A breach of the peas: Christianity, Islam, advertising and double-standards blasphemy laws
The race for the Christmas number one single in Great Britain proved unexpectedly competitive this 2023, following the late withdrawal of the undefeated winners for the past five years running, LadBaby.
LadBaby are essentially a novelty act, whose Christmas singles raised money for food-bank charity the Trussell Trust. Their songs generally substituted the food-related words “sausage roll” (a popular British pork-and-pastry product) for the words “rock and roll” in rejigged cover-versions of old hit singles like Starship’s We Built This City On Rock and Roll/Sausage Rolls. Sadly, they never produced a David Bowie cover version called Sausage Roll Suicide, but I live in hope.
God gave sausage rolls to you
LadBaby’s premature retirement from the world of Christmas-time sausage roll-based humour reminded me of the time the high-street British bakery chain Greggs bizarrely put out a social media image of the infant Christ having been inexplicably replaced in his nativity-scene manger by a giant sausage roll. Towards this delicious savoury-snack item the Three Wise Men were pictured reverently offering gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh and probably also a few small sachets of salt to add more flavour.
The image was innocently released as part of the “MERRY GREGGSMAS” ad campaign, but the firm were later forced to issue an apology after various media outlets began amplifying the (by all accounts rather exaggerated) outrage this stunt supposedly produced amongst British Christians. “We’re really sorry to have caused any offence, this was never our intention,” Greggs declared.
And I believe them.
Over in Germany, just prior to Christmas 2020, at the height of the coronavirus panic, the mass-market national weekly news-magazine Stern repeated Greggs’ 2017 Christmas error by placing a startlingly similar image of a doctored nativity scene on its front-cover. A Covid-19 vaccine was offered up instead. It implied that the vaccine was mankind’s gift to God. Some interpreted this as an offensive reversal of the idea of Christ being God’s gift to mankind.
I doubt that Stern had intended to offend Christians. Matters are far worse than that. I strongly suspect that the possibility of blasphemy never crossed the minds of anybody involved, either at Greggs or at Stern. After all, a religion has to actually still be considered a living faith for blasphemy to occur. G.K. Chesterton observed that, for anyone who doubts this is so, let him try to offend people by blaspheming against the Norse god Thor and see how far he gets.
Advertising their own ignorance
For the people who cooked up these images, Christianity is no longer a living faith, but an irrelevant background fairy-tale whose festive iconography, dimly remembered from childhood, is akin to that of Father Christmas. And few people would be offended by Santa Claus handing out sausage rolls or free medicine to children, would they?
The most germane criticism of Greggs’ 2017 advert, to my mind, came from Simon Richards, then the chief executive of UK campaigning organisation the Freedom Association, who tweeted angrily: “What cowards these people are: we all know that they would never dare insult other religions!”
As I have already said, I don’t think the campaign was anti-Christian; instead, I think it was more Christianity-indifferent. Yet, when Richards said Greggs would “never dare insult other religions”, we all know which religion he had in mind.
Islam is considered a living religion by the Western governing class who seem to run our media, political, business and advertising institutions these days. Events as disparate as the stabbing of Salman Rushdie, the Bataclan massacre and the recent pro-Hamas hate-marches across Europe and America make this blindingly obvious. If Greggs had tried advertising their stores by exploiting Islamic imagery, they would have ended up on the wrong end of a fatwa. Whereas, when asked his opinion about Greggs’ advert, Daniel Webster, a media manager for the UK’s Evangelical Alliance, simply shrugged and said the miraculous transformation of Jesus into a tasty sausage-snack was “crass … but I’m not outraged by it. He was not planning a letter-bombing campaign.
Mocking Christianity is today an entirely trouble-free game.
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The peas of God that passeth all understanding
Would it have been possible even to imagine an advertisement treating Islam in the same casual, consequence-free manner? I racked my tiny brain for a comparable poster image or tag line promoting foodstuffs. The best I could come up with was a campaign for eating your greens entitled “Islam Is a Religion of Peas”, to be accompanied by an image of Muhammad chewing some straight from a can.
I then googled this phrase, and found to my surprise that such an image and pun does actually exist – not as an advertisement, but simply as a popular online meme.
What does this image actually mean, however? In and of itself, absolutely nothing. Nor does an image of the infant Christ transformed into a giant sausage roll. Peas and Islam are two completely different, wholly unrelated topics. And yet, the wider socio-religious context is completely different to the one the 2017 Greggs advert existed within.
The peas meme is often reproduced in social media by critics of Islam, its silliness expressing deliberate disrespect for the faith. If you aren’t specifically praising Islam when you talk of it, it would appear that, in the eyes of many believers, you are criticising it.
Unlike Christianity in the lives of most contemporary Western post-Christians, Islam is still the one major reference-point in the lives of most contemporary Muslims, both in the West and elsewhere; that’s why so many of them react violently whenever the religion is slighted, no matter how ineffectually or mildly.
As a result, we seem to have ended up with a classic double-standard. Western nations have officially abolished blasphemy laws against Christianity, whilst simultaneously replacing them with unspoken de facto blasphemy laws against Islam.
As a result, unlike with Jesus Christ, we shall not see the Prophet’s image advertising our high-street bakery chains any time soon. The consequence of depicting him as a pork-stuffed sausage roll would, I think, have made both Greggs’ share-price and its retail outlets alike go up in flames. Recalling David Bowie once more, that really would have been a sausage roll suicide.
Steven Tucker is a UK-based writer with over ten books to his name. His latest, Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science, comparing the woke pseudoscience of today to the totalitarian pseudoscience of the past, was released in 2023.
Image credits: Pixlr AI generated image
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