Writing in the Glasgow Bible

Defaced Bible in Glasgow exhibition

Defaced Bible

Someone thought it was a good idea. One of the pieces in an exhibition called Made in God’s Image at the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma) in Glasgow displayed a Bible. Nearby was a supply of pens and the invitation,  “If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it.”

The idea was to give people a chance to reclaim the Bible as a sacred document- the show was put together with the help of gay and lesbian Christians and Muslims who often feel marginalized by their traditions. What happened when the general public was admitted was not that people wrote their “way back into” the Bible, but that many took the opportunity to repudiate it. The copy was defaced with obscenities, belittling, and abuse. After protests and demonstrations from several church groups, the Bible was placed in a glass case. People were invited to write their messages on blank sheets of paper that can be inserted into the Bible by the staff.

Some of the public anger comes from the fact that the exhibit was sponsored with public money, and the incident raises some knotty questions for art and interfaith relations.

What kind of respect is owed to a sacred text? Most Christians would (I think) allow for marking in one’s personal Bible, but not in a shared/ public copy. Other traditions observe even more stringent traditions in respecting their texts. What obligation do we have to respect the sacred texts of others?

Does a commitment to free speech and open dialogue require allowing some to treat a sacred text without respect?

Does it make a difference that the text was a Bible in a nominally Christian country? Would another sacred text evoke the same response? What difference did it make that the exhibition specifically chose the Family Faith & Values edition of the King James Version?

What obligation does a public agency have to respect the religious sensibilities of members of their community?


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