On Serrano’s Piss Christ: the Scandal of the God who Shits
The incarnation is scandalous. So much so St. Justin Martyr felt compelled to argue that Christianity was not atheism in his first apology to Caesar. To Caesar the scandal of the Incarnation was the scandal of atheism—that is god becoming a creature rightly means that god is in his creation and subjected to it. God no longer holds the world in his hands so to speak so much as god has put her/his self into the world’s hands. God became one of us.
This is horrific. Where there once was a god above who decreed, spoke, made laws that we could feel justified or guilty by, there suddenly was a dead human body. As Jaques Lacan noted, the death of such a god does not mean that now everything is permitted, i.e. there is no sin, but rather that nothing is permitted, i.e. anything can be sin. Now everything is called into question because god became one among us. Suddenly the whole Greek and Jewish religious systems are thrown into doubt by their very colliding. There is no law. We are all condemned. God became one of us and we killed him.
The Christian god, who is the dead god, is a radically particular god, not just a dead god, but that dead god who is that dead body. This is the irony of the crucifix being used as a symbol of hope or inspiration. Even if this is because of the resurrection or hope or promise of a resurrection it still presupposes that at some point our god is a particular human who was killed. Thus why Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is nigh the closest one can get to a true icon—the Christian god is a god who had to piss. A god submerged in piss. The death of god, although scandalous, is not the true scandal here—god, the one who created all, is the mother and father of all, etc., took on himself piss, blood, shit, semen. That’s the Christian god. The god who shits. What can be more scandalous than that? No wonder St. Justin had to make an argument as to why this wasn’t atheism.
Christian theology then is, to steal a phrase from Derrida’s work on Artaud, a scato-theology—the story of a god who shat her/himself. And as Freud points out it is shit which is my first encounter really with the horror of my own body that I must separate, must wash away, flush, etc. (thus anal retentive/fixation). Shit is something I must disassociate from myself viscerally in order to deal with it—I must objectify and other it, deny it came from me (can you imagine a toilet that would make you confront your own shit?). Likewise the Christian god is one who disassociated her/himself from her/himself. This is the tension inherent in the parent/son imagery of the trinity. The defecation that god became and cut off is Christ, the godhuman, the god-who-had-to-piss. A god in piss. This is the scandal—the scandal of a god who became a particular Jewish male body and shat himself.