Skip to comments.Desecration as a Political Weapon: Lenin destroyed churches for a reason.
Posted on 11/20/2002 7:20:17 AM PST by SJackson
Back in 1999 artist Chris Ofili smeared elephant feces and pasted pornographic photographs on an image of the Virgin Mary and hung it in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It caused a firestorm of protest. Olifi's detractors were outraged at the sacrilege. His defenders retorted with the predicable arguments citing freedom of expression and artistic autonomy but avoided any serious engagement with the real meaning of the piece.
Ofili's desecration is nothing new. In recent years we have seen "Piss Christ" where a crucifix was submerged in a jar of urine, Neonazis painting swastikas on synagogues, even Madonna simulating sex acts in a set designed as a church.
Shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin ordered soldiers into Russian villages that resisted the imposition of the Communist yoke. Lenin discovered that religious faith informed much of the resistance. Especially troublesome was the teaching that the statutes governing human affairs were subject to the higher judgment of God. It repudiated the Marxist denial of the ideal and everything it implied including the establishment of the state as the final arbiter of all human affairs.
Religious faith was a grave threat to Marxism and Lenin knew it. The soldiers struck at the heart of this faith by striking at the symbols that defined it. Churches, when not burned, were turned into the village dump - a kind of lasting testimonial of desecration. Soldiers urinated in chalices and defecated on altars. Almost all priests were killed. The offense caused by this desecration ran deep. It proclaimed that a new way of ordering the universe - a new faith - had entered the world.
The word symbol in the Greek means the place where two realities come together. Religious symbols have a particular power because religion speaks of the higher unseen things like meaning, purpose, value, and destiny, and thus represent a moral comprehension about how the universe is ordered and how man ought to live within it. In fact, the symbol itself can be said to contain this view. The symbol in other words, functions as a placeholder in space and time of eternal and timeless truths.
Religious symbols bind an individual to a religious community and testify to the sacred inheritance of that community. They represent the body of teaching and instruction inherited from the past that directs how the community ought to live today. This tradition shapes the culture of the community so that the tradition itself can be passed on to the next generation. The symbol identifies the community by what it believes and how it lives.
Desecration is more than the destruction or misuse of the symbol itself. Desecration is sacrilege; the use of the symbol in ways hostile to its meaning and in ways that the tradition considers profane. By desecrating the symbol, the desecrator not only defiles the symbol, he also denies the legitimacy of the community to whom the symbol belongs.
Secularists are unaware of the turmoil that desecration can cause because they have acculturated the Marxist denial of the ideal even though many may not realize it. The secularist perceives transcendence as social universals expressed in the language of "rights" and applied through politics. He regards the state as the final arbiter of truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, good and evil, all the constituents that shape culture, because the state is both the source and end of political life.
There no Moses and no Paul in the secular tradition - no sense of eternal or timeless truth. Rather, the secular prophets like Rousseau, Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Sanger, Gramsci, Alinsky, and others, reduce transcendence to social utility and thus establish the state as the guarantor of heaven on earth. Today this secular view dominates public discourse and explains why most discussions about the desecration of religious symbols address only their political and legal ramifications. The cultural ramifications seldom show up on the radar screen and when they do, the secular censors are quick to dismiss it.
Religion is not the product of culture, religion is the source writes philosopher Russell Kirk. "It's from an association in a cult, a body of worshipers, that human community grows.when belief in the cult has been wretchedly enfeebled, the culture will decay swiftly. The material order rests on the spiritual order."*
When the dominant religious symbols in the culture are desecrated, the beliefs and values that define and shape culture are weakened and can be overthrown. The overthrow of culture is why Lenin destroyed churches and Hitler destroyed synagogues (and why the Taliban blew up a 5000 year old Buddha). This is why a crucifix was submerged in urine and an icon of the Virgin Mary was smeared with feces.
There is contempt of the past, a senseless denial of any possibility of enduring meaning, in desecration art. Desecration art functions like the parasite; it destroys the heritage from which it draws its meaning. Ofili's piece illustrates this. The icon gives the piece meaning, yet the icon is what the piece seeks to destroy. Destroy the meaning of the icon and the meaning of the piece is destroyed with it like the parasite that dies with its host. The artist is vandal and the museum the gate to this cultural barbarism.
If the artist succeeds in destroying the heritage of western culture, the precepts that give his desecration meaning will die along with it. He follows the same path as the Marxist soldiers sent in to quell rebellious villagers: destroy the enduring truths to prepare the way for a Utopia that will never arrive.
*Russell Kirk "Civilization with Religion" The Heritage Foundation Report (July 24, 1992).
Johannes L. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. See his site OrthodoxyToday.org.
Hooey. Incitement in service of a false premise.
The symbols have no power other than that which is vested in them by the people, who by that act, lose spiritual power. When one walks with God in spirituality one needs no reminder, no binder, and thus gives no opportunity for an act of desecration, which does more to put people into a blind rage than it does to make them an effective army.
There is no doubt of what Lenin was attempting to accomplish and the author is in that respect correct, but there is nothing timeless about symbology else the entire meaning of the stonehenge would be obvious.
Your argument is with the Russian Orthodox Church then. It is they who put emphasis on icons, for example, as more than merely symbolic representations of spiritual truths. That's what the iconoclast controversy was all about with the Eastern Church and settled by Church Councils.
Personally, I would agree with you that the symbols are only temporally imputed with non-transcendant characteristics. However, the fact of their destruction is more indicative of the disrespect and disdain which Lenin held towards Church property and the IDEA of a transcendant reality beyond Lenin's presumed materialism.
Some who still pursue fine arts may feel the need to shock and provoke to arouse attention and feel relevant.
They cry "censorship" but they thrive on it at the same time. It "empowers" them into relevancy. The best thing to do is to ignore them, or snicker at their infantile ideas and impotent way of expressing them. That will likely drive those neurotic personalities further into addiction, institutionalization....or, who knows, maybe a comfortable CPA career.
Let's cut the euphemisms: It was Christianity that was the threat.
Can a parallel be found with the secularists [libertarians, rabid evolutionists and atheists] who, not finding the god of reason on their side, constantly belittle Christianity Parthian style?
Yup, they gave him that vulnerability and he took full advantage of it. There's a reason why that Commandment is natural law.
I'll agree with that with one distinction: A bible is a book. It contains stored information. It is not a scared object unless a person imbues it with that character. The essence of that information; i.e., a recorded translation of God's is sacred, but it doesn't matter if it is received as oral tradition, CD, or paper.
As far as Protestantism is concerned (or for that matter IMHO the Church of Rome), I'd say that they've pretty well trodden that path to self-destruction on their own, embracing Lenin instead of understanding the word of God. Consider "Liberation Theology."
Liberation Theology is a phenomenon of the Catholic Church. I understand the Pope John Paul II has had some rather harsh things to say concerning this theology. The largest supporters have been in Central and South America. With respect to Socialism, Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno(1931), stated, "Socialism, entirely ignorant of and unconcerned about the sublime end of both individuals and of society, affirms that human society was instituted merely for the sake of material well-being." Paul VI expressly condemned four principles of Marxist ideology which a Christian could not hold in Octogesima Adveniens(1971).
From the Protestant perspective, you are referring to the phenomenon characterized as the "Social Gospel". That it is thoroughly pervasive in Protestantism is not evident. However, that it characterizes the theology of a number of "mainstream" Protestant denominations is a reality.
A number of people in my family are prominent Presbyterian theologists and administrators. They are typical, aging, Berkeley, Marin, and Palo Alto liberals living off old money. These folks milk their congregations for money while they soft-sell the agenda.