“Blessed Are the Poor in Taste: Cuteness and Christian Devotional Imagery”

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Blessed Are the Poor in Taste: Cuteness and Christian Devotional Imagery
For Christianity, a religion in which the concept of judgment figures prominently both theologically and culturally, issues of aesthetics and taste are intimately bound up not only with morality and church law, but also with religious and spiritual practice. Such practices are both communal and individual, and can include liturgy, the interpretation of scripture, preaching, and prayer, but also the use of the arts in the creation and maintenance of the religious community at large: music, architecture, sculpture, design…. Even fashion and style have their places in Christianity, when this religion is figured both broadly as culture and more specifically as ritual, given the way that not only the dress of clergy, church architecture and decor has adapted itself to the tastes of the times, but that the contemporary practice of church attendance is a space for the personal expression of taste, whether through choices of personal comportment, or the very choice of the kind of church one attends. Individual believers might join a congregation not because that particular church ascribes to or denies certain doctrines, but because that believer appreciates the style of worship or preaching employed at that church.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Religiously speaking, it might seem that taste should have nothing to do with matters of faith. How can questions of aesthetics enter into the question of belief? Since aesthetics are determined through acts of judgment—deciding what is in either good or bad taste—it seems anathema to Christianity that a believer should be in the position to judge the divine. Either God reveals Godself, or God does not. But within Christian theology there is a long tradition that links the experience of the divine with aesthetic experience. From the Neoplatonic tradition extends the idea that the earthly beauty one perceives through the learned discrimination of taste is analogous to the divine beauty one encounters through intellectual study 1 This echoes in Kant’s claim that the beautiful is a symbol of the morally good 2, and Schliermacher’s argument that the most profound aesthetic experiences are also essentially religious. 3 For Paul Tillich, art always potentially serves a sacramental function, which means that artistic practice and art appreciation can always act religiously. To stand in awe before the revelation of God is 4 to experience beauty, to know goodness. This tradition has produced religious categories of experience that are also aesthetic categories: namely, the Sublime (Kant) and the numinous (Otto).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 For Kant in The Critique of Judgment (1790), the difference between the beautiful and the sublime is that “The beautiful in nature is connected with the form of the object, which consists in having boundaries. The Sublime, on the other hand, is to be found in a formless object, so far as in it or by occasion of it boundlessness is represented, and yet its totality is also present to thought”. 5 The human capacity to appreciate either form or formlessness in nature stems from one’s God-given reason, which in any aesthetic experience is the arbiter of taste and sense. While beauty is about the furtherance of life (because its form seems to serve a direct purpose), and responds to “charms” and the human imagination, the pleasure of the Sublime comes indirectly: “it is produced by the feeling of a momentary checking of the vital powers and a consequent stronger outflow of them…. [T]he mind is not merely attracted by the object but is ever being alternately repelled, the satisfaction in the Sublime does not so much involve a positive pleasure as admiration or respect, which rather deserves to be called negative pleasure” (62). While Kant links the beautiful to form which serves a purpose, the Sublime appears to violate purpose, and “to do violence to the imagination; and yet it is judged to be only the more sublime” (62). Already there is something “cute” about Kant’s Sublime as an aesthetic category that both attracts and repels, that reveals the human capacity for reason and yet overwhelms one’s “vital powers”. In Kant’s discussion of his two further subdivisions of the Sublime, the mathematically and the dynamically Sublime, the main issue is power, i.e., the power of human reason to overcome the natural, even when we encounter its potential to extinguish us, such as when witnessing the chaotic energy of a hurricane or a volcano. Overall, such aesthetic experience reveals reason’s mastery over nature, even at the moment one is awestruck by nature’s sublime beauty: Nature’s power “certainly makes us, considered as natural beings, recognize our physical powerlessness, but at the same time it reveals a capacity for judging ourselves as independent of nature and a superiority over nature” (section 28). Nature is, we could say, kind of cute, because even though it has the power to harm or even destroy us, intellectually speaking, the human can always hold it at arm’s length and control it. Nature is the small child throwing a temper tantrum to the bemusement of its adult caretakers, or a puppy convinced of its viciousness whose teeth cannot actually penetrate the thick skin of human reason. The sense of pleasure and awe in the face of the Sublime has more to do with the realization and appreciation of our superior God-given capacity to judge rather than the raw energy of nature. The attraction one might feel to the Sublime is a “negative liking” (section 29) because it reveals the inferiority and intrinsic weakness of that which attempts to sway us emotionally.