Jesus doesn’t need a leg up, Justin Bieber
By Elizabeth Day, Saturday 7 January 2012
We’ve had more than 2,000 years of Christian history and, safe to say, they haven’t been entirely uneventful ones thus far. There have been virgin births and resurrections, a scattering of medieval crusades and Spanish Inquisitions, a light seasoning of stake-burning and lion-throwing and a fair bit of debate over the idea of transubstantiation and whether all 454 pages of The Da Vinci Code really are worth reading .
But as a new year dawns and we’ve endured another seasonal hullabaloo involving the mass purchase of boxes of Lego and Delia Smith bake-your-own Christmas cake sets , some of us might be forgiven for quietly wondering what those 2,000 years of hard-won struggle have been for.
And now – gloria in excelsis – we know. Yes, the burning bushes, the bloodshed, the persecution, the people who insist on reciting Monty Python’s Life of Brian word for word… it has all been worth it for this. Because, last week, teenage pop-poppet Justin Bieber made the momentous decision to get a giant tattoo of Jesus Christ’s face inked on to the back of his leg.
That’s right. Jesus’s face. It’s not that I begrudge Bieber his faith or his taste in body art. It’s just that I can’t help wondering what it means when Christianity has come to this. If you’d told Jesus as he was being nailed to the cross that one day all his suffering would be worth it because His likeness would be emblazoned on a hairless, pubescent calf muscle belonging to the world’s most famous 17-year-old, would it all have made sense?
It’s a depressing state of affairs when our spiritual leaders become sucked into pop culture rather than standing apart from it. And Bieber’s just the start of it. Jesus didn’t have a say in the tattoo, obviously, but it was only fairly recently that the Dalai Lama chose to make a guest appearance on the Australian version of Masterchef. He calmly sampled roti bread and potato gnocchi but refused to pass judgment because it was “against my principles”.
What next? A range of stretchmark removal creams marketed with the image of Mother Teresa? A series of Catholic-inspired ready meals incorporating Eggs Pope Benedict and Pork Pie Jesu? A nightclub called Funky Buddha…oh, erm, hang on…that’s already happened.
And I’m not entirely sure why this makes me feel uneasy. It’s not as if the appropriation of iconic historical figures for commercial or decorative purposes is a particularly new thing (at university, one of the best Indian restaurants for miles was the Gandhi). But it’s just that it taps into a nagging suspicion that something in our society has gone a bit skewwhiff. Because if we start thinking of our spiritual role models in decidedly earthly terms, then we’re all in trouble. The Dalai Lama should be encouraging us to live according to a more moral sensibility, not appearing on TV like the orange-robed equivalent of Greg Wallace.
In the same week as Bieber got his tattoo, two other occurrences left me with a queasiness in the pit of my stomach. The first was the revelation that some women in the UK had faulty breast implants. While most media commentators were wringing their hands over the dubious practices of the cosmetic surgery industry, few questioned what it was that drove thousands of perfectly normal, healthy women to have their flesh sliced open and pumped up to resemble a pair of synthetic airbags in the first place.
Then, on Thursday night, we discovered that one of the housemates for the new series of Celebrity Big Brother was Natasha Giggs, a woman who is known to the wider public only for the dubious achievement of having slept with her brother-in-law.
Perhaps these events are unconnected. Or perhaps such developments are not altogether surprising in a world where aspirational role models have become tattoos and Indian restaurants.
I’m not suggesting that we’re all going to hell in a handcart , nor am I offering a solution, but I simply draw the connection between these seemingly disparate tabloid happenings because sometimes it’s good to take a step back and think: “Really? This is where we are?” and then have a ponder over where we might like to be instead.
And, for me, wherever that might be, it is most definitely not on the back of a teenage pop star’s leg.