Monthly Archives: September 2009

“September 30th Is Blasphemy Day” By Jim Bennett (Updated: Dana Ellyn “responds”)

            Before I begin this week’s strident indictment of whatever and stuff, I think I should establish my expertise in the general subject matter, which is art.  I’m not one of those Philistines who says, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”  The arts are my consuming passion, and I spend every free moment immersed in the classics. My obsessive love for the works of C.M. Coolidge, for example, has become my raison d’être; I can name – from memory – every breed of dog that sits at that poker table.  And after years of scouring every tent-canopy sale in every Shopko parking lot within 500 miles, my personal art collection now boasts the most extensive assemblage of American Indian wolf tapestries, Robert Kinkaid knock-offs, and framed Dale Earnhardt memorial lithographs anywhere. 
            I think I’ve made my point. 
            While I, like you, had my life changed forever when Christo wrapped Berlin’s Reichstag building in polypropylene fabric, I find that most modern art is not nearly that lucid and relevant.  Case in point:  An exhibit opening Wednesday in Washington D.C.; it is part of something called “International Blasphemy Day.”  The idea is that artists and so-called “free-speech advocates” around the globe will stage exhibitions that mock and criticize all things religious.  The goal is to somehow promote freedom of expression through all the condemnation and ridicule.
            The work of painter Dana Ellyn will be featured at the D.C. observance.  In a Religion News Service article about Blasphemy Day, Ellyn told reporter Leanne Larmondin, “My point is not to offend, but I realize it can offend, because religion is such a polarizing topic.”  That’s an interesting statement, especially when we consider some of her work.
            I give you Dana Ellyn’s “Silly Rabbit, Myths Are for Kids.”  Jesus Christ, God the Son, is pictured dressed in an Easter Bunny costume with an egg beneath his chair.  A small girl is laughing at him. 
            “Bottled at the Source” is evidently supposed to mimic a booze label.  “Divine Wine” is the name of the product, and the Savior of all mankind is shown on the cross; angels float nearby, holding out empty bottles to be filled by the streams of blood that are spouting from His pierced side and hand. 
            In “Jesus Performs at Young Darwin’s Birthday Party,” the Lord of the Universe is in a clown suit levitating a few inches off the floor, dancing on a cloud for the young evolutionist’s amusement. 
            But Ellyn’s magnum opus is “Jesus Does His Nails.” Christ is seated, with His crucifixion spikes still protruding.  He is dabbing nail polish on the head of the nail that has been driven through His left hand. 
            I emailed some questions and observations to Dana Ellyn, but she didn’t respond.  I understand, of course.  If anyone knows how time-consuming it is to conceive predictable, hackneyed, sophomoric puns, it’s me.  And I only have to type mine; she, on the other hand, has got to get one of those palette thingies, cover it with color puddles, put on a smock and beret, and then paint hers.  So, I’ll just include a few of those questions here:

(See update after the column.  Dana stated she emailed a response promising to answer my questions once she received my email.  Though I didn’t receive it before posting the article, I have no reason to disbelieve her. A more charitable and gracious characterization would have been, “Dana Ellyn has yet to respond to my questions.” – Ed.)

 
            1. The article states, “Artist Dana Ellyn says her ‘Blasphemy’ paintings are a tongue-in-cheek expression of her lack of belief in God and religion.”  Isn’t your artwork actually an expression of your hostility toward religion rather than your lack of religious belief?
            2. The date of Blasphemy Day was specifically chosen to commemorate a Danish newspaper’s publication in 2005 of cartoons that were unfavorable toward Islam and Muhammad.  Muslims around the world rioted.  Yet I notice that you, like virtually all atheist artists I have encountered, express your disdain for religion by blaspheming Jesus almost exclusively.  I’ve looked at all your paintings, but nothing in your work is aimed at Islam.  Why do you and so many of your anti-religion colleagues give Islam a “free pass” but roast Christ mercilessly?  You’re afraid of Muslim reprisals, of course, and that’s just good sense.  But clearly you’re holding yourself out as an iconoclast, and your bold iconoclastic principles evaporate before you cross the threshold of the Mosque.
            3. Artists want to be seen as edgy rebels who do provocative work.  Yet the cost for that kind of street cred is public outrage, and you all invariably protest when subjected to such backlash.  Conversely, without the public outrage and backlash, you’ll never be seen as an edgy rebel who does provocative work.  Aren’t you caught in a vicious cycle?
            Anyhoo, friends, I think I’ll pass on International Blasphemy Day and just spend September 30th loving the Lord Jesus instead.  I pray you’ll join me.  To be honest, I’m really not much of an art connoisseur.  The way I see it, art died with Bob Ross anyway.  But as far as Jesus is concerned, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.”

