Letter: Putting the Vance Monument in Perspective
Asheville City Council’s decision to demolish the Vance Monument left a bitter taste in some mouths, some of which got quite loud. Here’s a thought-provoking experience that might help put things in perspective:
Long ago, say 1897, the people of Buncombeville erected a 20-meter statue in the shape of a gigantic fish and dedicated it to “Jesus Christ: Savior.” Healer. Speaker. Rebel. Winemaker. “
At the time, most people thought the structure was a nice reflection of the values of the community. The theme was subtle, but everyone knew there was an important symbolic connection between religion and the fish. But that, they said, was not the main point. They just thought the sculpture looked cool, and they loved the guy it was built in honor of. Almost everyone has done it, unless they belong to a religious minority.
Some people thought the thing was kitsch, despite being designed by a famous architect, and objected that the shape was so vague that it was practically abstract art.
A few scolders complained that religion should be a private matter, but, as you might expect, they kept this theory to themselves.
Decades later, the Supreme Court ruled that the establishment clause applied to municipal governments under the 14th Amendment. Although people did not like the idea of foreigners meddling in local affairs, and although they bristled at the idea that they had been doing something wrong all this time, and although they did insisted that in this modern era, people were so fed up with religious abuse that they no longer cared much for the sacred meaning of sculpture, and although they were deeply suspicious of political correctness in any way. In whatever form, a consensus eventually emerged that something needed to be done about the monument of Christ.
Six members of the city council wanted to slaughter the fish and transport it. They felt that establishing religion no longer represented the best values of the community, if it ever did, and that it was time to completely break with the past.
One member proposed to carve the inscription deeply but keep the stone structure upright and rename it “The Scales of Justice”. This approach, she said, would give the statue a secular purpose, free up demolition money for more tangible needs, and prevent religious fanatics from taking revenge on the minority in the community that supported the Constitution.
This is the end of the fable. Now is the time for the moral, which you must work on yourself.
Does the dissident city council member, as well-meaning as she is, go far enough in her efforts to clean up unacceptable religious taint from the public square? Does the simple act of removing the reference to Jesus Christ really erase the association with the sacred that the Buncombeville landmark has always had? Isn’t it worth spending a few dollars to make sure the job is done right, once and for all?
And on whose advice, moreover, should we trust for an answer? Should we not give a certain deference to the collective judgment of elected officials? After all, they have to face the voters if they are wrong in the balance of interests.
Why should we be paying attention to a handful of fish enthusiasts on social media who did an about-face, seemingly out of nowhere, and decided they still disliked the statue’s association with religion, but the unrepresentative art for art is always the bomb? I almost feel like some of these converts secretly have sympathies for the old superstitions. What do you think?
Please keep your answers short and, if possible, respectful.
– Peter Robbins