Black Lives Matter grifter Shaun King declares war on Christian imagery
Shaun King has made a career out of inserting himself into high-profile moments that purportedly highlight systemic racism. Unfortunately for his high profile, he didn't manage to grab headlines with the most recent iteration of Blacks Lives Matter protests. That is, he didn't manage to grab headlines until Monday. That was the day he was inspired to attack every bit of Western Christian iconography, claiming that it is rooted in racism and most be destroyed. It is an extraordinary demonstration of ignorance, anti-Christian sentiment, and anti-white racism.
The tweets, which put King back on the radar (which is, remember, how he makes his living), insist that every single bit of Christian imagery must be destroyed as surely as the mobs are attacking the images of America's history:
These tweets are a desperate bid for attention from a man who rode the Black Lives Matter train to fame but now feels it's passing him by. However, because they did garner a few thousand likes, his ignorant statements deserve to be rebutted.
Christian iconography as we know it developed in a white world that had no sense of Jesus and Mary as historical figures and did not traffic in race. Instead, the medieval world divided the world into religious categories (Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) and regional categories (the British region, the French region, the Spanish region, the Italian region, etc.).
For the medieval painters who cemented the images we know today, Christ was an immediate presence in their daily lives. They painted the Madonna and Christ to look like them because they were unaffected by race, time, or place. In each of the pictures, not only do the actors look like people in the painters' world, but they also dress in contemporary clothes and are situated in contemporary Northern European rooms and landscapes.
The painters' self-referential iconography was helped by the fact that they existed in a world with limited literacy and no internet. They had no way of knowing how the 1st-century biblical world looked. All they could do was paint what they knew.
That's why Jan van Eyck, in the first half of the 15th century, imagined his Mary as a highborn lady from Burgundy (in modern Belgium) and placed her in a Gothic Church straight out of Northern Europe:
We see this ahistoric worldview again in van Eyck's "Madonna of Chancellor Rolin," where Mary sits in a lavish, contemporary early 15th-century chamber with the town of Autun, in Burgundy, seen behind her through a window:
Likewise, when van Eyck's peer, Roger van der Weyden, painted Christ’s descent from the cross, he too was incapable of imagining a different place or time. Christ was "everyman," which meant that the Madonna and others present when he was taken from the cross would look like the people van der Weyden saw on the street. This wasn’t racism; it was the finite world of medieval man:
Fifty years later, the Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci, in "The Last Supper," was again incapable of imagining Christ as anyone but a renaissance lord. Because da Vinci had the benefit of an Italian upbringing, the setting is vaguely Roman-looking. Still, the clothes that his blond Jesus and the apostles wear are pure Italian Renaissance.
Racism was not a factor. Instead, again, Leonardo, like his contemporaries, did not distinguish between past and present or Roman-occupied Palestine and Italy when he envisioned Jesus.
The other thing to remember about the Northern European imagery is that, as Thomas Cahill argues in his delightful How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, it was the Irish who preserved Christianity after Rome fell to the pagan Huns and Germanic tribes. Europe's Christian tradition was not connected to the Middle East. It was connected to the Anglo-Celtic tradition. Indeed, by the time Muhammad and his jihadis were done, little Christianity remained in the Middle East. It lived in Northern Europe and, with Greek Orthodoxy, in Constantinople.
The famous and pervasive images in this post (and others like them) were all painted without regard for, understanding of, or interest in Mary's or Jesus's actual looks or his contemporaneous world. When repetition and cultural familiarity caused them to become the templates for all modern Christian iconography, race or racism had nothing to do with it.
There's nothing wrong with reimagining Christ, Mary, the apostles, and other people in the Bible as they would have looked in their time: Semitic Jews. There is a great deal wrong with an attention-seeking grifter trying to gin up violence that will overthrow an aesthetically beautiful and enduring Western Christian tradition merely because one man is ignorant enough to believe that the entirety of Christianity, with its race-free focus on the son of God, is, in reality, a vast racist conspiracy.