 

UPDATE:  Dana Ellyn responds (sort of):

Thank you for your posting. I did receive your email yesterday with all of your questions. And I did respond with the following email 10 minutes after I received your note (I initially requested the interview mid-afternoon on September 27.  I received this response from Dana almost a full day after sending my initial inquiry to her. Newspaper columnists have deadlines, Ma’am.  I’ll amend the post to reflect accordingly, however.  – Ed.) :
_________
Dear Jim,
Thank you very much for your email. I can not tell you how much I appreciate your taking the time to write – and for the thoughtful nature of your questions. I welcome the opportunity to answer every question you have posed. As of yet, I haven’t responded to any of the 100 or so comments that are posted to the original article on the Religion News Service site. So thank you for compiling all of the issues/questions that have been raised and giving me a forum to answer.

I will sit down tonight and/or tomorrow and respond. I just wanted to get back to you quickly to let you know that I will be responding since it will take me a bit of time to answer your questions thoroughly.

My best,
Dana Ellyn
__________

I spent several hours last night and this morning writing up very in depth answers to your questions – because I was so pleased at your willingness to discuss and have an open and honest dialogue. I am sorry to see that you already posted this article and didn’t wait for my response – nor did you acknowledge my honest intentions to respond. In fact, you say that I didn’t respond and go on with your continued assumptions and accusations claiming to know who I am and all that I stand for. (Again, at post time on Monday, I had waited what in journalism circles is considered a generous amount of time for a response.  When I didn’t receive one, I gave a truthful, accurate account of the situation as it stood.  You very well may have sent me a response “within 10 minutes,” but I didn’t receive it.  While I won’t apologize for the nature of the bid’ness, I do acknowledge that a more charitable and gracious characterization would have been, “Dana Ellyn has yet to respond to my questions.” – Ed.)

In brief, to treat this very serious topic of religion via a few short quotes from me and a handful of paintings I have created that are a very small subset of my entire body of work does not do either side of the conversation justice.  (I maintain that the “handful of paintings” I cited are thematically consistent with all your other works which address the same subject matter.  If you’ve done some other paintings which portray Jesus Christ in anything other than an insulting and, in my view, blasphemous manner, I’d love to see them.  Once I do, I will cheerfully withdraw my critical comments. – Ed.)

And as I responded to each and every one of your questions last night, I realized that if I was too brief it left much of my message up for too much potential misinterpretation.   (Hmmm.  Well, I encourage you to go ahead and send your responses to me anyway.  I won’t misinterpret them.  I have an Adderall prescription.  Logically speaking, it seems that the potential for misinterpretation is heighted, rather than mitigated, by withholding the clarifying responses you wrote.  I’m just sayin’… -Ed.)  To go to the necessary depth would mean me spending the majority of my time focusing on this topic and this topic alone. My atheist/agnostic views are not what define me or my art on the whole.  (Agreed, and I didn’t state otherwise.  The column, however, is devoted to your involvement in International Blasphemy Day, so naturally, my questions and my column will focus on that. – Ed.)

Now I see from your posting here that you are not as open to discussion as I had hoped from your email.  (Ahem.  Talk about “assumptions and accusations claiming to know who I am and all that I stand for”!   I’m as open as you please, but do as you see fit.  – Ed.)

