth living.

In other words, these ghastly happenings, whatever their abysmal indignity on all counts (and first of all the intellectual one), may nevertheless teach us two lessons.

First, that there is in human nature a propensity to debase what is high, because the appeal of the animal within any man is part of his nature. And second, that in our democratic societies, where the people have become the only god for the people, and where therefore everything is permitted, there is a propensity, well-rooted in their own god-like sovereignty, to extol as the perfection of man’s freedom what used to be considered his animal instincts, which are amongst his different possible urges, the easiest ones to yield to. It is remarkable that ever since the revealingly called “Renaissance,” which was basically a revival of Man as opposed to God, there is no lack of writers expressing the view that animals are more perfect creatures than men. The famous Montaigne, the god of the Renaissance, defended the notion that there are more moral virtues in elephants, eagles, dogs, or geese than in men. And was it not J. J. Rousseau, the god of the Enlightenment, who declared: “A man who thinks is a depraved animal”? “He who wants to play the angel ends up as a beast,” wrote Pascal. Which is probably why he also wrote: “Misery of man without God...”

In another article in this issue we shall consider the reactions to what our self-proclaimed artists would like to consider a provocation, which means examining the religious state of the French union.

Claude Polin has been a professor of political philosophy at the University of Paris, Sorbonne since 1966.