Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Long-necked Madonna and Packaging the Gospel

Madonna with the long neck, by Parmigianino (1503-1540)

This is a really silly picture.

The artist has attempted to paint the mother of our Lord in the fashionable Mannerist style of his day.

See her enormous long neck, like a swan! See her thin, slender fingers! Look at how long and narrow her feet are; she must find it so difficult to get shoes that fit. This lady looks just too delicate to be real.

Would anybody take this image seriously as a religious image? Would a Roman Catholic who venerated the mother of our Lord be able to view this picture as truly reverant?

In attempting to communicate Catholic theology in the contemporary style of his day, the artist has created an image that is silly and irreverant. It looks shallow.

It is nice to look at (apart from the rather poorly presented image of the infant Christ) and it is rather fun, but it cannot be taken seriously.

A lot of preachers and evangelists call for the Gospel to be proclaimed in a contemporary style. They call for 'translations' of the Bible that use contemporary speech. They call for contemporary music, Christian discos and heavy use of visual media.

However, do they not lose something with these things? Do they not remove the reverance with which sacred things should be treated?

When we attempt to package the Gospel in the trappings of contemporary pop culture, do we not patronize those they are trying to reach? I would suggest that young people do not reject Christianity because they think it is 'uncool', but rather because it has not been presented to them in a way that is persuasive. They do not believe it. If you persuaded them it was true (I make no comment here on how we should approach apologetics) then they would believe it regardless of whether or not they considered it to be 'cool'. What is necessary is to show them that the message is true, not that the message is 'cool.'

Is it not likely that the more Christians attempt to embrace contemorary media like dance music and comic books, the more likely they are to end up looking silly, like Parmigianino's picture of Mary?

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