the benetton benediction

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 10, 2007

Gerald Augustinus brings to our attention the Tiny Truck Processional Cross at the Jesuit Church in Vienna, which he assures us is not a spoof: "No [Gerald writes] I am not making it up. It's made from lego blocks. And yes, that's a lego toy truck on the cross."

Gerald's combox is filled with entirely apt expressions of disgust. "I am steaming right now ..." writes one commenter, "STEAMING!" These reactions are also a predictable and necessary part of the joke the pastor and artist are playing on us. The lego lorry in place of the slain body of Christ is intended to get us to sputter, because enjoyment at the indignant incomprehension of the pious (here, a term interchangeable with bourgeois) is the first move in the game.

The second move is a gasp of wounded innocence on the part of the joker ("how could anyone possibly take offense...?") combined with a post-modern explanation of how objections that stem from piety betray the ignorance and captiousness of the objector. Were you to write the pastor complaining of sacrilege you'd get back the following sort of reply:

Far from being blasphemous, the truck-cross is a recovery of one of the oldest and most venerable strands of orthodox Christian devotion. The 4th century Doctor of the Church Saint Hilary of Poitiers referred to Christ as "the vehicle of God" -- Dei currus -- since He transports fallen Mankind back to the Father through His redemptive act on the Cross. A well-known American Negro "spiritual" hymn speaks of the "sweet chariot" which is to carry the singer "home" to the bosom of the Father. Artist Liese Hochhuth used a toy truck in order to recapture the ancient image in a way meaningful to children -- and those not afraid to become as children -- in our own world of today.

Uncle Di just spit-balled that rubbish off the top of his head, and wholly fabricated the bit about Hilary, and anyone familiar with the scam can crank out more of the same nonsense effortlessly. It's not totally convincing (it's not intended to be). And that's the third moment in the shock-the-bourgeois game: to silence the complainers while sending them away unsatisfied.

This kind of gamesmanship is what I've called Benetton Ad Dead-Pan. It trades on the tension between outsiders and "those in the know," and operates as a kind of morose delectation or plaisir aristocratique de d├ęplaire. The sophisticates give pain to the less sophisticated by means of an image that shocks their piety, but which then, when they come charging in outrage to gore their tormentor, is whisked out of sight like a bullfighter's cape. To cause distress to the simple, and to have them chasing a mirage -- that's what makes the sport of Benetton so amusing to our betters.

And invariably they will be our betters -- gallery owners, by blood-test if not by title -- whence the game is so frustrating to us pawns. While I share the disgust for the prank itself expressed by Gerald's steaming commenter, the greater part of my own steam results from the hopelessness of any attempt at redress. Don't repeat this too loudly, but piety, frankly, is lower class. Good-willed protest of sacrilege on the grounds of injured piety is exceptionlessly futile, as the men in charge always always always side with the aristocrats against the commoners. Look at it from their side of the salon: if your taste is so plebeian as to admit you don't find Christ-our-Lorry an amusing tease, you're in no position to alter the course of events for good or ill. It doesn't matter how angry you get.

For them, that's the best joke of all.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 21 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - May. 11, 2007 11:53 PM ET USA

    My wife and I went there last year for daily Mass and we left to go to another church. Apart from the communist chic altar, the church is one of the most beautiful in Vienna. Unfortunately, the daily chapel was by contrast the most ugly utilitarian room imaginable. The other churches had daily Mass in the main sactuary. What can you say about those who despise beauty?

  • Posted by: - May. 11, 2007 8:37 PM ET USA

    Newman's right: We should just take items that are this blasephemous down ourselves. Let them have us arrested, and explain to the reporters that they want their fellow Catholic jailed for taking down a Lego "crucifix." It would be a nationwide story. The "redress" lies in secular publicity, Di. (If your paster won"t let you pray the rosary in Church, pray it in front on the sidewalk with a HUGE sign: "Father Bob won't let me pray my rosary in Church." Call a reporter ahead of time.)

  • Posted by: - May. 11, 2007 2:56 PM ET USA

    Convert.....don't insult jackasses by comparing them to Jesuits.

  • Posted by: - May. 11, 2007 7:05 AM ET USA

    hUMPTY dUMPTY we should not paint all Jesuits as being of the same ilk as those who perpetrated this nonsense. Fr Peter Gumpel who is the relator of Pope Pius XII's cause is a wonderful priest as are so many others such as Fr Kenneth Baker. Pope Pius XII is one of the greatest popes of all time who was a truly heroic and holy man under exceptionally difficult circumstances.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 4:56 PM ET USA

    Does anyone think that we'll see an intra-jesuit competition to beat this lego processional cross? I'm certainly not implying Uncle Di should not have posted this, on the contrary. People need to see this type of idiocy exposed for what it is and he did a fabulous job of exposing their true agenda/motives. Still, I think the race is on now especially among the American Jesuits to improve on this.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 4:27 PM ET USA

