Was is it a mistake to think that a statue named after an ancient Greek goddess had a place on the Ogle County Judicial Center lawn?
By all accounts, the answer is yes.
In this day and age, where the separation between church and state is so closely monitored, to the point that court cases and protests erupt over the Ten Commandments, menorahs and Nativity scenes, it should have occurred to the good folks who conceived of the art formerly known as "Demeter Over Illinois," that there would be opposition.
Some people probably thought the furor over Demeter was much ado about nothing. In some circles, folks snickered at those who took offense to the statue. Heck, it's not as if Demeter is a real god, right? It's just a mythological character, like Hercules and Pegasus the winged horse - figures of fantasy.
Well, that's not exactly right. Demeter, Zeus, Hades and the rest of the pantheon of Greek deities were worshiped as gods, much like their Roman counterparts Pomona, Jupiter and Pluto. An ancient Greek crossing paths with a Roman and a Jew would likely debate the merits of their respective gods, each thinking theirs was equal if not superior to the others.
With the appearance of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent rise of Christianity, the Greek and Roman deities fell out of favor, fading from the religious to the merely mythological.
But make no mistake, it does not change what they are.
Thus we think those who bristled at the idea of Demeter taking residence at the courthouse were somewhat justified in their indignation. If Demeter is allowed here, why not a bronze statue of Jesus Christ or the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh, or an artistic carving of the Star of David in stone?
Because, at this point, our courts have decided that such displays would violate the separation of government and religion. Right or wrong, it's the law, and as such, putting a statue of Demeter there would have been a violation, in our opinion.
Then a curious thing happened. As those in opposition to the statue were busy signing petitions against it, the Ogle County Board called for the name of the statue to be changed to "Agriculture - Mother of Civilization." Amazingly enough, the artist, David Seagraves, agreed to the change, and we believe his approval reveals something about his work which should serve to defuse the religious furor it sparked.
You see, the name itself was not necessarily an important part of the work. Was Seagraves inspired by the idea of Demeter, who is the goddess of - or represents - agriculture? There's little question of that. So that leaves the question of whether the statue is simply a goddess under an assumed name.
We think not.
Strictly speaking, Demeter was not known to be a giant who carried buildings in the folds of her dress. One would be hard pressed to find such a depiction in any book on the subject. As it stands, "Agriculture - Mother of Civilization" is a wholly original work which personifies agriculture through the image of a woman spreading farm buildings like so many seeds across the land.
In that respect, she is a symbol, in human form, of something intangible that makes us all human. Like the Statue of Liberty in New York with her torch held high, the Statue of Freedom resting on her sheathed sword and holding the laurel wreath of victory, or Blind Justice with eyes covered and gripping her scales, "Agriculture - Mother of Civilization" was created in the tradition of art which is not only allowed on public land without respect to religion, but is celebrated and revered.
The statue is not a graven image, or a golden calf to be idolized, it's simply art.
Now that it has been installed, let's hope that we all can accept it for the thing of beauty that it is, and realize we have bigger things to worry about.