You cannot avoid having to deal with Jesus. The Roman governor who condemned Jesus to death, asked the crowd what everyone must ask himself: "What shall I to do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matthew 27:22). Islam attempted to become the world religion, but in the Koran there is a background contention with Jesus. Modern political philosophy is a response to, and an attempt to overcome, the claims of Christ and the working out of them in history. Francis Bacon, the founder of and chief apologist for modern science knew that he had to displace the Christian hope if people were fully to embrace science as the fount from which all blessings flow. The modern political monster, Marxism, is secularized Christian eschatology (insofar as it can conceivably be secularized). The other great bookend of political philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche, put his hope in the rise of an Ubermensch, a world recreating, heroic, suffering servant. Were there Christian themes in Nazism? I would be surprised to find there weren't. The North Korean ideology is a political gospel modeled on the Christian gospel, with Kim Jong Il in the role of the Son.
Now here are the most ardent Obama supporters casting their political hero explicitly in the form of Christ the Savior. As Jesus referred to himself as "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6 NIV), the artist entitles the painting, "The Truth." It is to be unveiled on President Obama's 100th Day in Office by Michael D'Antuono at Union Square in Manhattan.
For those who are totally illiterate biblically, let me point out that Obama has his arms extended with open palms in a way that mimics Jesus hanging on the cross, but with no expression of agony, suggesting that he is already dead. Perhaps D'Antuono is just not as good an artist as his benefactors think he is.
On his head sits a crown of thorns. Again, the Apostle Matthew tells us, "The the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then they wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head" (Matthew 27:27-29).
When Jesus died on the cross after many hours of tortuous suffering, "At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51). God used this miracle (it tore from the top, not the bottom) to indicate that, by his atoning death on the cross, Jesus had purchased access for God's people into God's holy presence. The curtain that had separated worshippers from the Holy of Holies was no longer necessary for anyone who would approach God in faith with his sins cleansed by the blood of Christ (Heb. 4:14-16; 10:19-22). Clearly what Obama is depicted as doing in this painting is giving the American people access to presidential power.
The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament directs the Christian believer's attention from what Jesus accomplished by the cross to "the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (Hebrew 10:23). The Apostle John tells us what he promised: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Barack Obama promised us "hope." The hope that this artist sees the new President bringing us, however, is fleeting, illusory, and ambiguous at best by comparison. Obama also promised us change. But Jesus died and rose again so that people could "be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51; Ezekiel 36:26). He came to raise the spiritually dead to life and recreate us, renewing our hearts in love.
The puzzle of the painting, as I see it, is in what the artist sees as the President's suffering and sacrifice. In what sense is he laying down his life for us? The press adores him and he appears to be having a really good time. His popular approval rating are still quite high. So where's the suffering servant? Does Michael D'Antuono anticipate an Lincolnian end for this President? That is a horrible thought, but not nearly as horrible as a painting that anticipates (one dreads to say "hopes for" in some perverse way) such a national tragedy.
I say once again that President Obama, especially if he is in any sense a Christian, needs to rebuke his followers for this sort of spiritual blasphemy and political lunacy. But I suspect that he won't because evidence of fanatical following supports him politically, and part of him may just believe the adulation. If these suspicions are correct, I fear that he is in for a terrible crash. I just pray that he does not bring the country down with him in the process.
D'Antuono has canceled the Union Square showing. You can read his statement here.
He told Culture Monster at the LA Times, "I canceled the showing out of respect for religion. It was not meant to offend so many people. I don't think it would be helpful to the cause of unity to show it."
So it seems he is no Andres Serrano. He's just confused. For example, he also told The LA Times, "It was supposed to provoke political dialogue. I wanted to start a discussion. Is Obama being crucified by the right? Do people think he's the next savior?"
Are we in any need of provocation for political dialogue on Barack Obama? If it is civil dialogue you want, you have to be fairly deeply embedded in the Obama-crazed arts "community" to think that a painting like this one would accomplish such dispassionate conversation. Also, what fair-minded person thinks that the right is "crucifying" the President? But I suppose they are, if ordinary political opposition counts.