I do not ‘disdain’ religion (as you suggested in your email question). (Uh, come on, Dana.  I mean, seriously.  That’s an almost laughably disingenuous statement.  -Ed.) I think religion has played a vital role in the course of human history. I do not practice any religion or believe in any god and I don’t have anything against those who do. To each his own. I would never tell someone “you are wrong to believe in god” or “you should not believe in god” or “you should stop believing in god”. But those questions are always directed to me in the reverse. (Always?  By whom?  – Ed.)  I do have the right to say “I disagree with you” and you can tell me the same in return.  (You certainly do, Dana.  Every right.  Nothing I have written to you or about this matter conflicts with that.  But the original concern remains unanswered by you:   My perception is that you, like the overwhelming majority of atheist artists, musicians, commentators, and writers I encounter, focus inordinately on mocking Christ, yet seemingly leave Islam and Muhammad alone for the most part.  I again encourage you to email the responses you wrote and set me straight.  – Ed.)

I wish you all well.
My best,
Dana

Public School Kids Forced To Sing Praise and Worship Songs! (About Obama)

There’s a new music video out that you won’t see on Mtv or VH1.  It’s a rockin’ anthem.  It’s got a good beat, it’s easy to dance to.  Yo-yo-yo!  Chiggity-check it out here, dawg.

This new group of fly young artists from B. Bernice Young Elementary School in Burlington, N.J. cut the sick fresh jam back in June, but those fools at the record label didn’t see fit to street it until now.  Whaddup, yo?!

When I was their age, I was singing God Bless America, but it sounds like they’re singing something that could be entitled America Elected God.  

The video starts off with a distinctly hip-hop flavor as a young Eminem begins to kick it old school:                                

Barack Hussein Obama

He said we all must lend a hand to make this country strong again                                        

Mm-mm-mm

Barack Hussein Obama

He said we must be fair today

Equal work means equal pay

Mm-mm-mm

Barack Hussein Obama

He said that we must take a stand

To make sure everyone gets a chance

Mm-mm- mm

Barack Hussein Obama

He said Red, Yellow, Black or White

All are equal in his sight

Mm-mm- mm

Barack Hussein Obama

Yes, Mmm, mmm, mm!

Barack Hussein Obama

At this point, the whole class joins in to repeat this masterpiece of rap, and then they break into a Puff Daddy-esque re-mix of Battle Hymn of the Republic, and it goes a l’il somethin’ like this:

Hello, Mr. President we honor you today!

For all your great accomplishments, we all do say “Hooray!”                          

Hooray Mr. President! You’re number one!

The first Black American to lead this great na-TION!

Hooray, Mr. President (The lyrics sung by the children at this point are unintelligible, so I’m not sure what they say.  When I played the recording backwards, however, I heard this secret, backmasked message: “Republicans are Satan!  Mommy and Daddy are racist, right-wing extremist terrorists if they criticize the President!”)

Then the big finish:

Hooray Mr. President, we’re really proud of you!

And the same for all Americans under the great Red White and Blue! 

(At this point the lyrics are unintelligible again, but when I played it backwards I distinctly heard this secret, backmasked message: “Turn me on, deadman/Take the H1N1 vaccine or face a FEMA internment camp, deadman.”)

Hip, hip hooray!

Okay, where to start?  First of all, there’s this line:  Barack Hussein Obama/He said Red, Yellow, Black or White/All are equal in his sight/Mm-mm- mm/                  

Anyone who has been to Sunday School in the last 100 years knows that this particular line is clearly co-opted from Jesus Loves the Little Children, which goes, “Red and yellow, black and white/They are precious in His sight/Jesus Loves the little children of the World”

I… Uh… Um…

Wow. 

I simply don’t have the words to respond to that. 

Do I need to?

Then there’s the whole Battle Hymn of the Republic connection.  Largely identified with the Civil War and the abolitionist cause, the hymn thematically portrays the second coming of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps that’s what the teachers think happened on election day.

I’m still struggling to process all this.  As a result, I really don’t have a good wrap-up for this article, so I’ll just give you the three links you need now that you have read it.

