What happens when you put Jesus in a Taylor Swift T-shirt?

The giant Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro sparked chatter last week when it was fitted with a projected image of a Taylor Swift T-shirt, who launched the Brazil leg of her Eras Tour on Nov. 17. The 124-foot statue of Jesus, with outstretched arms that span 92 feet, can be seen from all over the city and beyond.

The archdiocese has offered the statue and its grounds and sanctuary for events and promotions for many years. The proceeds, including those from the recent Swift-inspired projection, go to charity—and the poor in Brazil are in great need of charity.

These considerations are why I’m still thinking about that T-shirt on Jesus. I don’t like it. (I also don’t like it when Catholic church facades are illuminated with images, a practice that is becoming more and more popular globally.) It disturbs me when we get too casual with sacred images.

When I brought the matter up with some friends, a few of them quickly called it “blasphemy.” This is an image of Jesus, who is God, and he surely loves Taylor Swift the human woman. But he’s not a Swiftie; he’s the Lord.

I don’t think it’s blasphemy. Blasphemy, strictly speaking, entails words that maliciously or carelessly insult God. As far as I know, nobody has paid to light up the statue to look like anything that the church condemns. The sanctuary’s website invites organizations to apply to use the statue for events or displays but reminds that proposals will be evaluated for whether the values expressed are appropriate.

During the pandemic, the sanctuary lit it up to make it appear as a doctor and included messages to remain hopeful and stay home. They have lit it up to support efforts against human trafficking. But not all displays are so lofty. They also lit it up to wear a soccer shirt in support of the Flamengo team. They lit it up in honor of the region getting connected to 5G service. They also projected the national colors of various countries during the World Cup, and again during the pandemic, so that at one point, Jesus was red with five yellow stars, wrapped in the Chinese flag.

Does this still seem fine to you?

But it’s for charity, some will say. Surely Jesus can handle being decorated. It’s not really Jesus; it’s just a statue; and anyway, there’s nothing wrong with soccer or pop music, and Jesus loves the poor, and he is the divine physician, and the goal is to bring hope and comfort to people who see it.

It still sets off alarm bells for me. This has been a century of great losses, and one of the greatest has been a loss of the sense of the sacred.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image via PickPik

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3 thoughts on “What happens when you put Jesus in a Taylor Swift T-shirt?”

  1. Simcha,

    Yes It bothers me! Christ is not a billboard! There are so many other places that Swift and the other named causes can promote their messages.

    This statue is meant to show the world that Christ is welcoming them.

  2. I am not a TS fan and I have been joking with my daughter (huge Swiftie) that I’m very much looking forward to the day when the Kelce brothers write and record their own scathing break up song about her. But Taylor’s tour is a darn sight better than the Chinese Flag, God help us.

    I’m not sure about this one. On the one hand, come January and the NFL playoffs, I’ll smile when my sons’ high school puts the Eagles jersey on Iggy, the St. Ignatius statue in the lobby, but on the other hand, this is Jesus and it’s for money. Ick. I’m not comfortable monetizing His Likeness, even if it is supposedly for a good cause.

    But don’t Christians monetize Jesus all the time? And this huge statue isn’t just Jesus (can I even say “just” Jesus?) The Christ the Redeemer statue symbolizes a whole nation. And if the excitement in Brazil for TS was anything like it was here in the States, well, I suppose it’s somewhat fitting that her tour’s image would go on the symbol of the nation. A symbol that happens to be Jesus.

    Still, projecting images for money onto Jesus gives me the icks and I wish they wouldn’t do it. I wonder how Christian Brazilians feel about images being projected onto Jesus for money?

  3. Another great article Simcha!
    I think you’re spot on about nothing being considered sacred in modern life.
    It’s very sad. I wouldn’t be surprised if the people of Brazil thought of the Christ The Redeemer statue as no more different than the Statue of Liberty in NY, a grand statue/tourist trap with no deeper sacred meaning.
    I really hate that they would use this statue as an advertisement billboard, and I’m partially biased because I am not a swiftie and I think her music sucks.
    I wonder if the reason why the sacred is so hard to recognize today is because it seems like we’ve long gone past the age of miracles. When you read up on the life of saints, there seemed to be so many amazing things happening around them and in the Church. eg Padre Pio being able to read the human soul and tell people their own sins, or Saint Martin De Porres being able to bilocate etc.
    Or perhaps there are saints in the world right now and they go unnoticed because we focus on and uplift the wrong type of people.

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