Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere," said famed British author G. K. Chesterton. In Western society, where that line should be drawn is almost exclusively left up to the artist, as it should be.
It is with this guiding principle of free artistic expression that works such as "Bearded Orientals: Making the Empire Cross" by artist Priscilla Bracks, are created. But many will consider that this piece of "art" is way over that invisible line.
"Bearded Orientals" is a portrait of a traditional bearded Jesus that morphs into a portrait of Osama bin Laden as the viewer walks around it.
To most of us, it would seem the artist is equating one of the worst mass murderers in modern history to the Prince of Peace. Offensive doesn't begin to describe it.
Ms. Bracks denies creating the artwork - now on exhibit in Sydney, Australia, as part of the Blake Prize for Religious Art - to intentionally offend. She was quoted by ABC Radio as saying, "Absolutely not, no, no. I am not interested in being offensive. I am interested in having a discussion and asking questions about how we think about our world and what we accept and what we don't accept."
She claims she was intrigued by how bin Laden is revered in some parts of the world. "What I was thinking about is, well, what would happen to the stories about this man over thousands of years? Could that possibly lead to someone with a cultlike status?" she asked. Perhaps. But that supposed deeper meaning is obscured in a piece of art so vague and so open to interpretation.
Moreover, to compare, in any fashion, a man who gleefully slaughters innocents to the Son of God, who came to save those same innocents, is an affront to all Christians.
The point is not really the perceived offensiveness of the image, though, but how modern society is so eager and willing to heap the most egregious outrages on Christianity and yet tiptoes on eggshells around the subject of Islam.
That's probably because whenever extremist Muslims detect insult or blasphemy, people end up dying, and rioting fills the streets in cities around the globe for weeks, such as in the case of the Dutch Mohammed cartoon controversy of last year. More recently, the terrorist group al-Qaida has put a $100,000 bounty on the head of a Swedish cartoonist who depicted Mohammed in one of his cartoons.
Christians, on the other hand, have always been persecuted for their faith. They expect it. And society is only more than happy to oblige them.
But it was Jesus, the subject of this artist's blasphemy, who said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also."
True Christians understand that, as offensive as an image may be, it does nothing to undermine the Gospel. Westerners understand that to have a free and open society, artists such as Ms. Bracks should be allowed to express repugnant imagery. Tolerating offensive art cuts to the essence of why freedom and democracy are better than the alternatives. But tolerating it doesn't mean offended taxpayers should have to fund it - or even dignify it by looking at it.