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Rudolph Otto’s influential The Idea of the Holy (1917) proposed that what links religions together despite historical and cultural difference is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans—the experience of mystery that is both terrifying and fascinating. The experience itself Otto names the “numinous” (after the Latin numen, divine power or spirit). 6 Otto’s mysterium tremendum seems like a more explicitly religious parallel to Kant’s Sublime, but Otto describes this category as “the feeling which remains where the concept fails”—and so sidesteps the issue of reason altogether. However, the numinous, as experience, refers to an objective existence; the numinous is sui generis, and precedes any aspect of human experience, unlike the Sublime, which could be said to be created and experienced in the process of encounter with nature or the seemingly supreme. The overwhelming feeling of smallness and nothingness compared to the supreme, writes Otto, “is thus felt as objective and outside the self”. 7 While for Kant the Sublime reinforces human superiority, the Otto’s numinous exposes “creature consciousness”: “it is the emotion of a creature, submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures. …[T]he ‘creature-feeling’ is itself a first subjective concomitant and effect of another feeling-element, which casts it like a shadow, but which in itself indubitably has immediate and primary reference to an object outside the self”. 8 The numinous, like the Sublime, also seems to serve a negative function: where the Sublime repels as it demonstrates its capacity to awe, the numinous deflects away from itself and gestures toward a divinity which is unknowable in its greatness and otherness. In Kant’s theory of the Sublime, it is nature that ultimately reveals itself as cute, but Otto pursues a very different agenda in allowing the numinous to reveal, through the experience of our own “creature consciousness”, ourselves as kind of “cute” (small, overpowered, yet feistily expressive) in relationship to the mysterium tremendum.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Between Kant and Otto we reach a contradiction: aesthetics are not supposed to matter for religion, but they matter very much, especially in the way that aesthetic religious experience creates contradictory stances for the human subject. The Sublime is supposed to impress and awe, but it repels; the numinous is supposed to elaborate upon the transcendent, but succeeds in widening the distance. From one perspective (which is not necessarily the only portrait of the wide variety of Christian beliefs and practices), Christianity is invested in making things cute because it works to create hierarchies of power between the divine and the human and the strong and the weak, which in more recent centuries has become caught up in creating hierarchies between the intellectual and the emotional as well. Between Kant and Otto lies religion’s negative capacity for the cute, one that diminishes, infantilizes, and feminizes both the human and the natural as a strategy to reveal the all-powerful.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The hierarchy is in place to aid tasteful religious judgments. Religious historian Frank Burch Brown argues that from a religious point of view “aesthetic sensitivity and judgment are so integral to moral and religious life that people whose aesthetic sense is dull or perverse are in a precarious state. The possibility that bad taste may be a moral liability is suggested by the traditional notion that sin—being not only wrong but also profoundly ugly—looks alluring to the unwary, whereas virtue—being not only right but also profoundly beautiful—frequently appears drab at first sight. It follows that failure to distinguish true beauty from counterfeit can lead to moral error. Moral and aesthetic discernment often go hand in hand’. 9 Can this moment of failing to distinguish the sinful from the righteous then be described as “cute”, if the cute corresponds to the kind of “soft” aesthetic that lies not only between the ugly and the beautiful but also the human and divine/transcendent?  