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Shades of Gray: the God Problem

The viewer is possibly first hit with the photo of a shirtless, smoking Christopher Hitchens, and then takes in C.S. Lewis on the left and the large type in the center. Maybe he laughs, realizing that, since Hitchens is shirtless, he is not supposed to take this too seriously. The yeti is also a tip-off.

Roland Barthes, in Rhetoric of the Image, describes images as having three types of messages: the literal, linguistic, and symbolic. Literally, the viewer sees two large images of men opposite each other (Hitchens and C.S.), a smaller image on the right (a yeti), a few symbols (a cross, an astrological sign), and all-caps text in the center in black and red. Lewis and Hitchens are distinct from each other while the yeti hovers behind Hitchens so that the images touch, and all three pictures are desaturated, slightly blurred at the edges, and hopefully in similar contrast making for a fairly clean and simple overall look with lots of white background. The linguistic messages lie in the center and the bottom of the page: “SURPRISED BY ANYTHING AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” and “(a god blog)”. While the second message is straightforward, the real meaning of the first message would be lost without the image of C.S. Lewis beside it, and without the viewer having a little knowledge about Lewis’s works.

The fact that the first linguistic message is in two different colors and between the two main images tells the reader that the first part of the message probably corresponds with the photo placed higher up on the image, and that the second part is meant to relate to the photo placed slightly further down. The viewer will understand the humor if he is familiar with Lewis’s spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy. Hitchens the atheist, of course, is surprised by absolutely nothing, and his message is in a no-nonsense black while the enthusiastic Lewis is described in fiery red. Symbolically one could stretch Hitchens’ nakedness to say that his atheism promotes the “naked truth” while Lewis the Christian, looking distinguished in a suit, dresses the truth up, but there is no end when it comes to symbolism. More simply, a popular believer and a popular unbeliever are opposite each other, symbolizing a tension between two ideologies. This “god blog” referred to at the bottom of the image is obviously not focused on any particular belief system, and may be playing a spiritual tug-of-war between them.

Due to the astrological symbol and the yeti, the viewer cannot suppose that this God blog is just a struggle between Christianity and atheism. The blog apparently runneth over across the whole spectrum of spirituality, covering both myths that society has been trained to respect and myths that it more freely dismisses. Between the wild and unrespected yeti, Hitchens’ bare chest and the turning of Lewis’ book title into a joke, one might suspect that the God blog does not favor the serious side of the hunt for Godot. On the other hand, perhaps the author of the blog associates the furry Christopher Hitchens with the furry yeti, and is actually writing them both off as ridiculous in comparison to Lewis, since he is well-dressed and surrounded by books rather than cigarette smoke.



I'm not licensed to use any of these. I went into this knowing I wanted to use those specific photos of Lewis and Hitchens, and I couldn't find them through the Creative Commons search.


Be more consistent in capitalization or lack of capitalization of "God"

Also emphasize the "Rhetoric of Images" since it is a title and other titles.

If you could possibly find creative commons images as well those would help.

Your juxtaposition of the two opposing ideologies is a great move. The Yeti helps to keep it all in perspective which is toned down from what religious/antireligious zealots do. This image, if attached to your blog, would let me know that you are a real person thinking through religion/spirituality from an observing perspective. I get the sense that you are seeking, not out to bash one religion over another, but to be equally harsh with criticism across religion. That is what I take from this. Good job.

In your opening, you briefly mention what the viewer might do, but you use 'he' to refer to the viewer. The viewer should be referred to as he or she.

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