This weekend, I saw The Execution of Christ.
No, it’s not a new film you somehow haven’t heard of. It’s an art installation. It was happenstance and unexpected, really, that I saw it while out and about running errands.
The artists the Chinese Gao brothers, whose father died in a re-education camp under Chairman Mao. (Official reports are he killed himself, though it’s more likely he was shot to death.) The whole exhibit centered around the brothers coming to terms with China’s identity crisis in the decades after the Cultural Revolution.
The centerpiece is an illustration of Mao’s policy of stamping out religion in China. Six life size bronze Chairman Maos take aim, firing squad style at an emaciated, nearly naked Jesus. To stand behind Jesus and look down the barrels of six rifles was one of the most affecting religious experiences I’ve ever had…and in an art museum, no less. I left the room in silence, as if I were in a sacred place.
If this exhibition is coming to your city, or even your state, you must see it. But reflecting on the exhibition got me thinking about a few things in our own culture.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my generation knows one blasted thing about China’s Cultural Revolution. People don’t know how teachers and professors were rounded up and tortured publically, forced to crawl on broken glass before being sent to re-education camps. Or how children were encouraged to report their parents for reading religious texts, who were then arrested or killed. Or how children were indoctrinated with slogans like, “Mother is close, Father is close, but none are as close as Chairman Mao.” People don’t know that after the missionaries were kicked out, Christianity exploded in China from a few million to perhaps a hundred million, all because of illegal house churches. That’s the biggest numerical revival in history, with no Western influence or money.
My college political science professor covered every major world power from Iran to China, as if every government is equally just, moral, and sustainable…except the United States, of course. This was a guy who’s old enough that he should know better. But he also showed up to class most days with his fly open. Still, most of the shrubs in that class lapped up his ridiculous rantings, willingly let themselves be indoctrinated, by a guy with his fly open, like he were speaking brilliant gospel truth.
Oh and the two of you who caught that the last subtitle was a chuckle-worthy pun on the name of China’s current president, Hu Jintao, give yourself a gold star.
Americans have it pretty rough, you know
While I was standing, frozen behind Jesus, about to be executed by the Chairmen, a thought popped in my head. Americans throw some pretty harsh words around awfully casually. We accuse our leaders we don’t like of being “war criminals,” and “dictators.” We compare them to Hitler and other horribly evil people. People say this because they like to have the facade of being “compassionate” and “peace loving.” They like people to believe that they are educated, intellectual, and righteously outraged, and they should be listened to.
What they really reveal is their profound ignorance, hubris, self-centeredness, and small mindedness. If people really knew what horrendous things war criminals and dictators do, they would know just how they sound when they compare an American leader to such people. The casual way those words are thrown around is thoughtless, careless and downright offensive to the rest of the world’s plight. Take the American president you hate the most, the one you absolutely detest with all your being, and tell a Chinese counter-revolutionary why that guy’s so bad, and get back to me, that is if said counter-revolutionary doesn’t quietly refute your argument with a five point palm exploding heart technique.
Brainwashed to complain
Have you noticed how much we complain? We’re programmed to complain, brainwashed to complain, like we’re obedient citizens of a totalitarian government of complainers. We watch vacuous reality stars and bridezillas whose lives mean nothing complain about their stupid problems that no one cares about…and then we do likewise, as if brainwashed by propaganda. We’re programmed to complain about the economy, despite the fact that even on a bad day, our economy is twice the size of China’s with just a fraction of the people.
We complain about our leaders and our country and “losing our rights,” as if our piddly little suffering is comparable to the truly oppressed in the world, as if the vast majority of us who, like me, are civilians with no military relatives have actually been affected by war, insurrection, or oppression recently.
And we are programmed to love revenge. The movies we gobble up the most eagerly are those delicious revenge flicks. Everything from Inglorious Basterds to The Karate Kid is our fantasy of giving people what they deserve. I’ll admit, I love those stories too.
Meanwhile, these Chinese artists have no revenge fantasy for the man who killed tens of millions of people. Their only fantasy is that in some alternate universe, Chairman Mao would feel remorse for the suffering he caused. They depicted this fantasy in the life size bronze Mao’s Guilt.
When all these attitudes swirl around, we can’t be truly thankful. There’s always that piece of our mind that’s always saying, “I’m thankful…except for this and that and that.” That’s not gratitude.
What are you thankful for this year? Do you enjoy revenge movies? What’s your favorite? Most affecting art you’ve seen? What are you going to stop complaining about, or what should we all stop complaining about?