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.