An abomination

We ran a series of posters on campus to promote a lecture series I direct, and at least one person really hated them. That would be the person who tacked one of them on my office door, with these words scrawled in black magic marker: “This is an Abomonation For EVERYTHING This school stands for! You should be ashamed! [sic]”

Well, bad taste maybe, depending on your taste. But abomination? I haven’t done a lot of abominating in my life, or at least I never thought of it that way. The biblical sense of the word has connotations drawn from idolatry, sodomy and bestiality. I did hear a preacher once use it to describe women who wear pants, so perhaps it has a more ordinary meaning.

It means, more generally, a feeling of hatred or disgust, but it can mean, and I believe in a Christian community it more often means, that which is vile and wicked. So I would question the judgment implied here. I assume the anonymous writer is referring to the image (in this case of an armpit) or to all of the images, including the belly button, since we actually teach math here and so “mathematical explanations,” the tag line for the poster series, could not be against “everything this school stands for!”

But is the human body itself, without the artificial perfections of much contemporary advertising, an abomination? Not every body is a thing of beauty, although I admit that in this campaign the images were manipulated for dramatic effect. But is that an abomination? Does art have to be pretty? Is advertising art? These questions are more complicated than they appear, and this person and I could have had interesting and important conversations about these and others.

For example, what is everything that the school stands for? I’d argue this campaign actually reinforces, however imperfectly, some things we stand for. The campaign was done by a group of students in a copywriting class, and selected by the entire class for use in promoting the FOCUS series. It has a particular tone (humorous) and category (shock), qualities which are sometimes used to good effect. In this case it has created more buzz about FOCUS than any previous campaign, although it did raise a few administrative eyebrows. One dean pointed out that at in at least one case the math is bad.

But this is a student project, created for student consumption, and it is an honest effort to reinforce the idea that there is a mathematical explanation for everything, in this case for vision, weight, appearance and body odor. It attempts to do so with humor, which never works for everyone. And it reflects student creativity and judgment, things we respect at the university and sometimes honor. So it’s not an abomination. Neither are misspellings (“Abomomation”) or unclear antecedents (“this” and “everything,”) although in some sense the school doesn’t stand for them, and mostly stands against them.

Now, I want to be careful that I don’t commit another abomination here. Proverbs 17:15 says “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.” But I do want to raise the possibility that the marked up poster was at least as much of an abomination as the unmarked ones, given that the person who marked it did not give his or her name. It certainly violates the sense of community we attempt to construct here, an enterprise constructed through honest and open conversations, and not secret and slanderous ones.

A couple of weeks ago I fussed at the newspaper staff for using an anonymous student comment about a professor. It’s not good journalistic practice. It’s not good Christian practice either.

We need to have the courage of our convictions.

My name is Wally Metts.

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