Idol Chatter

In my opinion, the best commentary so far on Madonna’s crucifixion stunt in her “Confessions” tour comes from that important 21st-century theologian Manolo the Shoeblogger: “Ecce Ho!” Because, frankly, the image of Ms. Ciccone Penn Richie standing with her arms outstretched in slings on that glitter-ball cross isn’t so much blasphemous as ridiculous. Or rather, if any blasphemy has been committed, it is blasphemy against standards of taste, creativity, and most of all, artistic inventiveness.

If Madonna had wanted to do something truly “subversive and outrageous”–I’m quoting my fellow Idol Chatter blogger Donna here–that would stand up for “the right for a woman to image Christ” (Donna’s words again), why didn’t she go the whole “Christa” hog: bare her breasts (or perhaps display them clad only in one of her famous nuclear-warhead cone brassieres), have her hands actually nailed to the cross instead of stuck in those dumb-looking braces, and assume the twisted, agonized posture of an actual victim of crucifixion, one of the most painful methods of execution ever invented?

Now, of course Madonna just celebrated her 48th birthday, she’s a mother of two, and even though she’s in great shape for a gal her age, she’s still a gal her age, on whom a loincloth and nothing else is not the most flattering costume. So Madonna is fully clothed for her crucifixion, in silk blouse, dark skirt or gaucho pants, high-heeled pirate boots, and crown of thorns color-coordinated to match the boots. This is supposed to “image Christ”? It may all be in a good cause–the point of the crucifixion act is to highlight the plight of impoverished sub-Saharan Africans–but Madonna looks just plain silly. I know she’s supposed to be the “Material Girl,” but I don’t think Jesus got nailed up there on Calvary just to show off his designer footwear. Madonna looks as though her next stop after the crucifixion isn’t the tomb but martinis at the Royalton.

So if I’d been Pope Benedict XVI, I would have called off the Vatican denunciators, poured myself a stein of wheat beer, and ignored Madonna’s entire cross-and-pony show. I would have also dropped strong hints for German authorities not even to think about prosecuting her. Still, the fact that many Christians have regarded Madonna’s staged crucifixion as offensive, rather than simply laughed it off, suggests exactly what is wrong with it. It’s not, contrary to what Donna suggests, that having Madonna, as a woman, “image the divine” undercuts our notion of what God is like and thus undermines our belief in Jesus’ divinity. It’s that such an image, whether it be Madonna or “Christa” or your favorite feminist theologian up there on the cross, undermines our belief in Jesus’ humanity–our belief that Jesus was actually one of us.

Jesus came to earth in Christian belief not as an abstract symbol of humanity, a symbol that could be imagined as either male or female, or maybe even as sexless, but as a specific human being with a specific gender. He was a man. To depict him as a man, whether in a Greek icon or an African folk-art crucifix, is to recognize his incarnation–his taking on human flesh via his human mother–as the central event of Christian salvation history. God became a human being so that human beings could become like God. To depict Jesus as a woman, any woman, is to suggest that this event was no more than a vague metaphor for some other process that was vaguer still. It is not surprising, then, that many Christians have concluded that Madonna hasn’t simply made a fool of herself by pretending to be Jesus but has belittled their very reason for believing in him as their savior.

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