Beliefnet News

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Comedian Kathy Griffin has built her entire D-list career on telling A-list Hollywood celebrities — Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Ryan Seacrest — to “suck it.”
So when she told Jesus to “suck it” after winning an Emmy for her reality show, “My Life on the D-List,” it was meant as just another swipe at someone who gets invited to better parties than she does.
But as Griffin quickly learned, dissing Jesus — even in left-leaning Hollywood — carries more risk than poking fun at the Lindsay Lohans of the world.
Griffin’s remarks — “I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. … So all I can say is, suck it, Jesus. This reward is my god now!” — were censored when the E! Network broadcast the awards on Saturday (Sept. 15).
Officially, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences said Griffin’s remarks were struck because they were “offensive.” It wasn’t clear if they disliked the vulgar “suck it” part or the blasphemous “this reward is my god now” part.
Either way, one thing is clear. Poking fun at religion in general is fine. Taking jabs at hypocritical religious leaders is even encouraged.
But when it comes to Jesus, Hollywood still gets squeamish.
Some conservatives smell a double standard. The audience laughs when Griffin insults the Christian Messiah but she could never get away with telling Muhammad to do the same, they say. “She wants to stick it to Christians,” fumed Kiera McCaffrey of the New York-based Catholic League.
On the other side, atheists see a more sinister plotline at work in the network’s decision to muzzle Griffin. It’s not about decency, they say. It’s all about Jesus.
“It was about protecting belief in Jesus,” said Ellen Johnson, head of American Atheists. “You’re not allowed to say anything that ridicules belief. … What’s next? Punishment for that?”
(For the record, Griffin once described herself as a “vehement militant atheist,” the result, she said, of being sent to Catholic schools.)
Does this represent a full-frontal assault on Christian sensibilities? Is blasphemy no longer welcomed in public discourse? Is Griffin just trying to cash in at Jesus’ expense? The answer probably lies somewhere in the murky middle.
To be sure, Griffin is not the first to push the provocative envelope. Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video in 1989 angered the Vatican, as did Kevin Smith’s film, “Dogma,” in 1999 with Alanis Morissette playing God. Both needled the Catholic Church, however, not Jesus.
There’s a similar unease within Islam about portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. The Danish (and now Swedish) cartoon controversy showed just how angry people can get when God’s anointed are subjected to ridicule.
It all comes down to context, observers say.
“The bald quote out of context does seem inappropriate,” said Andrew Sullivan, the widely read conservative blogger. “But context is everything, and context is what we are losing as we talk past one another.”
There’s also the question of intent: Did Griffin purposefully set out to insult Christians or just draw a few headlines? Griffin said she was simply parodying starlets who thank Jesus for awards and box-office receipts. She didn’t seem to mind the free publicity.
“I just am loving it,” she told CNN’s Larry King. “It’s in the newspapers around the world and every article starts with, `Emmy winner Kathy Griffin’ and then the letters all just blur after that.”
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of CLAL, a New York-based Jewish think tank, found Griffin’s remarks offensive but pointed out that “peddling anger and offense is simply her stock in trade.”
In other words, consider the source.
“It’s important that before we turn this into an event of religious significance” that people realize Griffin is “a woman whose entire meteoric rise to fame has been by offending people,” he said.
The larger question — and the one that probably hits closest to home for many people — is whether Griffin was taking a swipe at religion generally or Jesus in particular. And that, observers say, is not an insignificant distinction.
For most Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of mankind.
“For us and our salvation, he came down from heaven …” the Nicene Creed says. “For our sake, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried. …”
In short, Jesus deserves a certain level of respect. That’s what hurt — not angered — Russ Hollingsworth, general manager of The Miracle Theater in Nashville, Tenn., which bought a full-page ad in USA Today taking Griffin to task.
“There’s a line that our culture really shouldn’t cross,” he said. “Kind of like walking by a funeral and shouting obscenities at a family. That’s something we don’t do.”
For years, Hollywood has struggled with what to do with Jesus. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber made him a “Superstar,” while Martin Scorsese tried to humanize him — some said too much — in “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
Jack Kenny gave it a try in last year’s short-lived NBC drama, “The Book of Daniel,” which featured an everyman Jesus who knew about the Vicodyn hidden in priest Daniel Webster’s desk drawer. That was too much for many viewers, and Kenny said Jesus remains on a pedestal, above it all.
“But it’s a weird thing, a pedestal,” Kenny said. “Because it makes someone unknowable and untouchable. Is that really what we want with a figure like Jesus?”
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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