Katy Perry’s God

It’s practically unavoidable that the gods people invent will take the form of something that reflects their own desires, preferences, priorities, tastes and distastes. And at the same time, the insertion of a god into their worldview inevitably distorts their thinking, because it elevates their own personal perspectives, incomplete and inconsistent and bizarre as they may be, to the final word and binding command of a perfect and almighty deity – a facet of reality imposed from outside, not a subjective judgment generated from within.

This typically manifests as people picking out verses that disapprove of homosexuality from an entire book of incomprehensible, alien laws that they would otherwise disregard, or preferring to doom a woman and her fetus to die rather than allow an abortion that would save her life, or other instances of completely missing the point and failing to apply even the most basic standards of reason. But sometimes, someone manages to take this in a totally new direction. Sometimes, we get Katy Perry.

Perry, a former gospel singer raised by two Christian pastors who only allowed her to listen to gospel music, burst onto the scene in 2008 with a hit single about casually making out with girls at bars:

No, I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter
You’re my experimental game
Just human nature

[…]

I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it

Her later works include asking men to show her their cocks, general drunken rowdiness, and the “California Gurls” video. Nothing is wrong with any of this. But it is interesting to see what’s persisted through all this: an aversion to blasphemy.

Following Gaga’s new music video premiere, which was filled with religious imagery, Perry posted a message on Twitter declaring that “using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.” Perry clarified her statement on a French radio station Monday, insisting she was not singling out the 24-year-old singer.

New York Daily News, 15 Jun 2010

“I am sensitive to Russell taking the Lord’s name in vain and to Lady Gaga putting a rosary in her mouth. I think when you put sex and spirituality in the same bottle and shake it up, bad things happen. Yes, I said I kissed a girl. But I didn’t say I kissed a girl while f-ing a crucifix.”

Rolling Stone, 19 Aug 2010

“Russell has made very blasphemous jokes in the past, but he’s making fewer all the time because he knows that I am very sensitive about this subject,” says Perry, whose parents were pastors.

“You can be frivolous and fun without needing to get involved in that. And I don’t know why that only happens to the Christian religion. I don’t see people simulating sex with statues of Buddha, for example.”

[…]

“For me, spirituality is something very important and I don’t like it when people take it lightly. At times, I don’t understand why there are artists who play that card, like when Madonna gets up on a cross to sing.”

The Telegraph, 16 Jan 2011

Yes, apparently blasphemy is “cheap”, but blasting whipped cream from your breasts is not. Spirituality is serious business, but insincere displays of same-sex affection for the attention and titillation of heterosexual men are no big deal. What kind of god would agree with this? The kind of god that’s no brighter than Katy Perry. This is not to say that she’s necessarily a hypocrite, or somehow doing religion “wrong” – this would require that someone be “right” about it. It is, however, stupid, and a probable remnant of her upbringing after any possible distaste for partying, drinking, homosexuality and sexuality in general has fallen away1.

But even if many instances of blasphemy are merely an attempt to stir up controversy, just as cheap as singing about men’s cocks, there’s no particular reason why religion ought to be a subject that’s off-limits here. It makes no sense to home in on the things that particularly offend people and intentionally push those buttons, then cry foul when someone does the exact same thing with a topic you happen to be sensitive about. An objection to Lady Gaga putting a rosary in her mouth should be no more compelling than an objection to Perry putting her tongue in another girl’s mouth.

What many people who decry blasphemy don’t understand is that this sensitivity to it is precisely why it’s used. If religious iconography had no such meanings, cultural associations and delicate feelings surrounding it, there would be no point to anyone using it in this way. The unusually high regard in which religion is held is exactly what gives it its power to convey a message here, however trite that message may be. This is hardly taking it lightly at all – this is the very reason artists choose to utilize religion in an unconventional, possibly offensive context.

Christianity is simply the most commonly referenced religion because it’s the most common religion, but it’s undeniable that almost any religion can, in fact, be funny. For example:

  • Buddhism’s idea of a good life is training yourself to not want anything and put up with everything, because they haven’t yet figured out the latter two thirds of the Serenity Prayer.
  • If you draw an innocuous cartoon and label it “Muhammad”, people will literally set buildings on fire.
  • The world’s largest religion is about a relatively unassuming man who invented moral precepts like “be merciful sometimes”, empathy, and “anyone who disagrees with me can actually go to Hell.”
  • Xenu.
  • People actually believe this.

Terrifying? Undoubtedly. Funny? Yes! With things like this occupying our reality, how can anyone really expect artists not to borrow from it and use it to make a point? Maybe these beliefs do need to be questioned. Maybe some sensibilities need to be offended. And I really wish you all could be California girls. Amen.

1. “My closest friends happen to be gay… I came from a very strict household, where any of that taboo stuff was wrong. I don’t say I hate where I came from, I love my parents and was happy to… have that opportunity to grow, but I came from a strict, suppressed household where that was wrong.” (The New Gay, 10 Jun 2008)