It’s not relevant, of course…

Back to those Santa Maria del Fiore frescoes. This sixteenth century work depicts The Last Judgement, with the bottom section representing Capital Sins and Hell and featuring huge graphic images of: death, hellfire, tridents skewering throats, horned and tailed demons, grotesque chimeras, The Beast swallowing humans whole, carnality, animal genitalia, a hydra (but that’s Greek, isn’t it? Well, why not borrow another myth’s monster if it serves the purpose?), evisceration, skinning, fear, agony, etc, etc.

It’s imposing, no doubt about that. But it’s just a painting, in a Renaissance cathedral, so it shouldn’t be taken seriously – except as art. I know if I’d have been exposed to it as that impressionable, vampire-phobic kid, I’d have been horrified. (Incidentally, Florentines objected to their city’s use as a location setting for Hannibal, in which a police detective is disembowelled and hanged from the balcony of the Palazzo Vecchio.) But nobody takes this kind of thing seriously now, surely?

I was disturbed last week by the Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary, Baby Bible Bashers. One of its subjects was a seven year old boy from Mississippi, preaching on the streets, encouraging sinners to repent, else go to hell. What’s my connection here? Well, this young child would look up at those fresco/secco images and believe them to a true representation of our fate. He knows there are worms down there that will eat you.

I was moved by the final footage of this damaged boy, brain-washed by idiot parents, traumatised to tears by the hostility of the reaction his words, and his family’s banners, provoked on the more liberal streets of New York. I’m with Dawkins on this one – child abuse.

4 responses to “It’s not relevant, of course…

  1. Provocative as usual, Lee.
    But it’s just a painting, in a Renaissance cathedral, so it shouldn’t be taken seriously – except as art.
    This young child would look up at those … images and believe them to [be] a true representation of our fate.
    Does your assertion that this might be a case of child abuse arise predominantly from the fact that the boy has been led to believe in the literalness of such notions as those depicted in the Florentine images of which you write?
    But nobody takes this kind of thing seriously now, surely?
    Part of the issue might be that, in an increasingly secularized world, such notions as hell, heaven, salvation etc., as depicted in much religious art, have lost any meaning to people who have not been shaped by the narratives to which these notions are central. (This is to say nothing of how central these elements should be, which of course depends on how such elements are understood.) However, street-corner preaching of these concepts apart from such narratives is hardly going to make such notions any more understandable. Anyone doing so simply looks like a nutter.

  2. I’m with Dawkins on this one – child abuse.
    I shall pin my colors to the mast here, and not for the first time. Quite apart from my conviction that Richard Dawkins is absoluetly and quite definitely the worst thing ever to have happened to the promotion of the noble name of science, and the related conviction that The God Delusion supplies that same flavor of over-generalizing, mouth-foaming, ersatz self-flagellation to unreasoning atheists that Mein Kampf did to the nazis, I’d like to turn your question around. To be sure, there are nutcases about, but Dawkins is at least as bad as the parents of baby bible-bashers. I’d claim that keeping religion, fantasy and delusion away from children is far more cruel than allowing them to grow up in a world in which childhood irrationality falls away more gently. Rather like having your kids grow up in a sensory deprivation chamber.

  3. Pete – Well, if I’ve provoked people into reading, then that’s okay, isn’t it? Stops me thinking I’m a nutter – i.e. talking to myself in public.
    My assertion of child abuse was roused by watching interviews with this particular boy’s parents, who, through their need to atone for their own mistakes, are exerting fascistic mind control over an innocent child, inculcating him with a worldview that belongs to half a millenium ago or more, including an associated notion of ‘Hell’. Consequently, I would predict that, were he to view those images, they may well accord with his notion as a valid representation (although not literal, if he hasn’t seen them; I’d be surprised if the hydra figured).

    Henry – Vivid colours indeed. I referred to Dawkins’s position because I agree with it here. I really felt sorry for this particular child. If you wish to use that as an opportunity to lambast everything Dawkins stands for, well, that’s your call – I didn’t invite that (although I don’t object to you bringing it up). But I don’t agree with you. That Dawkins is provoking increased debate on certain matters is, to my mind, a good and necessary thing, raising a lot of issues that need to be raised.
    I don’t advocate against learning about religion (or fantasy, or delusion) – why would I? It’s important and fascinating. But if children are indoctrinated that they are (should be) religious, in the manner of that particular boy I discussed, then that, to me, is disturbing – and wrong.

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