    On the other hand, at my wonderful parish last Sunday, Mass was celebrated without a crucifix being visible in the "sanctuary" at all. The regular one is covered all Easter season by a dreadful 6x10' blowup a previous pastor had made of a holy card showing the resurrected Christ (I kid you not), and I guess no crucifer showed up so no processional cross was used. Hence, no crucifix. They also skipped the Kyrie

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 4:22 PM ET USA

    Newman, I'm not offended at all. In fact, I like you and your opinion so much that I would love to see you come home to Rome. Trust me, we need more Catholics with your sense of Orthodox propriety. Have you considered converting? It doesn't hurt a bit, I promise! Ssoldie, you are so right when you say the Jesuits are not God's donkeys. They might be God's jackasses, but not donkeys.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 3:24 PM ET USA

    And remember the whacko Jesuits are in charge of the cause of canonization of Pius XII. They were founded to defend Alexander VI. AMDG

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 2:08 PM ET USA

    Always the whacko Jesuits. Saint Ignatius pray for your wayward sons!

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 1:01 PM ET USA

    Indeed, respond to this sacrilege with obedience to the Faith entrusted to us by Jesus and His Church. (1) Go to the "pastor" of the "Lorry Lego Cross" parish, citing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd Typical Edition, graph #308: where there is a Cross in the church, there is to be the figure of Christ crucified upon it. (2) Give him a copy of the GIRM. (3) Write to the bishop & to Rome (notarized, certified). (4) No response? Remove the Lego cross yourself; crush it & bury it.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 12:04 PM ET USA

    I am an Orthodox Christian, and I don't mean to give offense. I would sincerely like an answer. But if such an atrocity were to appear in an Orthodox church, it would be removed, forcibly, by a member of congregation. Why do Roman Catholics stomach this nonsense? I frankly see no precedent in the church of early centuries for this kind of passivity. To me it looks less like obedience than cowardice.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 10:53 AM ET USA

    Get even in a more practical way: Fast, pray and do penance for the conversion of the pagan moro-- er -- clow -- Jesuits --- who operate the parish. What better 'revenge' for this sort of silliness than asking the Lord to open their eyes now to what arrogant, tasteless fools they really are and bring them to full conversion?

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 10:47 AM ET USA

    I don't usually let my sons take their tennis balls into Church, but maybe this once..

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 10:15 AM ET USA

    It is another attempt to turn Catholicism into another pagan form of worship where the object of our faith has been replaced by an object of the world. There is very little to do. These people bring scandal on themselves. Voice your objection without waiting for a reply. Our response is what is important, not their rationalization.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 10:07 AM ET USA

    Well two can play at the "innocence" game ... sure would be a shame if some distracted, clumsy tourist knocked that thing over and broke it while wandering shamelessly 'round the sanctuary, craning his neck to get a photo of some earlier, more edifying expressions of piety up there in the dome ...

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 9:56 AM ET USA

    Man I love this blog! The grandfather of all this malarky, Freud, argued that the moment a man questions the meaning or value of life he has betrayed a sickness. To be "cured" was to "see through" namby-pamby things like beauty, truth, faith, and so on. For a modern artist to exhibit some sense of truth or beauty he risks being billed an idiot or fraud. Hence the legos and the truck--ironically it's the best sort of thing he can do to protect himself from looking stupid among his people.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 9:54 AM ET USA

    The vehicle of God, God the Son, was a donkey, the beast of burden, our suffering good priest. These Jesuits are NOT God's donkey's. I for one am so disgusted with such sillyness that has infected our Roman Catholic Church for the last 40 years, Ah ! yes, the fruits of Vatican 11.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 9:40 AM ET USA

    This cross was designed to offend. At the very least I am offended. Where is the Jesuits' sense of Christian charity? Do they tolerate this stuff out of a desire to offend? Or have they become insensitive to the feelings of other Christians?

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 9:38 AM ET USA

    Thanks Uncle Di. Yet another brilliant expose. It lays the groundwork for defining a new sub-classification of mock-religious animal: the NeoPharisee. Unlike the more classical version, the NeoPharisee handiwork consists in trading in the Benetton Ad Dead-Pan. However, just like the older models, the NeoPharisee retains all of the essential characteristics of the broader class of Pharisee: sophisticated, condescending, in the know, well-connected, and most especially, mock-religious. The handiwork of the Pharisee class changes from age to age, but its essence remains the same.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 9:24 AM ET USA

    All very true, but there is also some psychpathology at work here as if a patient was entrapping a psychiatrist in the validity of his hallucinations. And perhaps with many things modern, virtual hallucinations tend to impose themselves as reality. How else can one explain so much of modern church architecture or modern art for that matter? At another time and place, the pastor would be lying supinely on a couch recalling his childhood or last night's dream.

  • Posted by: - May. 10, 2007 8:28 AM ET USA

    Hey! I was wondering what happened to the lego truck I lost..........