Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mary Wept

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in The Bible (2016): written and illustrated by Chester Brown: Canadian writer-artist Chester Brown (Louis Riel, Ed the Happy Clown) continues his love affair with prostitution in Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus. Brown's previous full-length work detailed his years of hiring prostitutes in Paying for It while also offering a lengthy and detailed argument for why prostitution should be decriminalized (but not legalized) in Canada.

Here, the eccentric and occasionally infuriating genius looks to the Bible for support of his belief that prostitution is spiritually sanctioned by the Judeo-Christian God and Jesus. He does this in a series of adaptations of Old and New Testament stories, all supported by a whoppingly big appendix/afterword outlining his argument, primary sources, and secondary sources.

Along the way, Brown also argues that God and Jesus were both highly supportive of rebels -- specifically, those who were religiously disobedient. It's all very interesting, and the stories themselves are beautifully and simply drawn. Brown's art has never been so perfectly and deceptively simple.

As a religious and philosophical argument, though, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus could be used to teach a specific type of fallacious reasoning. Brown's arguments about religious obedience basically require him to focus exclusively on the instances in which God or Jesus act in such a way as to support his argument -- incidents in which this is not so are either skimmed over or avoided entirely. Scholars who disagree with him are cited in the appendix only as straw men to be demolished. It's a rigged game of argumentation, and seductively convincing until one twigs to it.

Brown's unstinting support of prostitution can almost go without comment here -- it's the same one as in Paying for It, now deployed with Biblical support for the spiritual awesomeness of paid sex, all of it channeled through Brown's deployment of a long-standing theological argument that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was a prostitute and that Christ was conceived during an incident of purchased sex. 

In Brown's world, sex shouldn't be regulated in any way by the government -- hence decriminalization and not legalization. And all problems associated with prostitution, most prominently all the physical dangers to prostitutes from STD's to sex slavery, are a result of the criminalization of prostitution and not prostitution itself.

So here we are with yet another brilliant, frustrating, infuriating comic from Chester Brown. I'd actually have liked more comics -- the graphic-novel portion is almost equaled in length by the appendix, and as much as I enjoy Brown's appendices, it's his cartooning I want.

One of the other philosophical oddities of the text comes with Brown's argument that God/Jesus want people to disobey him. As Brown expands upon this concept in the appendix, complete with a bonus adaptation of the Book of Job, something weird happens. A concept that has its roots in Liberation Theology (thanks, Paul Meahan) mutates in Brown's argument into something almost Satanic: God's message to humanity, like Aleister Crowley's message, is 'Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law.' Though Brown's God (like XTC) probably appends 'unless you hurt someone.'

So go out and buy this book. It's great. It works even better if one has read Paying for It, but that's not a necessary read -- just another good one. Whether or not one agrees with Brown in whole or in part, he's a talent who delivers fine cartooning and thought-provoking arguments. Long may he run. Highly recommended.

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