What is the place of the “cute” in religion, and what purpose might it serve? Why might religion need the cute? Religious art and imagery that is cute, dopey, sappy, and overly sweet says something about a believer’s moral sensibility, and about their perceived relationship between themselves, the Other/others, and the world in which they live. The cute object of religious devotion is often a kind of commercial kitsch, mass-produced and “tasteless”, but it performs a very specific kind of religious commitment. In the discussion that follows, Christian-themed Precious Moments figurines, dolls, and illustrations signify buyers’ adoration of the divine though their adoration of cute, smiling but weepy-faced, (mostly) white children with strange, teardrop-shaped eyes. In the Orthodox traditions of icon-writing and gazing, the face of Jesus and the saints are explicitly represented as human figures but understood as conduits, although through darkened corridors, to union with the divine. Theologically speaking, it would seem that cuteness in devotional Christian kitsch is a kind of collapse of that corridor for which the Orthodox icon serves as entrance. 10 Instead of the Precious Moments figure signifying an entrance to a process, it is a signal of a religious identity that has been achieved and proclaimed. If an Orthodox icon is an invitation into divine unknowing, the Precious Moments figurine is an assertion of knowledge. And yet, as “cute” objects, there is still something aggressive about their helplessness, 11 which brings to mind Otto’s insistence on the holy combination of terror and fascination that leads to the experience of epistemic failure. As I will argue below, the cuteness of devotional kitsch can be read as a collapse of knowledge as well, but instead of dismissing this as simply anti-intellectual (thereby cutifying the devotee as lacking critical capacity) I will analyze such cuteness as negative epistemology. The over-signification of the adorable leads only to the impossibility of adoration when its aesthetic cannot represent and cannot comprehend the holy; its cuteness is numinousness. If we retro-futuristically look backwards through the history of object-oriented devotion, we can also consider that such a collapse of knowledge into the darkness of the divine as critique of doxological assuredness is kind of “cute”. I propose that Precious Moments figurines complicate the shining of “this little light of mine,” because their cuteness also offers an entrance into the darkness of apophatic unknowing.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Precious Moments are doll-like child figures with teardrop-shaped eyes and bulbous heads created by Samuel Butcher in the 1970s for a line of greeting cards, which he then expanded into the gift industry to include porcelain figurines, all kinds of printed posters, cards, calendars, devotional Bibles, videos, t-shirts, inspirational picture frames, dolls, other toys, and Christmas ornaments. For those who follow Precious Moments throughout their lives, appropriately-themed caskets and headstones are also available. Even though the popularity of Precious Moments paraphernalia is staunchly an American Protestant Midwestern phenomenon, the imagery is recognizable the world over, thanks to the global reach of the gift industry (Mr. Butcher himself spends most of his time in the Philippines, where he has opened a Precious Moments boutique and year-round Christmas shop). Not all of these products are religiously themed—in fact, American patriotism is another common subject of the imagery—but overwhelmingly the ideology that underpins the company and its products is a style of conservative American Protestant (and perhaps Evangelical) Christianity that emphasizes humility, meekness, and gentleness, or as the Precious Moments Supporting Foundation puts it, “loving, sharing, and caring”. 12 What is striking about the imagery, apart from the anatomical oddities of the teardrop-shaped eyes and ballooning heads, is that it converts any human figure into what Richard Lindsay calls a “hyperreal child”. In perhaps the only critical treatment available on the subject of Precious Moments, Lindsay’s essay is a report on his visit to the Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. Following Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyperreality, Lindsay sees Precious Moments imagery within the chapel as “those instances where the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake”. 13 “It’s a lens we Americans see the world through, in which something must be “real,” but somehow better than real. It must always be recreated to have even more of the substance we like.” 14 Here is how Lindsay describes the figures:

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Precious Moments children are like children, but better. They’re pastel-colored and clean, usually light-skinned and fair-haired (the American ideal of beauty). They’re always in adorable poses, with puppies and kittens, or playing dress-up as doctors or teachers. Their shoes and clothes are patched and faded to make them look like lovable ragamuffins. And they usually reflect some Bible verse or Christian virtue in the most innocent, un-self-conscious way. Although they are sometimes depicted as mothers and fathers—even as grandparents—or doing adult work or driving cars, they are always large-headed and pre-pubescent.


