No more bobble-head Jesus’!



In today’s expanding global economy we often don’t think as American Catholics about global problems regarding human rights and workplace violations.  For the most part American Catholics don’t think about where religious objects are manufactured in the world, as long as they have their artistic representations of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to display in their homes. However last week the secular press was reporting about the horrendous working conditions of laborers in Chinese factories that manufacture religious objects and goods.  The protests were staged outside of the venerable St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and it was even suggested that some of their religious goods on sale in the cathedral’s gift shop were made by Chinese workers in sub- acceptable working conditions.

There’s actually something to be thought about here.  Before we even get into the moral implications and the ethical implications of purchasing and also endorsing the manufacturer of religious articles in modern sweatshops we need to firstly examine the idea that these religious articles are really unnecessary for Catholics and other religious denominations for display in their homes and sacred environments.  For the most part most of the religious articles that one sees for sale in religious goods stores are really quite poorly manufactured, are constructed  of inferior materials, and present an extremely poor representation all of the likenesses all of the Holy Family, Saints, and other holy individuals.  For the most part every time I see a plastic representation of Jesus, Mary, or St. Joseph, the thought always crosses my mind that these plastic representations are not only poorly executed likenesses of religious personalities, but are most importantly terribly bad portrayals of our sacred men and women. Of course, I’m always ranting and rambling about what I perceive as the salt and pepper matching sets of St. Joseph and the blessed Virgin that are commonly appearing in our Catholic churches.  These statues now displaced from their traditional places of honor due to the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council now conveniently appear in our churches on the order of matching bookends.  Priests and parishes are commonly displaying statues that are composite copies of each other, manufactured by foreign workshops or statue factories that mix and match and interchange saintly body poses, body parts, and religious experiences as they are determined from a pick and choose catalogue.  For the most part when a parish orders a statue from these groups of religious artisans they are really just picking and choosing components that are assembled into a new religious image or statue composition.  The artistic integrity present in the entire process really doesn’t exist at all.  What’s unfortunate about the entire process is that American Catholics are not only losing a sense all of artistic quality in their sacred spaces, they are also neglecting to educate, support, and enhance prospects of future religious and liturgical artisans for our future.  After all, why bother to educate groups artists to participate in the evangelical and educational responsibilities of the Catholic Church, when parish communities can just order any religious representation from a pick and choose catalogue.  I suppose we have really come into not only a fast food society, but also as a fast art and design Society that frequently forgets to appreciate the truly noble aspects of good artistic design and architectural implementation.
We frequently ran into this after the Second Vatican Council, because parishes where involved with an aspect of liturgical renewal that was similar to the modern movement of making all of our liturgical spaces minimalistic and quite stark and void of artistic integrity and quality.  As a direct result we have plenty all of parish churches that are filled with mass produced accessories for our sanctuaries and color the dots sacred designs that reflect individual examples of secular modernism rather than portraying the Catholic churches artistic heritage that is rooted in craftsmanship and the utilization  of quality materials.  Now of course, that really doesn’t mean that every thing we use in our Catholic sacred spaces needs to be an original work of art or a unique composition.  No.  Quite the contrary.  All of the materials that are utilized in our expressions of the sacred liturgy and our representations of Jesus and all the saints need to possess two factors namely quality of materials that are used, and a correct representation of the sign and symbol that is being recalled for our spiritual enhancement.

It is rather disturbing that when you go into a religious goods store there are rows upon rows of plastic statues, inferior quality rosaries, polyester liturgical vestments and mass produced items for display in our religious spaces and our homes.  What we really need to accomplish in the United States is the establishment and development of an artistic training ground for artists, craftsmen, and artisans so they might apply their trades in a suitable environment that reflects the great artistic traditions and heritages that has always been experienced between the Catholic Church and all aspects of the arts.

On a purely practical basis, as Catholics we should not encourage the production of poorly made sacred images, nor should we endorse working conditions that are not acceptable and reflective of the true dignity of the human person in all aspects of their temporal and spiritual lives.  Sweatshops that produce religious goods regardless of the intent our morally wrong.  As consumers especially Catholic consumers we need to be especially mindful of all of the conditions and situations that are in the workplace.  These conditions and situations should not be oppressive or uncomfortable for any of the laborers, but should always remember the divine reflection that each human being possesses.  Any business or activity degrades the dignity of the human person even if that activity includes the manufacture of religious articles should never be endorsed by any Catholic group or organization.

When it comes to religious items we have quite enough poor representations of bad Art as well as our sufficient supply of bobble head Saints.  It’s now time to develop and enhance a universal call for all artists and artisans to join the church and its mission with qualitative artistic representations for our sacred spaces that will enhance not only our human desire to worship God, but will also reflect the magnificent Artisan, that is God, who gives us all of creation to inspire our artistic creativity in pursuit of His divine existence.

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