Last Sunday I was asked by Radio Berkshire to comment on Madonna's latest antics - appearing on stage hanging on a mirror-ball cross whilst wearing a crown of thorns. Apparently there was 'unanimous condemnation' by Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups.
I replied, much to the interviewer's surprise, that I wasn't particularly offended and that it was probably just another silly publicity stunt (which has succeeded again). But I did say that I would be rather curious to know what song it was that she sang whilst imitating Christ, as I wondered whether it would turn out to be something religious.
I learnt the details this morning that the song was her 80s track Live to Tell (lyrics here).
According to one report: "With silver cuffs holding her arms in place, Madonna sang while images of third-world poverty and numbers representing the 12 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa ticked by on a screen."
I've always rather liked the track (ok it is a bit sentimental): its mysterious 'secret' which the singer hopes to communicate having had a prior 'fall', and which now 'burn[s] inside of me'.
'I know where beauty lives
I've seen it once, I know the warmth she gives
The light that you could never see
It shines inside, you can't take that from me'.
I've no idea what Madonna originally intended but in true reader-response form, I'm quite happy to see this as an allusion to the work of the Spirit.
I've implicitly felt the song fits rather well with the idea of hanging on to the subversive message of Christianity, and coupled with the images she had projected whilst she sang it, I wonder if Madonna wasn't trying to say something similar...
Just to be a bit theological about it, the issue causing offence is apparently Madonna's blasphemy in abusing a divine image.
My response would be: shouldn't we be as (or, even, more) offended by the abuse of humankind, God's image-bearing creatures (Genesis 1:26)?
The news of an interfaith condemnation of Madonna's blasphemy might make some feel pleased, but I'm more concerned about faiths turning in on themselves thinking their purpose is to protect themselves from criticism.
I'd have thought that for Christians, God's 'Incarnation step' was a free giving of God's self into the world's hands, voluntarily risking abuse (even the ultimate blasphemy of the crucifixion), in order to achieve the renewal of the Earth. I wonder whether God really needs us to protect God? If Madonna's peculiar reimaging of Christ turns her fans into people who are affronted by poverty and AIDS, isn't that congruent with the work of the Spirit in the bringing about of the Kingdom of God?
If Christians really want to question Madonna's actions, perhaps they should openly ask what percentage of her record sales profits go to charity, or whether Madonna's stage-show depictions of poverty and AIDS are just compassion-chic window-dressing.
It's not the only religious element in her Confessions tour. For more details about Muslim and Jewish symbolism see here
Tour website here.