The Face of Christ: Part 1 – Culture Clash

How terrible it is to look into the face of God and see only the color of His skin.

Andrew Klavan

The subject of art, particularly statues, has become one of the main topics of conversation in recent days and weeks. It is not a new subject, and it is certainly one worth having. But most recently, some people have suggested the necessity to tear down statues or destroy images of Christ because they are not historically accurate. By inaccurate, they mean that, to their understanding, such art is not a racially or ethnically accurate depiction of what Jesus must have looked like according to their preconceived notions. As they have decided certain depictions of Jesus are “wrong” or even “racist,” speaking specifically of art they have deemed “white-washed,” those images and art must, therefore, be destroyed. This idea is a form of iconoclasm fit for the modern age. This perspective is wrong, and its goal of destruction is never satisfied. In response, I argue that it is good that we have a variety of art that reflects the culture that it is from and that we should not only enjoy and learn from it but seek to preserve all of this art for future generations to come.

The subject of destroying images of Christ begins with the notion that certain images of Him are ethnically incorrect. Modern, 21st century people have a misinformed idea of how Middle Eastern people of the 1st century once looked. I have a suspicion that many people believe all the people of the Middle East looked Arab, and that all looked like the people presently living there look today. This assumption is faulty for many reasons, most of which we will get to in the following installment of this series. But first, I want to ask this question: What is so offensive about seeing a depiction of Christ that appears lighter-skinned? Furthermore, why is it not offensive to see a depiction that looks Arab, or Ethiopian, or Haitian, or Japanese? Why do white depictions bother so many people?

I find such a contention rather silly, to be honest. Many claim offense at a European-looking Jesus, but then bend over backward to talk about how Jesus was dark-skinned or note that it’s fine to depict Him any other way, just make sure He isn’t fair-skinned! What sort of deprecating double standard is that? There is also a growing argument that Jesus wasn’t Jewish at all but African. Such ideologies are intentionally divisive and are still historically inaccurate. And yet, many people side with these ideas because, for some reason, we’ve decided that depictions of Jesus from a European viewpoint are inherently evil, and all others are inherently good.

Such conclusions are unfortunate as they cause more division and are still no closer to the truth. Also, such worldviews are historically ignorant as they don’t seek to understand the past. They also ignore a few obvious points. The first is that there is nothing inherently moral about skin color. You are not evil or holy depending on what shade your skin falls on the spectrum. Instead, God created a wonderful variety of appearances within our DNA. Second, people with such views dismiss the point that we are all created by God and are, therefore, all part of the same human family. Third, Jesus came to save all people, not a select few. The Gospel is for all. Finally, there is nothing wrong with appreciating and preserving art from all centuries and cultures. Destroying parts of our past destroys our history and part of what joins us all together as creative people. In this case, we are brought together as people who create art to the glory of the one true God.

But we rarely see such an understanding today. Instead of learning about history, or seeking to understand the art in question, the humanist’s immediate response is to squelch discussion and destroy the object of our immediate ire. In such an environment, we destroy our history. When that destruction begins, how can we not ask, “Where will it stop?”

I am not sure how to answer that question. So many people have become wise in their own eyes. They do not seek to understand the past. They do not try to understand the necessity of nuance. In this case, we are talking about art. Will the art we create today be judged and destroyed tomorrow or a hundred years from now? Are we supposed to have no art or history? Are we never to interact with things that make us uncomfortable, that we disagree with, or do not understand?

As most humanists do, modern people of the 21st century see themselves as more advanced or “knowing better” than our predecessors and can, therefore, make judgments based on superior, hidden knowledge. The “enlightened” modernist always condemns the people of the past, saying, “Why didn’t you have the standards I hold today?” These standards are rarely based on any objective foundation of right and wrong. Rather, they rest themselves on whatever controversial standards have been set for this decade, month, or hour. It is a form of arrogance based on ignorance, and it is quite destructive.

Instead of making a rash judgment because you do or do not like something, why not seek to understand the history of the subject in question? I often wonder why people don’t take this approach, but I assume that it is due to people either not knowing that they have the option or they do not care to know. As long as they don’t like something, they see it as inferior, or it conflicts with their notions of how things must be, and it must be immoral (though what foundation or standard of morality they are using, I do not know). How are we to deal with such an ideology?

As many have said before (and there is wisdom in this), the first solution is to educate rather than remove choice. Unsurprisingly, those who wish to destroy art without any discussion want to control what can be said and to erase history, thus taking away information and shunning learning. Therefore, my hope is to offer information in this series so as to shine a light on the history of religious imagery, especially art that depicts Christ, and to bring a better appreciation of art from all cultures, not just a select few, in order to preserve such art for the generations to come.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

2 thoughts on “The Face of Christ: Part 1 – Culture Clash

  1. Pingback: The Face of Christ: Part 2 – Jesus’ Ethnicity and Message – Madelyn Rose Craig

  2. Pingback: The Face of Christ: Part 3 – The History of Christian Art – Madelyn Rose Craig

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