10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 But in a strange turn, the thing—or rather, the moment—that is presented as the better-than-real absolute fake is the moment of death, which is memorialized over and over again throughout the chapel, its visitors’ center, gift shop, and surrounding gardens, attended and interpreted by these curious “urchins” with their almost featureless faces.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The theme of the chapel is the “last days”, encompassing both the last days of someone’s life, and the last days of the apocalypse before the coming of Christ. The visual focus of the chapel, which apparently Butcher modeled on the Sistine Chapel, is a large mural titled “Hallelujah Square”. According to the chapel’s website, the mural depicts the entrance to heaven through the eyes of a child 16 The mural is composed so that the eye is drawn past a golden gate where a blonde Precious Moment (Peter?) greets newcomers, down a path past a welcoming committee holding signs that say “Welcome!” and “To your heavenly home”, and up toward a larger, cathedralesque gate that opens into a mountainous landscape. Puffy white clouds frame the mural, on which perch Precious Moments angels in prayerful attitudes. One of the little angels in the welcoming committee holds his sign upside down—his incompetence intensifies his cuteness, of course. A rainbow arches between the clouds, and, in the distance right at the foot of the cathedral gate, Jesus himself greets the little newcomers, his presence at the center of the composition but in terms of size relatively small, due to the perspective. True to the fashion in which Michelangelo integrated political and personal commentary into the Sistine Chapel (there are two self-portraits in the frescoes: one of himself as the flayed skin of Saint Bartholomew, and one as the severed head of Holofernes), Butcher has also incorporated stories of personal loss into the mural, with portraits of his own dead relatives, including his son and brother. Butcher has memorialized several other children in the mural as well, including a young woman named Coleenia. Let us consider in detail the way in which Collette’s story is theologized in context of the mural, according to its accompanying literature:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Coleenia came to the Chapel several years ago. She had never walked or talked. She was in her twenties but only weighed 45 or 50 pounds. Mr. Butcher was so touched by the sweet smile of this young woman who did not even need her breathing machine while she was being shown the paintings in the Chapel. He remembered that sweet spirit and when he learned that she died, wanted to comfort her parents, so he painted her here, dolly in her arms and standing like she had never been able to do on the earth—a reminder of the wholeness that awaits us in this very special place.


13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In Coleenia is an example of a “hyperchild” already weakened by illness or disability, but then further cutified by Butcher as a Precious Moment. Even though at her death she was more than twenty years old, Butcher portrays her as a blonde child holding a toy. Her spiritual wholeness, seemingly possible only after death, is signified not by a realistic portrayal, but a stylized portrait that blurs features and infantilizes the body. Although spiritual progress seems marked by psychological and physiological regression, such imagery speaks to a Christianity that prizes simplicity and unquestioning faith. In one’s last days, one is literally born again.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Another part of the chapel is dedicated to Butcher’s son, Phillip, who is memorialized with another mural that depicts Phillip’s family gathered around an empty bed, while Phillip himself is greeted above by angels at the entrance to heaven. Although Phillip was an adult when he died, Butcher portrays him as a Precious Moment child. The family members surrounding the bed are also children, even though this family includes adults. It seems to me that this conflation of the moment of death with figures trapped in pre-pubescence (that is, at the beginning of their lives) plays between the boundaries of the beautiful and the grotesque that makes the cute object of religious devotion something that can represent both human limitation (or sin) and transcendence (the good, truth). Indeed for some the imagery is uncanny and grotesque (or even morally questionable), but that perhaps is the flip side of what for some creates its great appeal. What seems to be an over-simplification is actually a complication. The imagery would seem to simplify life, but exposes life as moments already lived in death.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Because the precious moment that is death is a blind spot in human experience, its understanding is often mediated through religion, which is what many of the images in the Precious Moments Chapel seem to do. Religion is a mediating practice, according to Hent de Vries 18; in fact, it is fair to consider religion itself as a kind of media, which parallels the phenomenological approach to religion advanced by Otto as experience of the numinous itself. As religious anthropologist Birgit Meyer explains, “Positing a distance between human beings and the transcendental, religion offers practices of mediation to bridge that distance and make it possible to experience—from a more distanced perspective one could say produce—the transcendental.” 19 But what if that object of mediation, a kitschy bisque figure of a child, offers a less-than awe-inspiring encounter with the transcendent, and more the tendency to produce a gurgle of affection for the cute ( as in, “Awwwww…aren’t you adorable?”). What is the difference, in terms of acting as a mediating object, between a Byzantine-style icon, with its austere contrasts between light and shadow emphasizing the almost severe and penetrating gaze of the saint, and a Precious Moments figurine, with its dopey smile and weepy eyes?