The WebMD page on the treatment of hypertension/high blood pressure is found here:  http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/default.htm

Amazon.com’s link to order Mary Pride’s Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling is here:                                 http://www.amazon.com/Prides-Complete-Getting-Started-Homeschooling/dp/0736909184

A current listing of private islands for sale around the world can be found here:  http://www.privateislandsonline.com/

God help us.

Update.  This clip is to video what Ipecac is to beverages:

“America: Help Is On The Way” By Jim Bennett

eye              These are grim times indeed.  This nation is beset on all sides by virtually every imaginable scourge:  War, the H1N1 virus, economic disaster, Kanye West…However, I question the pall of hopelessness that has descended.  You can call me a cockeyed optimist all you wish (although I prefer you address me by my nickname, “Spanky B”), but the truth is I’m merely aware of something that apparently most of us have forgotten:  Our government’s most effective problem-solving agency – more heroic than even the Department of Agriculture – is on the job.  Why would we despair for America’s destiny when the Office of Scientific Intelligence has never failed us before?  They are working, quietly and competently, behind the scenes, and therefore no citizen need be anxious about the future of the USA.  With them as our secret weapon, my fellow Americans, our tomorrows are brighter than ever. 

            Consider their track record.  I think you’ll see that the tasks at hand today are relatively routine for an agency of their caliber.  Take the economy, for example.  How hard could it be for them to restore it?  I mean, they took Steve Austin, astronaut – a man barely alive, mind you – and using the technology they had, they built the world’s first bionic man.  Sure, it cost six million dollars to do it, and yeah, that sounds like a lot of money, but not when you figure in the fact that the contractor’s top-end estimate was 8.3 million!  And not only did they rebuild him, they also made him better than he was before; and not just better – also stronger, AND faster!  But most importantly, they brought the whole project in well under budget, and with no overtime.

            Some feel our greatest enemy is a Carter-esque state of national malaise; they say President Obama does not exude the kind of personal strength that inspires the people’s confidence.  Whether he does or doesn’t is a matter of opinion with a margin of error of plus or minus three percent, but does it really matter?  All of those reassuring qualities and more are found in Oscar Goldman, the venerable director of the OSI and the real power behind the throne.  I defy you to find a more dignified, capable leader anywhere.  Under his unwavering, wise command, every national crisis we have faced in recent memory has been resolved.  And each of them was far more catastrophic that any current menace.    

            There are those who are convinced that climate change will end life as we know it.  Have we so soon forgotten the cataclysmic storms of 1977?  When the OSI learned the climatic upheaval was actually being provoked by a deranged scientist attempting to alter the moon’s orbit, they didn’t wait for Congressman Barney Frank to convene the House Committee on Financial Services!  Oscar Goldman did what decisive leaders do in a crisis:  He dispatched his machine-man to the lunar surface, and Mr. Austin promptly dealt out some cyborg justice.  That’s just how the OSI rolls.  Trust me, if global warming actually is melting the Arctic ice shelf, it’s only a matter of time until the OSI makes sure all our polar bears stop drowning and get back to the three things polar bears do best:  Looking cuddly, pitching Coca-Cola, and serving as the upholstery for the couch in Sarah Palin’s office.

            For some, the gravest fear is that a terrorist will rise up and be our nation’s undoing.  Do I really need to recount for you what happened to the mastermind who tried to extort millions from our  government by raising an abandoned Nazi U-boat and threatening to launch atomic weapons at our shores?  One bionic beatdown later and the score was USA: 1, crazed submariner: 0.    

            Look, I know things appear bleak right now, but when you feel afraid, just do what I do:  Close your eyes, hum the Star Spangled Banner, and remember that Steve Austin once beat up a robot Sasquatch so badly that its arm came off.  We can rest easy, knowing this nation’s security is under Steve’s watchful eye, with its bionic, 20:1 zoom lens and night vision function.   

            (Note to readers:  I accept full responsibility for this column.  I was the one who forgot to pick up Jim’s medication, and I was also the one who bought him the “Six Million Dollar Man” DVD box set for his birthday.  His physician assures me he’ll be fine after a little rest. – The Mrs.)

