Nine days before Easter 2011, Lady Gaga released her song "Judas," which she said was about her tendency to always fall for the wrong man, the one who would betray her, as in Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus. The accompanying video, in true Lady Gaga form, was rather shocking.
It opens with a group of bikers clad in black leather jackets, each with the name of one of Jesus’ disciples on his back—Matthew, Peter, John—above the image of a skull and crossbones. On the lead bike is Lady Gaga, riding behind a tough-looking man wearing a crown of thorns. Gaga holds on to him singing and whispering seductively in his ear. Only, it is not Jesus, but Judas, who is wearing the crown of thorns.
As the video progresses, it becomes darker. Lady Gaga dances in a red bikini adorned with crosses. Images of the crucifixion—foot washing, a wooden plank, a spiked ball and chain, blood—are interspersed with the dancing. And the lyrics say hauntingly:
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, I'm in love with Judas, Juda-as
In the most Biblical sense, I am beyond repentance Fame hooker, prostitute, wench;
I wanna love you, But something's pulling me away from you Jesus is my Virtue And Judas is the demon I cling to I cling to.
The video ends with Gaga dressed all in white, falling down.
At the time of the song’s release, a Christian Postarticle reported Gaga as saying, “The song is about honoring your darkness in order to bring yourself into the light. You have to look into what’s haunting you and need to learn to forgive yourself in order to move on.”
Apart from analyzing the intentions of Lady Gaga (who has said that her fans are her religion, and that she is very confused religiously) and moving beyond a knee-jerk reaction to what may rightly be called blasphemous imagery, the more intriguing question is, why choose Jesus?
Gaga’s “Judas” video is reminiscent of Madonna in the 1980s with her ubiquitous cross imagery, songs mixing images of sex and prayer, and the name she chose for herself, derived from the virgin Mary. It is also reminiscent, in another sense, of the infamous 1989 controversy over the photograph of Andres Serrano, showing a muted photograph of the crucified Christ submerged in the artist's urine.
As Christians, we might ask, “Why can’t they leave Jesus alone?” I mean, there are a myriad of other symbols that might be used to portray darkness and light, innocence, betrayal, suffering, or even anger—or are there?
In his novel My Name is Asher Lev, Jewish author Chaim Potok calls the cross “the most powerful symbol of lone suffering in the history of the world.” But it is not just the cross itself. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, the cross is really nothing more than a symbol of execution whose equivalent today would be an electric chair. But who among us would wear an electric chair around our necks?
Chesterton went on to point out that it’s not because the cross is a method of execution that it holds power, but because of who was executed there and why. In Christian theology, it is none less than the Creator of the world Himself, in a passionate quest to win back his most loved creation.
That’s why there is something about the cross—for Lady Gaga, for Madonna, for Serros, and for us—that says, “this is more than a political execution that took place ages and ages ago . . . somehow it is about me.”
And that feeling of personal connection is powerful.
And as the Apostle Paul says to the church in Corinth, “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
When you stumble over something, you often turn around and take a closer look. And things we once thought foolishness eventually prove wise.
It still draws. It still offends. And it always will.
As Lady Gaga has reminded us, yet again: The cross never loses its power.
Ginny Mooney is a freelance writer and Emmy Award-winning television producer.
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