Fluttering on the outskirts of religion

A mime performing his art in front of St. John's Cathedral, Warsaw, Poland.

Imagine a man, in his forties, dressed as a butterfly dancing playfully in a Corpus Christi procession just a few hundred meters from a cathedral in his hometown of Lodz in Poland. When the procession was passing by his house, he joined in, weaving in and out of it. As reported in Gazeta Wyborcza daily on July 21, he recollected that children found him as a pleasant surprise.

The priests did not see it as being funny and tried to catch him. After a few minutes he “gamboled” back inside the building. Someone called the police, they came, told him not to do it again and he thought that it was that.

Not so. A couple of weeks later Rev. Ireneusz Kulesza, reported Pawel Hajncel, a local artist and filmmaker, to a prosecutor’s office stating that he “hurt of religious feelings” of the procession participants.

It will depend what motivated the culprit to do such a happening, and was he intending to disrupt the procession, the prosecutor explained as he is reviewing the complaint.

The artist says that he was not aiming to disrupt anything, and “his” butterfly was an artistic happening. It meant to bring attention to a serious problem of the church’s omnipresence.

Priests and politicians have annexed public sphere. I tried to reclaim a portion of it, he was quoted in the daily. He wanted to show that he could walk or “gambol,” actually, dressed as a butterfly and just like other faithful manifest his religious ties, he explained.

The story reminded me of an encounter in Warsaw, Poland, several decades ago. A group of us - teenagers - heard words of admonition as we were hanging out in the church courtyard, that we should be found in worship, and not on the “outskirts of religion.” A church elder explained that religion is a serious matter and we should not be laughing and having fun whilst others, including our parents, were worshiping inside.

Perhaps to many who witness Mr. Hajncel he was fluttering on the outskirts of religious tradition. Yet, like a jester he pointed to an issue which disturbs him and many others in a pluralistic society.

In the words of Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, an American Catholic theologian, “It is infinitely safer to watch the clowns in the circus ring than to put on a clown's costume and all the license it represents. ... Though Jesus was a breaker of rules and taboos, an agent of chaos, his intent transcended the desire to be a catalyst of laughter and his behavior never degenerated into lewdness or cruelty."

In my view, if my religious life does not lead me to deal with my own sanctimonious hypocrisy, disrespect for those who are different than me, as well as pride and greed, consider the artist, the jester, the holy fool, a man dressed as a butterfly. They will point at you from the outskirts of your religion. If it happens in public, it is free and for all to observe.

For Mr. Hajncel, and many others, claims of religious exclusiveness in the public sphere deserve a human butterfly treatment. It has less to do with dignity of a religious tradition, and more to do with encroachment on a public sphere, where everyone must be regarded as equal, and valued.

Link to the article and photos in Człowiek przebrany za motyla a chrześcijańska godność

Corpus Christi is a traditionally festive event
on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru,
is a mixture of religious devotion, pagan customs,
displays of art, and an abundance of merriment.


  1. Great thinking Ray!

  2. Excellent -- thought provoking and wonderful photography!!!