MAINE STUDENT’S ‘UNHOLY BIBLE’ TELLS GOSPEL TRUTH ABOUT RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGE
You’d probably assume that the phrase “Unholy Bible” refers to some product of Modern Satanism, but in fact we’re talking about the only thing more unholy: American public education.
Riley Harris is a student at the University of Southern Maine, where I assume a full 20 percent of the course load involves the history of regional Lovecraftian evils.
Like most tales of modern degeneracy and the ruin of youthful minds, Riley’s tragedy starts in art class. As Rachel Ohm explained in Central Maine, for a December assignment, Harris decided to paint the pages of a Bible to look like flames and replace images of Jesus with Satan.
He called the piece Unholy Bible: Very Revised Standard Edition. Which is pretty good, although I’d have suggested “Book: Ends,” “The Living Slurred Edition,” “The New Inflammable Reader’s Version,” “The Red-See Scrolls,” “Hard Knox Bible,” or possibly “Let There Be Light (and Heat).”
Harris told the paper that his Unholy Bible is about “questioning authority in general” and how “religious authority seems too taboo.”
It seems it worked, as local father Charlie Flynn raised a ruckus about Harris’ work, calling it “very inappropriate and repugnant.” Which is kind of like calling ghost pepper mac & cheese too uncompromising of a recipe–you are correct, but also so far behind the curve that it’s amazing we can even hear your opinions from back there.
Flynn does (perhaps accidentally) inject one interesting question into the discourse: “No one’s sacred text should be treated that way,” he says, comparing Unholy Bible to “a Koran with pig blood on it, or a Torah with unclean foods.”
Now that’s an intriguing rhetorical gambit. For one thing, it’s interesting that he doesn’t feel all holy texts are created equal–as a churchgoer he presumably only specially reveres the one–but claims in this narrow context that all deserve equal protection from the Dark Arts & Crafts.
Perhaps this is meant as a concession to freedom of religion–although nobody’s freedoms are really affected by this one display. But okay, I’ll bite: IS IT the same thing to deface, for example, a Koran?
I would say…it might be. But in this case it probably wouldn’t be.
Much the same way that Satanists could perhaps venerate an image other than Satan, Harris could have conscripted some other scripture. But in both cases the choices that we make are not arbitrary.
Explaining his work, Harris said that the Bible is “important to some people, [but] a lot of Christianity harms other people.” The artistic commentary isn’t directed at the Bible–it’s directed at the toxicity of the culture represented by that book.
If Soldiers of Odin poured pig’s blood on a Koran as a xenophobic statement against refugees, I would not support that. I’d also key their cars while they were busy posing for Instagram.
But if someone like, say, Zara Kay did the same thing as an expression of liberation from her stifling misogynistic religious upbringing–well, that may or may not be good art, but either way it certainly wouldn’t be the same thing.
Some hypothetical antagonist out there is accusing me of a double-standard, but actually the standard is exactly the same in both cases. And that standard is: Context matters, you dork-ass motherfuckers.
A few years ago, when we really started meeting new people through Satanic Bay Area and attempting to create religious authenticity through ritual, community, and art, I was initially of the opinion that we should steer clear of most showy acts of blasphemy and anti-Christian provocation.
I supported the idea behind such acts, it’s just that I thought they lacked imagination. And possibly I felt like I was above such things, which, depending on how well they’re executed, can feel adolescent.
What I very quickly discovered is that I was speaking from a place of unconscious privilege. I didn’t grow up in a damaging fundamentalist household or community, and I’ve never faced direct, violent religious discrimination over something like my sexuality or gender.
Meeting Satanists who had liberated themselves from those backgrounds made me realize how much more important–and healthy–those gestures of defiance were for them. To them the topic was not academic; it was about their lives and well-being. The act is the same for both of us–but the meaning could hardly be more different.
I don’t know what background this student artist came out of or what specifically he might be protesting. But I do know that, like all of us in America, he exists in a country steeped in the privilege of one faith–just one. Not all.
This does not mean (or at least, does not automatically mean) that he is “right” to deface a Bible over any other book. Like a torturous stray eyelash, those things are in the eye of the beholder.
But it does mean that’s it not all the same thing. It can’t be, because that’s not the world we live in.
I guess this opens the door for woebegone Christian fellows to play martyr and suggest that we’re singling them out for special persecution. But in reality it’s the inverse: When you just happen to be the single most powerful and populous religious demographic in America, that irrevocably changes the context of the discussion about your practices. Even if you could change that, you wouldn’t–lest you give up all of that power.
For more on that I would refer you to: Riley Harris’ Unholy Bible: Very Revised Standard Edition. Which I do believe may have a thing or two to say on that very topic.
Great article. I enjoyed reading this. There’s a part of me that feels like an attention seeking asshole when I mock religion through creative expression, but at the same time it has to be done because as you mentioned there’s so many Christians who go on power trips and they are convinced that they’re spreading love when in actuality they are spreading hatred, and that has to be challenged as much as possible.