Following Wednesday’s Islamist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Associated Press has removed an image of Andres Serrano’s 1987 photograph Piss Christ from its image bank.
The photo was replaced on the AP’s website with a note that reads, “Oops! This image is not part of your portfolio. Please contact customer support.”
Though AP spokesperson Erin Madigan said it has been AP’s policy for years to “refrain from moving deliberately provocative images,” until Wednesday, the AP had allowed the photograph, which depicts a statue of Christ submerged in urine.
Indeed, Piss Christ was vandalized in 2011, and both Serrano and gallery owners reportedly received death threats over the years, which came to nothing. There are countless images of the work on the Internet, though many are intentionally blurred.
Several reasons could have led to AP’s action. The Paris massacre could have provoked an examination of conscience regarding AP’s publication of images that are offensive to religious groups. Alternatively, AP could think that one sort of religious extremism is like any other, and may have feared that the sacrilegious image of Jesus could have incited an act of Christian terrorism, just as the depiction of Muhammad drew an attack from radical Islamists. Finally, AP may have decided that it was not right to discriminate among religions and decided to remove any offensive religious images, even though their real fear is of Islamic radicals.
Christians are clearly not above wrongdoing of every sort. Nonetheless, a few simple facts should be considered.
First, there are no Christian terrorist training camps, no Christian suicide bombers, and no “Christian State” declaring war on infidels and butchering innocent people in their way. There are, however, numerous Muslim terrorist training camps, Muslim suicide bombers, and a self-declared Islamic State waging war on anyone whose beliefs they find offensive.
There have been no attacks with people shouting, “Glory to Jesus Christ!” and chopping people’s heads off on the streets of London and Paris. Going back no further than two years, there have been copious incidents of Muslims shouting “Allahu Akbar!” while assaulting people at Abuja, Ft. Hood, Maiduguri, London, North Sinai, Manchester, Nantes, Nairobi, Paris, Khost, Mpeketoni, and elsewhere.
These are not simply examples of equivalent “religious extremism.” An extreme Christian might memorize the Bible, pray hours a day, give away everything he owns, work with AIDS patients, or deliver food, water, medicine, and Christmas boxes to starving children in third world countries. An extreme Christian could never, in the name of Christ, go on a killing spree, however.
Christians often protest images they consider blasphemous or offensive, such as Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, a depiction of the Madonna covered in elephant dung and surrounded by images of female genitalia.
The AP is to be applauded if its decision to remove Piss Christ from its website was motivated by deeper respect for the sensibilities of believers. If, however, it is just an example of politically correct amalgamation of all religions under the same umbrella, or the ignorant assumption that one religion is much the same as another, then the Paris attack taught them nothing at all.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.