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unclassified - 19 04 2002 - 01:08 - katatonik

Reality trites

For those not privileged enough to actually live in these humble surroundings commonly identified as “Vienna” or “Austria”, it will perhaps come as a surprise that a harmless book published by a caricaturist called Gerhard Haderer, entitled “The Life of Jesus” (“Das Leben des Jesus”), has caused a laughable uproar in these parts of the world.

Uproar: It all started when Mr. Christoph Schönborn, cardinal (mind you, we’re talking catholics here), wrote a furious commentary in the conservative newspaper “die Presse” about how said book is blasphemic and – hear, hear – violates in particular those innocents who lack ability to protest, such as children and academics (!). The uproar didn’t stop at that. There were television discussions. Serious stuff. Austria’s chancellor Mr. Wolfang Schüssel denounced the book as “smut”. The archdiocese Vienna called schools to boycott the publishing house that did the book. (This publisher publishes mainly, though by no means exclusively, schoolbooks.) Ironically, same publisher also released a book for schools authored by Mr. Schüssel. Never mind.

Laughable: The book is so harmless that you wouldn’t believe. Ok, Jesus has a couple of not so legal smokes, and behaves like an all too regular fellow, but there’s nothing that you haven’t seen, heard, or dreamt already when you were falling asleep in those cold church aisles during puberty.

What’s all the fuss about? Some commentators argue this could only happen because Austria has no such thing as a “true” public society. Austrian media therefore easily loose track of what’s worth a scandal and what isn’t. When in doubt, everything’s a scandal, hence all the fuss.

Yesterday I ran into an old friend of mine, back from those schooldays in the deeply catholic countryside. He now happens to work for the publisher in question. Actually, he’s the guy responsible for the book. (No, I didn’t ask him for an autograph, and I won’t mention his name even if you send the holy inquisition to my doorstep.) We both laughed about the fuss. I asked him whether they had any serious trouble. Not really, he said. One phonecall that seemed serious enough to alarm the police, but otherwise nothing heavy.

Except that: Mr. Martin Humer, self-acclaimed “Pornojäger” (“porn hunter”) who protests against porn all over Austria, and actually seems to see porn all over Austria, published a pamphlet which amongst other things contained Mr. Haderer’s private – and secret – phone number. Apparently the caricaturist had to change it.

Otherwise? Oh well, a tempest in the peepot.

The archdiocese Vienna has a homepage with the URL www.kirchenbeitrag.at. Quite funny actually. “Kirche” is “church”, and “beitrag” is “contribution”, but “Kirchenbeitrag” in German refers to the church tax Austrians have to pay if they’re members of the catholic church. Membership is dwindling. As a matter of course. – Hey, they even have a page in English about “Information About Obligatory Contribution to the Church”: ”... Each member of the Catholic Church in Austria pays a part of his taxable income (about 1 %) to his diocese …”. It seems that in Austria, it’s not just that women can’t become priests, but they can’t even be members. Celebrations!

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