“A Grieving Father’s Plea For Our Troops” By John Bernard

Last week, I told you about the tragic combat death in Afghanistan of  Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, and the abuse this remarkable Marine’s family has endured. Over the Bernard family’s pleas and objections, the Associated Press distributed a gory battlefield photo depicting Joshua, mortally wounded, just after a Taliban RPG had blown his leg off. Joshua’s father is John Bernard, 1st Sgt. USMC (ret.), and I’ve asked him to share from his heart. He wrote the following thoughts on Sunday, upon returning from the service that awarded his son’s posthumous Purple Heart medal. Please read and carefully consider what he has written. — Jim Bennett, The B.H.   

JBernardThe last few weeks since our son’s death have found me embroiled in a battle for the soul of the country and the lives of our Warriors. Both are inextricably linked because both are in the hands of some of the most immoral men and women in our history. I can say this with certainty because no one with a functional conscience would place a fellow American in a place where they knew they would be attacked, only to deny them the tools – or opportunity — to defend themselves.  Sadly, this is exactly what has happened, and both the political machine and the majority of the population seem to be unconcerned.I am alluding to the current Rules of Engagement (ROE) that have been in place since the end of June in Afghanistan. These rules govern the who, when and how our Warriors can engage in combat. The current rules force our Warriors to ‘break engagement’ with the enemy if there are civilians present; they also deny them the ability to prosecute a battle with the enemy if there is a possibility of civilians in the area; they further deny them the ability to chase the enemy or to seek to engage them if they cannot be absolutely sure there are no civilians in the area. The impetus for these rules is a philosophy fostered by the current administration. It essentially says that we, as Americans, are primarily to blame for the poor relations we are experiencing with the Muslim world community. Further, this philosophy insists that repairing those relations is paramount – even at the expense of the security of this nation and certainly the lives of our Warriors. I DO NOT SHARE THAT VIEW. Nothing should be more sacred to the elected officials of this country than the security of Americans. Anything less is sedition. We have a historical and biblical precedent for exporting violence to defend these shores. We are in violation of conscience and our many sworn oaths if we don’t.

The fruit of this philosophy and its ROE can be measured in body bags filled with the lifeless forms of our honorable Warriors, of whom my son was one. Another side ‘benefit’ of this philosophy is the forced integration of Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Police among the ranks of our Marines and Soldiers. There have already been two well documented ambushes in the past four weeks, in which it has been suggested that either/both ANA and Afghan Police have either initiated ambushes or informed Taliban forces of impending plans. In both cases Marines were killed.

This save-the-civilians-at-all-cost policy is short-sighted and self-destructive. The point is that we are there, according to this current administration, to safeguard the civilian population from the Taliban, but we can’t fire at the Taliban if there are civilians in the area. Predictably, Taliban forces have exploited this weakness in our strategy and they now choose to engage us exclusively from civilian population areas where, of course, we are forbidden from engaging them. We are forced to patrol these areas to keep out the Taliban, but we can’t kill them when we find them. We are regularly denied the air and artillery support we need to protect the civilian population (which, again, we can no longer protect because we can no longer chase and kill the enemy, get it?)  The result is Marines and Soldiers being forced into killing zones without so much as the ability to defend themselves.

Your elected officials are to blame for this. They are to blame because they are kneeling at the altar of the White House in obedience, either with blind, reckless disregard for the lives that are being lost needlessly, or because they remain willingly ignorant. Add to this that only 20 of the sitting members of Congress have ever worn a uniform and what you have is a political institution making moral decisions about things they are not invested in or, even worse, they are complicit in, for personal gain, in spite of the cost to our Warriors.

Our Warriors are the best in our society. They always have been. They do the unthinkable, under the worst possible conditions, for the worst possible political motivations, simply because they have sworn an oath to do so. In the end, they are four years behind their peers and often come back into society with physical disabilities directly attributable to their service. Even more often they suffer mental maladies from the horrors they have witnessed. Add to this that now they are being led into killing fields laid by the Afghan forces they are ordered to work with (and who have been given carte blanche by our own politicians).

