Pete Doherty has sparked a new controversy lately after a life size sculpture of himself crucified on a cross was unveiled in St. Marylebone church in London. The statue called “For Pete’s Sake” has sparked debate over whether it is blasphemous to have a rock star portrayed as Jesus in a church. Commissioned by Doherty himself, the piece of art, like his blood-spattered drawings of a few years ago, is talked about mostly for its shock-factor. However, while it’s not much to look at, “For Pete’s Sake” should not be regarded as blasphemous. Indeed, it is useful in the conversation it provokes.
In his article for The Guardian, Jonathan Jones reminded us how gruesome and strange depictions of Christ are hardly atypical in the history of Christianity, and in fact have been encouraged by the church over the centuries. Nor is it strange to have a pop star depicted as Jesus, though this is slightly more unsettling. Albrecht Dürer, known for his religious art, produced a self-portrait where he appears to have intentionally made himself look like Jesus. Madonna named herself after the mother of Jesus. There is nothing new about “For Pete’s Sake” in the history of Christian art.
It would be silly to call such representations blasphemous, instead they are, or are attempting to be, art. Unless Pete Doherty accompanies the statue with a claim that he himself is Jesus and or God, there is nothing wrong with it. Obviously, there is nothing in the Bible about this particular situation, but blasphemy usually involves showing contempt for God or idol worship. People are not going to start getting confused and praying to Pete Doherty because of this statue. Most Christians’ first thought when they see a piece of art in church is not “Here is a true depiction of Jesus. Let me worship it.” Usually artwork is there to make people think, remind them of enlightening Bible stories, and serve as something pleasing to look at. The statue is merely trying to make a statement, not overthrow people’s belief systems and create a new Doherty-worshipping cult.
Moreover, the statue is not doing anything to insult God or Jesus. The argument that it is blasphemous to compare Doherty to Jesus is null. If it not blasphemous, why should it not be put in a church?. It is important to note that even if the work could be regarded as blasphemous, it does not mean that it should then be censored from being exhibited within a church.
While I cannot say I would love to have a statue of crucified Pete Doherty hanging over me at church, kudos to the community that decided to display it in theirs. They have started a discussion over what should be considered acceptable in a church setting, leading to a possibly more liberal view on the parameters of acceptability. “For Pete’s Sake” is a piece of art which rather than contempuously challenge the tenets of Christianity, is instead appropriating an image for strictly aesthetic purposes.