Was Jesus The ‘Original Hipster’?

The Brooklyn Diocese has been putting up ads in the hope of luring more hipsters to church.

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Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn
Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn

In addition to making artisanal pickles, rocking out to vinyl records and riding their precious fixie bikes, hipsters could make going to Catholic mass their new signature hobby. At least, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn hopes so.

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Since the beginning of April, the organization has put up ads reading “The Original Hipster,” depicting a robed man wearing red Converse sneakers, throughout the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn — including the dive bars and coffee shops of Williamsburg, widely considered the Holy Land of East Coast hipsterdom. The blog Animal New York first noticed the campaign plastered on bus stations and phone booths and tweeted a photo. Then The Huffington Post, CBS New York, and CNN picked it up, and the image started going viral. (As Salon joked, the next thing we’ll see is a Cardinal Timothy Dolan cameo on Girls.)

But note that the ad doesn’t actually mention Jesus anywhere. “Everyone just assumes that we were talking about Jesus and that shows religious conversation is a part of our everyday discussions for all people, no matter who you are, no matter where you’re coming from,” Monsignor Kieran E. Harrington, the Diocese’s Vicar for Communications, tells TIME.

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The ad is part of the Diocese of Brooklyn’s latest attempt to encourage more young people to attend church. “You can be a hipster in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and be a faithful, good Christian,” Harrington says. “There are a lot of different depictions of Jesus. If you go to Asia, you will see depictions of Jesus as an Asian, and if you go to Latin America, you will see depictions that are very reminiscent of a Latin American.” Thus, maybe the “counter-cultural” people in Williamsburg may see in this Converse-clad Savior a little bit of themselves. “Jesus went to the highways and the byways, and we’re going to bars, restaurants, gyms, to get the message out.”

The Vatican has been consciously trying to reach out to Catholics on social media for a while, for example, through the Pope’s Twitter account, @Pontifex, which boasts more than 2.4 million followers. The  social media interns who manage the Church’s social media accounts even got their own fifteen minutes of fame earlier this year during Pope Francis’s ascension.

Laypeople are also trying to use viral memes to reach the young, with varying results: for example, the site CatholicMemes.com, which generates religion-themed photo memes and GIFs; its Facebook group boasts more than 85,000 fans, while another has more than 21,000.

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