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 It is not difficult to see the theology of icon-writing and devotion behind the objects produced through this devotional practice. The gaze of the saint peers out from the image, an illusion created by use of inverse-perspective, which gives the impression that the human devotee is being gazed upon rather than initiating a gaze. For this reason such icons are described as windows or conduits, and as instigating devotional relationship between worshiper and saint, rather than passive object of use and consumption. The icon creates a relationship between worshipper, object, and the holy in what Pavel Florensky calls the “concrete metaphysicality 20 of the world,” where the world itself reveals the goodness of God.  By contrast, a Precious Moments image or figure is mute and infantile, and therefore weak. Its wide, teary eyes seem to absorb the gaze of the devotee, rather than reflect back a gaze with any agency of its own. This language of gaze and penetration becomes discomfiting the more it is applied to the childlike figure, who seems to stand in for a kind of almost erotic desire to consume and control. In the history of Orthodox iconography versus the accusation of idolatry, the debate revolved around the question as to whether icons were believed to be “consubstantial” with the saintly or divine persons they represented, and therefore idolatrous. At the 787 Second Council of Nicea, which met to discuss the restoration of the veneration of holy images, the task for the iconophile against the iconoclasts was to prove that the relationship between image and divine could maintain similitude as well as heterogeneity of substance; that is, that an icon, when properly encountered, could manifest the divine presence without embodying it. In this way the icon could serve as a conduit for the prayerful relationship between believer and divine, without the blasphemy of the object or image actually containing the holy substance of the divine. 21 For a Precious Moment, the question is not so much whether God or Jesus is consubstantiated through the imagery, but whether it offers the kind of image that will engender the proper feeling and response to the divine—and that feeling should be one of meekness, weakness, and unquestioning trust in the power and authority of God.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 As Meyer claims, not only does mediation objectify “a spiritual power that is otherwise invisible to the naked eye and difficult to access, thereby making its appearance via a particular sensational form depend upon currently available media and modes of representation, [it] also highlight[s] that mediation itself tends to be sacralized by religious practitioners.” 22 For the Orthodox worshiper, there is a centuries-old tradition of object veneration from which to draw; for the evangelical Christian, Precious Moments imagery offers an opportunity to see one’s religious self reflected in the ubiquity of commodity culture. Although its popularity has waned in recent decades, Precious Moments paraphernalia, in partnership with Disney and other corporations, still remains a recognizable product the world over. The objective of Othodox icon veneration is to be seen by God. The objective of Precious Moments devotional imagery, it would seem, is to see oneself everywhere. As David Morgan writes, “[S]eeing puts believers in the presence of what they wish to see, what they wish to venerate or adore. The sacred gaze allows images to open iconically to the reality they portray or even to morph into the very thing they represent.” 23 What does the Precious Moments figurine represent? It represents the believer’s faith. But if this is true then Meyer’s theory of religious media would mean that Precious Moments imagery sacralizes the self in the act of devotion, and while that criticism may be a fair one, I am not so sure it accurately describes the way in which believers consume the images. Christians who purchase Precious Moments products worship themselves no more than any other consumer of contemporary commodity culture. So what is this mediating distance, which itself becomes sacralized, all about? I suggest that it serves a protective function that also exposes the violence at the heart of the cute aesthetic. Throughout scripture a dangerous God repeatedly harms