It’s time to get off the couch and hold these people accountable. I don’t want any more parents to take the trip to Dover Air Force Base that my wife, daughter and I had to take four weeks ago to receive our Joshua’s remains.  May God have mercy on us all.  

 

“I’d agree, but then we’d BOTH be wrong: An Answer to my Critics” By Jim Bennett

Last week, I condemned the Associated Press’ decision to release a grisly photograph of Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard. The photograph depicts, in ghastly detail, the mortally wounded Marine just after his leg had been blown off in a Taliban ambush. The AP distributed the photo despite the repeated protests of Bernard’s family. I characterized the release of the picture as an unthinkably cruel assault on the Bernards, and I excoriated the AP for ignoring the most fundamental conventions of human decency. I stand by those convictions, but many readers wrote me with opposing viewpoints, and I feel I should address them.

A reader I’ll call “Bill” insisted that the First Amendment gave the AP the right to publish the photo, and he is unquestionably correct. The AP has every right to distribute the image, but having the right to do something doesn’t necessarily obligate one to do it. I am a firm believer in the adage, “The best way to preserve our rights is to exercise them.” But I also believe that the best way to exercise them is to do so judiciously, guided always by the Golden Rule.  

I also heard from “Stephen” who insisted my statements were tantamount to a call for censorship. While I do find the sight of it personally disagreeable, my objection to the picture’s distribution was not provoked by its subject matter. If the Associated Press had an identical photograph of a mortally wounded serviceman, and if his family gave their blessing to its publication, I certainly wouldn’t have grounds to object. But the Bernards pleaded with the AP not to release the image. My suggestion is for Associated Press leadership to grow a conscience and then use it to police themselves, conducting their business responsibly and with decorum. A grieving family’s wishes should trump the AP’s dubious and self-interested defense of “the public’s right to know.”  

Finally, “Gina” sent me an emotional e-mail, championing the AP for “recognizing that, by publishing the tragic picture, they may help end the fighting by engendering American opposition to the war.” I reject this notion on its premise, because journalists aren’t supposed to influence, they are supposed to inform. Real journalists must be dispassionate, and agendas should have no place in what they do.

But the main error in Gina’s argument is her assertion that undermining American support for the war would expedite an end to the hostilities. The eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks was just last week; have we forgotten who attacked whom? Even in the unlikely event that such photographs could hasten the withdrawal of American forces, this would serve merely to restrain our own troops. Because the initial attack on us was unprovoked, it seems unlikely that a “unilateral armistice” would pacify our enemies.

But here, in my view, is all one really needs to know: Jihadists are already using the image in question to fan the flames of anti-American hatred and violence. For example, I visited an Islamic extremist Web site last week, where the photograph had been posted. The headline gleefully declared: “Death of Coward Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard.” The caption reads, “In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 14, 2009, coward Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard is tended to by fellow coward U.S. Marines after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade during a firefight against the Taliban in the U.S.-occupied village of Dahaneh in the U.S. occupied Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Bernard was transported by helicopter to Camp Leatherneck where he later died of his wounds and stupidity. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)”

The Web site’s owner, Yousef al-Khattab, is a resident of New York City. He is a devotee of Sheik Abdullah Faisal and he uses the Web site to promote the Sheik’s teachings. Faisal is the Muslim hate preacher who was convicted seven years ago of inciting the murders of Americans, Jews, and Hindus in London. British authorities say Faisal exerted extraordinary influence over Germaine Lindsey, one of four terrorists responsible for the July 7, 2005 bombings in London. Fifty-six people were killed, 700 were injured.

Now that the photograph in question is serving as a propaganda tool and morale booster for domestic jihadists, can anyone still defend the actions of the Associated Press as somehow serving the public interest?

AP CEO Thomas A. Curley can. He’s still clinging to his absurd rationalization that the “news value” of the picture somehow outweighs both the anguish its release caused the Bernard family and the aid and comfort its distribution has given to anti-American jihadists.

Keep telling yourself that, Mr. Curley. Whatever gets you through the night, right?

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