Are Virgin Mary crisps offensive or just in bad taste? Ekklesia reports on the Protect the Pope group who have taken offense. Did they make an "own goal?"
A small conservative Catholic group called 'Protect the Pope' has taken exception to a brand of crisps sold by the sandwich chain Pret a Manger. Adopting the already established brand name of 'Virgin Mary' used for a non-alcoholic cocktail derived from the better known 'Bloody Mary' mix of vodka and tomato juice, the offending crisps were flavoured with Worcester sauce and chilli. This is not pointless recipe information, but necessary knowledge as to the provenance of the name.
Protect the Pope chose to interpret this as an offence to Jesus' mother (it is perhaps worth recording here that every Catholic whose opinion I have sought on this has hooted in derisive disbelief) and the complaint has resulted in Pret withdrawing the offending snack. A spokesman for the company said it had noted complainants' “strength of feeling” and withdrawn the product in order to avoid offence. This may well have been a prudent commercial decision, but it does look rather like permitting a small, though forceful interest group to have its own way.
There is no right to be protected from offence. Equally, the giving of gratuitous offence should always be questioned, if not challenged. It is evident in this case that there was no intent to offend – a fact which makes the prickliness of Protect the Pope look rather foolish. Because criticism or mockery of those things which are dear to us may produce strong feelings, it is important to stand back and look at the intent behind the action. Where there an inclination to be offended, it seems both good sense and charity to also examine one's own reactions and to “consider it possible you may be mistaken.” I own that this may sometimes be difficult because both ego and partisanship are powerful forces.
It is, however, useful to ask why such groups should be so ardent in interpreting what, at the most sympathetic analysis could be described as slightly tasteless, as such a grave insult to their faith. Their own devotions and freedoms of worship are not infringed, neither is their liberty to explain to others why their beliefs about Mary are significant to their lives and faith. What they cannot expect, is that everyone will share these beliefs or, beyond the demands of courtesy, be required to tiptoe around them.
How much is too much when it comes to taking offense?