Andy Warhol, Covert Papist


I somehow (mistakenly) came under the belief that Slavoj Zizek was Christian a few weeks ago. I tried to wrestle with how this fit with some of the other stuff I’d read by him. But after looking into it a little, it appears that whatever I’d read, I’d gotten completely wrong. Zizek is an avowed atheist. What he’s advocating, however, is a utilitarian approach to religious belief — building on the insights of St. Paul, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and likely the historical Jesus himself — that an authentic understanding of Christianity premised on universal brotherly love would invert everything about existing hierarchical societal orders. This is what prompted Dostoevsky to observe that, “The socialist who is a Christian is more to be dreaded than a socialist who is an atheist.” And so it must have been in the context of those kinds of observations that I came to believe Zizek was Christian. He was just saying that for making the real world a better place, maybe secular liberals shouldn’t be so quick to rule Christianity out.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, I can get to the original point of my post, Andy Warhol, another person whose Christianity I’ve found somewhat surprising and interesting. And unlike Zizek, Andy Warhol actually did self-identify as Christian (although never publicly, at least up until his Catholic funeral at St. Ann’s church and memorial at St. Patrick’s Cathedral).

Flippant, brazen and flamboyant as an art world personality, Warhol long kept private his devout, lifelong Catholicism.

“Only his closest confidants knew he was a religious person and frequently went to Mass,” said Sharon Matt Atkins, coordinating curator of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,” which opens on June 18.

I suppose what interested me at first glimpse is that his Catholicism is so lacking in the self-promoting, evangelical, and community-building emphasis so common in late 20th-Century American Christianity. That was doubly surprising, coming from one of the most masterful self-promoters of the past half-century, a person who in more ways than one presaged an era of ubiquitous WWJD bracelets and commercially printed Jesus posters. The existence of Warhol’s later, more Catholic works, throw into doubt that he viewed his religion as an entirely private matter (which would have distinguished it from almost everything else about himself). Of course, there is always the possibility that he knew it wouldn’t be good for his carefully curated self-image. Or then maybe that’s how you get people to admire your sincerity decades after your death. This could be a more elaborate version of the ICP conversion scheme? Or maybe I’m just wrong to find it interesting?

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