04 December 2007

Profound or Profane

Stewart Lee, who is rather better at diagnosing problems than proposing solutions, that not as a rule being part of the standard job description for satirists, doesn't spare the Catholic Church in his general savaging of Christians in his 90s Comedian show. Still, unfair and spectacularly offensive though his diatribe often is, he is rather on the money when he points out one of the odder characteristics of Catholicism:

What I really like about Catholicism – my favourite thing about it – is the way that it combines a search for a profound spiritual meaning with a love of kind of inane seaside tat. And you don’t often see those two things working as a team, do you?
In an odd way, this juxtaposition is probably a curious manifestation of the classic 'both...and' dynamic that underpins Catholic thinking, and of the sacramental understanding of the world that is the hallmark of the Catholic imagination. Whatever its origins, though, there's no denying that it can manifest itself in decidedly bizarre ways.

Via a recent post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light I found myself the other day working my way through the Kitschmas lists at Ship of Fools. Trust me: this stuff is terrifying. Not the least frightening thing about them is the fact that, as Teresa observes, someone must have thought that each and every one of these things was a good idea.

What appeals to you most? A Saint Sebastian pin cushion? A Blessed Virgin memory stick? A Christmas Tree topper based on Our Lord? Flogging Jesus Christmas lights? A Nativity kitchen timer? A glowing gravestone, powered by solar energy? You can get them all, and much worse...

Christ on a Bike!
Perhaps the oddest item on this year's list is a statuette of Christ on a Bike. Looking at it, you'd think its creator was just having a laugh. It might make sense, you're surely thinking, if you're mocking Christianity. But to believe, and still to do this?

Well, if you go to the site where you can buy this decidedly peculiar statue, you might start to understand, although you'll doubtless first be drawn in, appalled, by the fact that there's a whole line of these absurdities: Jesus surfing, or skateboarding, or rockclimbing, or on a rodeo bull, or performing a rather nifty bicycle kick.

Above all the statuettes, though, you'll see a link to a message from the company's founder, Eric Dyson. It seems that Eric had been just an average Joe until the death of Pope John Paul II, shortly the death of Dyson's own father. Struck by this, Dyson was paralysed with emotional distress, fear, and confusion, and he wondered why God was leaving him alone, why he was taking our guides.
From inside me I heard and felt a response. It came from nowhere and everywhere. It was simple, but profound.
'I am ALWAYS with you.'
And with this warm, inspiring, comforting message, I also had an image of Jesus the Christ on a motorcycle riding across the open roads of America!

Like Peanut Butter and Jelly
Well, that explains that, I suppose, although it still leaves me rather bewildered by the Jesus Inspirational Sport Statues available at the Catholic Shopper. I first had these pointed out to me about five years ago, and if anything they make even less sense to me now than they did then. Sure, I understand that they're an expression of the mentality that sees sport and religion as going together as naturally as 'peanut butter and jelly', but I'm afraid I just don't get it.

Take a look at a few of them. Look at the foolish kid playing American football with God, and tackling him -- to, it must be said, little effect. Or at Our Lord playing ice hockey without a helmet. Or at Jesus running in flip-flops, which is surely a miracle.

Again, I could understand this stuff coming from people just determined to have a laugh, but this baffles me. The creators of them apparently contacted Conan O'Brien after he featured them on his show, ruefully pointing out that he shouldn't make fun of images of God. As they see it, these would make ideal gifts for young athletes who could keep them on their dressers to help inspire them and to remind them of the idea of Jesus as a friend in all our everyday activities.

Ok, boys, when you meet Jesus, be sure to call Him Mr. Christ
To be fair, this isn't exclusively a Catholic phenomenon, by any means.

A few years ago I was in the Nation Bible Society's bookshop on Dublin's Dawson Street -- the National Bible Society being an Evangelical Protestant organisation, rather than a Catholic one -- when I saw a series of books with titles that left me stunned.

Moses takes a Road Trip: And Other Famous Journeys... David Drops a Giant Problem: And Other Fearless Heroes... Jesus Makes a Major Comeback: And Other Amazing Feats...

I have to admit, though, I still think Paul Hits the Beach: And Other Wild Adventures is an absolutely inspired title.

I'd been drawn inside in the first place by the window display featuring Bibleopoly: The Family Game of Fun and Faith. Yes, I'm not joking.

I know, I shouldn't judge. But it does rather smack of Ned Flanders, doesn't it?

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