Last Tuesday I nipped out at lunch time to bring back something to eat. I'm quite fond of spicy things so I bought a packet of tomato and Worcester sauce flavoured crisps called after the non-alcoholic cocktail the Virgin Mary. I shared them with my colleagues (who include a priest and a religious sister): we chuckled about the name and wondered if they'd taste even better with the addition of vodka. I thought little more about it until later when I read from some of my fellow bloggers (no, I'm not going to provide links) how offensive and blasphemous the naming of this snack is, and how all Christians, especially Catholics, should write at once to the offending company and complain about this mockery of our faith. The comments were even worse: boastfully vitriolic quotes from emails people had sent, or were about to, to the CEO (who's a Catholic, by the way). Then last night I heard that Pret a Manger had withdrawn the crisps. So that's that. How very sad.
Persecution of Christians is an ugly and horrific reality in so many parts of the world today. And even in places where it's safe to worship freely there are subtle and pernicious forms of persecution and we often need to speak out. I'm a Catholic; I've been on the receiving end of many anti-Catholic rants, whether made in malice or ignorance; I've sometimes had the courage to respond and I hope I shall again - in charity, by the grace of God, whenever it will make a difference There are conversations I won't join in, and I try, for example, not to use the word hoax (do you know why?)
But protesting about Virgin Mary crisps? Please... For one thing, the name has been around for years to describe a Bloody Mary without the alcohol (and bloody itself, when used as an expletive, is a corruption of by Our Lady). Where have these people been? Perhaps they never read the non-alcoholic section of cocktail menus. For another, Catholics above all should know how holy names and phrases have been absorbed into everyday things in our culture - do read the excellent Catholic Trivia by Mark Elvins. I may be a sinner beyond redemption, but I'll happily eat Angel Cake or Trinity Pudding, and sink a pint in the Lamb and Flag. I won't get upset when the excited voice-over cries "Jesus Arbuthnot!" on University Challenge (assuming that Mr Arbuthnot is representing Jesus College. And no offence intended to anyone called Arbuthnot).
Yes, I'm sad about the crisp affair. They were yummy. I wish I'd kept the packet now - it would have become a collector's item, no doubt. And I'd promised to bring HALO back a bag of them next week. At least the withdrawn crisps will be given to the homeless; even those congratulating themselves on their "victory" think that's a kind gesture - obviously they're not worried about offending any Christian homeless people. Ah well... Why not make a point of visiting your local sandwich shop and putting some extra coins in their charity box this week?
Disclaimer: other sandwich shops are available. As are, of course, other points of view. Please feel free to express them, but be nice.