or disfigures just as often as this God heals and comforts. To directly encounter the divine is life-threatening. So the tendency to sacralize the mediator, be that a person (prophet, teacher) or an object of devotion or veneration (icons, relics, rosaries, etc.) makes practical sense, because to mark something as holy is to set it apart as dangerous: handle with care. Biblically speaking, witnessing the divine with the naked eye can lead to death, but the mediators—angels—are also potentially dangerous. Mediation is a necessary buffer, but does not ensure complete safety. So too does the cute object of Christian devotion offer safer transport into prayerful communion with the divine, and the discomfort or disgust with which some people (Christians and non-Christians alike) encounter the cute imagery belies the fact that despite its saccharine appearance, these images bring the worshiper closer to the violent threat of the limits of human existence over and against the overwhelming power of death.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 The only person who is immune to being cutified into a Precious Moment is Jesus himself, even though his were the ultimate Precious Moments— the crucifixion and the resurrection. In the Precious Moments iconography, all important Biblical figures can be cutified: Mary and Joseph and the disciples in the New Testament, Moses and Abraham in the Old. The Christ child is allowed the Precious Moments treatment in nativity scenes, but never an adult Christ; he is always “real”, with adult proportions, stature, and detailed facial features (where Precious Moments lack noses, eyebrows, and have almost no mouths). Interestingly, it is through the failure of the Precious Moment aesthetic that the divinity of Christ is portrayed, because he is, among all the other figures, the most human. Christ cannot be a Precious Moment because a Precious Moment is the manifestation of the relationship to Christ himself. The well-known hymn by Charles Wesley sums up the theology of Precious Moments perfectly: “Gentle Jesus meek and mild, look upon a little child, pity my simplicity, suffer me to come to thee.” The adorableness of Precious Moments children over-signifies the believer’s childlike adoration of Christ, but this over-signification leads to a blinding void in the aesthetic practice where the object of adoration—Christ—cannot himself be made “adorable”. This blind spot is the space of negativity described by the religious aesthetics of the Sublime and the numinous. An aesthetic can never fully comprehend or describe the transcendent or the holy. As with Kant, the nearest aesthetics can bring us to the transcendent is to appreciation of our God-given reason, and as with Otto, aesthetics are only a human experience of our inability to know the divine, rather than a direct experience of it. Cuteness, therefore, within the iconography of Precious Moments, actually functions as the negativity of the numinous and the Sublime, as the space where representation and knowledge fails, where the sacralization of the aesthetic practice itself reveals both the dangerous closeness of the divine and the human incapacity to fathom its distance.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Works Cited
Burch Brown, Frank. “Sin and Bad Taste: Aesthetic Criteria in the Realm of Religion.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 70:1/2 (Spring/Summer 1987), 65-80. Florensky, Pavel. Iconostasis. Trans. Donald Sheehan and Olga Andrejev. Crestwood, NY: St.
Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996.  
Kant, Emmanuel. Critique of Judgment. Trans. J.H. Bernard. Mineola, New York: Dover
Publications, 2005.
Lindsay, Richard. “Songs for Dead Children: The Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, MO.”
Pop Theology: Where Religion Meets Pop Culture. Patheos, 21 July 2013. Web. 23 Sept. 2015 <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/poptheology/2013/07/precious-moments/>.
Meyer,Birgit. “Religious Sensations: Why Media, Aesthetics, and Power Matter in the Study of Contemporary Religion”. Religion: Beyond a Concept. Ed. Hent de Vries. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008. 704-723.
Mondzain, Marie-Jose.  Image, Icon, Economy: the Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary
Imaginary. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.
