Is this statue a hate crime?
Police in the UK are investigating that very question. The rationale: this statue, a depiction of the Buddha with banana-and-egg genitalia that is part of artist Colin Self's intentionally provocative The Trilogy: The Iconoclasts, violates the U.K.'s Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006. While the investigation continues, the gallery has agreed to display the piece with its back to the window.
This police inquiry provides additional evidence that the West is moving toward an age of enforced Religious Realism. By realism here I don't mean accuracy, but rather an idealized depiction, akin to the stirring portraits of Soviet dictators and robust peasants in the Socialist Realism of Stalinist art. Whether the motivation is regard for diversity or fear of offense the effect is the same. The only permitted visual depiction of religion is one that portrays its subject as noble and pure.
What do we lose? A world without profane religious art is a world that has lost touch with its own religious history. The originators of our enduring religious traditions weren't afraid of a sacred sphere rife with blasphemy and body parts--they reveled in the contradictions, and if we acknowledged their legacy as it was and not as we would like to be, laws such as the one described above would not exist.
Case in point: the palad khik, traditional religious amulets from Thailand. Although palad khik may sound exotically new age, the name actually refers to a surrogate penis. The amulets--crafted by monks in the shape of a penis and adorned with sacred invocations and spiritual imagery--make the so-called iconoclasm of postmodern art seem rather tame.
Yes, we could legislate a world where the only sacred penis is one that we revere, but c'mon, that would just be silly.
HT: the always fun and informative Alt Religion!