Saturday, 14 February 2015

Charlie comes to Swansea

Last weekend, I unfortunately came across an example of the sort of irreverence towards religious sensitivities that the recent #JeSuisCharlie event would have accept as legitimate expressions of freedom of speech.

Statue at Noah's Yard, Swansea
Whilst visiting Noah's Yard, a bar in Swansea, I came across a large statue of the Sacred Heart upon which a gas mask and a sign indicating the direction of the toilets had been hung. My mind was immediately drawn towards Luke 22:63 - "And the men that held him, mocked him, and struck him. And they blindfolded him, and smote his face. And they asked him, saying: Prophesy, who is it that struck thee? And blaspheming, many other things they said against him."

My immediate feelings were not those of anger but sadness so rather than attempt to remove the gas mask and sign, I resolved to write a letter (included below) to the proprietor to try and make him or her understand why seeing the statue of our Lord disposed in such a manner affected me so profoundly. I have waited for a week for a response and, as I have not received one, I have decided to publish this blog post. 

Before I wrote the letter, I had to be sure that my objections were reasonable as I began to wonder if I would have condoned the display of a non-religious statue in such a manner. What if the statue had been of a politician, a member of the royal family or a celebrity? I tend to think that had that been the case, I probably would have brushed the display off as being bizarre, possibly distasteful but perhaps legitimate satire, not worthy of a letter.

I do however think there is an important distinction between the statue of Christ on one hand and my hypothetical examples on the other. The first is that the original purpose of the statue, namely religious worship, is being subverted by it's context and adorning and this constitutes at best religious insensitivity and at worst a direct assault on Christian belief itself. I do think God has a sense of humour and I am not adverse to religious jokes or memes which use images of Christ but I believe this instance goes beyond well intentioned comedy. I would certainly support the right of those who were saddened or angered by the mocking of their own beliefs or revered figures to express their opinions.

Secondly, it is my duty as a Christian to stand for Christ and to redress insults against the Holy Name, not just for His own sake but also for the sake of those who "do not know what they are doing": "whoever denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God" [1] and "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap". [2] I would be less concerned if particular Catholic or Christian practices were being mocked or satirised but here it is the person of Jesus Christ who is the target. 

Finally, if I remained silent on the matter, it would be yet another instance where such irreverence was left unchallenged. Christ told us that we should "turn the other" cheek but he also asked those who assaulted him at his trail "why do you strike me?". The proprietor may have a right to freedom of speech and expression but so do I and I am choosing to do so in this manner. Freedom of expression is important but it is how we use it that defines our humanity. Why choose to use a freedom which many people throughout the world do not have to mock and ridicule? Though I agree to a certain degree that Christianity is a "soft" and "safe" target for ridicule and mockery, I do not think it is a valid argument to bemoan the apparent bias or fear of those who only pillory certain groups outside of their political, social or moral dispositions. Rather, as Christians, we should ask why people are comfortable mocking and satirising our Faith? I suspect, the answer will be found less in determined opposition based up theological, philosophical or moral precepts and more in our  own behaviour and apathy. 

"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" [3]

As I say in my letter, it makes no business sense to alienate a section of potential customers. Noah's Yard may as well put up a sign which says "Christians are not welcome here". I certainly shall not be returning there until the statue is removed.  


Dear Sir or Madam, 

Last weekend, encouraged by the experiences of several friends, I paid a visit Noah’s Yard. When I entered, I was greeted with a pleasant and lively atmosphere and felt confident that the venue would live up to its reputation. I was served by polite and engaging staff and sat down with a friend to enjoy a tasty Mojito. 

My first impressions of Noah’s Yard were very favourable but they were totally destroyed when I made my way to the toilets and saw a statue of Jesus upon which a gas mask and a sign indicating the direction of the toilets had been hung. I found the spectacle demeaning, upsetting and an affront to my Christian faith. 

I do not know your motivations for displaying the statue of Jesus in such a manner but I would like to explain why I and others like me may react to it in such a negative way. The heart of Christianity is a personal relationship with God, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ who we believe became man, eventually giving up his own life so that our sins would be forgiven, winning for us the eternal life to which we are all called. When a Christian sees a statue of Jesus displayed in such a manner, they see a friend who they love and have the utmost respect for demeaned and dehumanised. Can you imagine how you might feel if you came across a loved one (a spouse, a child or a parent for example) who was forced to stand in the corner of a bar with a gas mask on their face and a sign for the toilets at their feet? 

I do not think that your motivation for displaying the statue is worth the potential alienation it will cause to others who feel as strongly about the issue as I do, so I hope that you will remove the statue, if not for the potential hurt it may cause then for the sake of your business. Until it is removed, I cannot in good conscience return to your establishment. At your convenience, I would appreciate a reply to my concerns. 

Yours Sincerely, 

Luke O’Sullivan 


[1] Lk 12:9
[2] Galations 6:7
[3] Col 4:5-6


  1. It makes you sick at heart. I remember when the Virgin media shiops had statues of Our Lady in the window surrounded by condoms. God is not mocked. Neither is Our Lady. These people need our prayers or we know where they'll end up. Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

  2. Why not go in and ask to buy the statue?