Morgan, David. The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2005.
Ngai, Sianne. “The Cuteness of the Avant-garde”. Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute,
Interesting. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2012. 53-109
Otto, Rudolph. The Idea of the Holy. Trans. John W. Harvey. Oxford University Press, 1958.
“Precious Moments Supporting Foundation Mission Statement” and “The Stories in Hallelujah
Square”. The Precious Moments Chapel. N.p., 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.
Schliermacher, Friedrich. On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. Trans. Richard
Crouter. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Tillich, Paul. Theology of Culture. Ed. Robert C. Kimball. New York: Oxford University Press,
de Vries, Hent. “In Media Res: Global Religion, Public Spheres, and the Task of Contemporary
Comparative Religious Studies”. Religion and Media. Ed. Hent de Vries and Samuel
Weber. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. 3-42.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 Notes:

  1. 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0
  2. And further, that contemplation of earthly beauty will lead to appreciation of divine beauty or the true.
  3. Emmanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. J.H. Bernard (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 2005) sections 59 and 29.
  4. Friedrich Schiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, trans. Richard Crouter (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  5. Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture, ed. Robert C. Kimball, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).
  6. Kant 61 (section 23). My italics.
  7. Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (Oxford University Press, 1958).
  8. Otto 11.
  9. Otto 10.
  10. Frank Burch Brown, “Sin and Bad Taste: Aesthetic Criteria in the Realm of Religion,” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 70:1/2 (Spring/Summer 1987), 65.
  11. In my conversations with other students of religion and theology, I have more than once encountered an intensified version of this critique from those who react with disgust to such imagery: that the likes of Precious Moments is actually a kind of “spiritual porn”. Within Protestant culture, a conservatively-raised Christian describes his experience of such imagery this way: “People are encouraged to ‘avoid the appearance of evil’ and slowly all art and culture in their lives is replaced with inoffensive schmaltz. It’s kind of the visual expression of conservative righteous illiteracy.” Ben Jernigan and Jessie Knippel, in conversation with the author, 24 September2015.
  12. This recalls Sianne Ngai’s discussion of Murakami’s art in “The Cuteness of the Avant-garde”, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2012) 53-109.
  13. “Precious Moments Supporting Foundation Mission Statement.” The Precious Moments Chapel. N.p., 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2015. <http://www.preciousmomentschapel.org/node/27>.
  14. Umberto Eco, Faith in fakes: Travels in hyperreality (Random House, 1995) 8, quoted in Richard Lindsay, “Songs for Dead Children: The Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, MO”, Pop Theology: Where Religion Meets Pop Culture, Patheos (21 July 2013) Web, 23 Sept, 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/poptheology/2013/07/precious-moments/>.
  15. Lindsay.
  16. Lindsay.
  17. “The Stories in Hallelujah Square”, http://www.preciousmomentschapel.org/node/40.
  18. “The Stories in Hallelujah Square”.
  19. Hent de Vries, “In Media Res: Global Religion, Public Spheres, and the Task of Contemporary Comparative Religious Studies” in Religion and Media (Stanford University Press, 2001) 3-42.
  20. Birgit Meyer, “Religious Sensations: Why Media, Aesthetics, and Power Matter in the Study of Contemporary Religion” in Religion: Beyond a Concept, ed. Hent de Vries” 705.
  21. Pavel Florensky, Iconostasis, trans. Donald Sheehan and Olga Andrejev (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996) 68. Florensky uses “metaphysical” to mean that the revelation of God’s presence is in all things, not that there is a supersensible “other world” “out there” in a supernatural beyond. “Concrete metaphysicality” directly refutes the understanding of the metaphysical to connote an alternative reality existing on another plane, and instead means the imbuement of the sensible and the perceptible with the light of the Divine.
  22. Marie-Jose Mondzain, Image, Icon, Economy: the Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005) 72.
  23. Meyer 712. My emphasis.
  24. David Morgan, The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) 259.
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