Woman walking in church

October 1, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

Over at Flickr, I ran across a photo by Jimmy O’Donnell featuring a beautiful woman in lingerie walking in a church. Maybe O’Donnell didn’t take this photo for any of the reasons I find it interesting—maybe he took it for the mere shock value, or because he simply liked the image. Nonetheless, this photo serves as an excellent example of art accomplishing one of the things that art well: challenging the status quo. As I viewed this wonderfully lit, layered and composed photo, it occurred to me that many people would find this photo to be sacrilegious. But why?

woman in church

What is it about a church that makes it inappropriate to display one’s beautiful body? I’ve seen many statutes and paintings of Jesus, angels and others not wearing much, and that art is exulted. So the problem is not near nudity, per se. The huge problem this photo presents for many people is that this beautiful woman is, God-forbid, unashamedly sexual. That sort of thing cannot be tolerated within 1,000 feet of a church, of course. Such an image might give people the idea that churches don’t disparage women. This reluctance to allow women to achieve fully human status continues to be the quest of all too many religions. Most churches still work hard, some of them bluntly, to convince women to be ashamed of their bodies, to portray acceptable sex as a sterilized encounter, and to bemoan that since sex is a regrettable prerequisite to reproduction, women should make the most of it by striving to be excellent baby-making machines.

Most modern churches still consider women unfit to serve as full-fledged clergy. How could that possibly be? Could it be that they are . . . WOMEN, that women were created to be subservient, and it’s as simple as THAT? What century are we in? Based on the fact that socially conservative politicians are making the choice of whether to use contraceptives part of the ongoing threat to shut down the federal government, it seems like we are living in the 19th Century.

Jimmy O’Donnell’s photo challenges the proper role of women as told by many modern day religions. In O’Donnell’s photo, the woman is gracefully walking out of the church with her head up, which makes the photo even more incendiary. Some would claim that this this photo suggests that it is OK to turn one’s back on God. Perhaps there could be merit to this argument to the extent that one assumes that traditional bureaucratic religious organizations have power over God, and that He (or She) needs religious bureaucrats to communicate with regular (non-clergy) people. According to author Elaine Pagels, that notion that clergy are superfluous was once floated by the unknown author of the Gospel according to Thomas but, unsurprisingly, that book didn’t make the cut when the Catholic Church decided what Gospels were genuine. To the extent that one believes God to be omnipotent, the claim that God needs church bureaucrats to connect with objects of His/Her own creation should be seen for what it is: blasphemous. Such a claim would seem to be based on the notion that God was created in man’s own image and likeness.

So out the church she goes, this beautifully lit scandalous woman, out to see what the 21st century has in store for her.


[Thanks to Jimmy O’Donnell for giving me permission to republish his photo in conjunction with this article.  Here is O’Donnell’s entire Flickr photostream].



Category: Art, Bigotry, Human animals, photography, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    “Being in the nude isn’t a disgrace unless you`re being promiscuous about it. After all, when God created Adam and Eve, they were stark naked. And in the Garden of Eden, God was probably naked as a jaybird too!” -Betty Page

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