May 21, 2024

We Are Not Amused: No, King Charles’ Portrait Does Not Contain A Hidden Portrait The Devil

It’s been a painting that has launched a thousand memes. And some of them are very funny.

The painting in question is the new official portrait of King Charles III. I think it’s fantastic. A real departure from the stuffed shirt paintings of the past. The Queen (his wife!) thinks it is absolutely “him”. And the facial features wear the world weariness, and the empathy, that I think the king has.

Of course I’ve just divided the room right now, but have a look at the face section close up:

The King’s new portrait captures his mood and pathos brilliant (and his sausage fingers)

Brilliant I reckon. And of course, when seeing the wider context, I think it gives the King a sense of grandness amid a rather chaotic, and slightly threatening background. As it should seem and be in these times. I think it’s fit for purpose.

King Charles And The Memedom

Of course then the memes rolled in. The best one, and the most subtle to me, was of Kramer from Seinfeld fame. Just brilliant. All of the same “born to rule, but thwarted for most of my life” sense that Kramer shares with Charles.

Plenty more memes than that of course and you can waste another five minutes you’ll be screaming out for on your deathbed by scrolling through them.

As one cultural observer wrote, after posting a list of the many memes so far:

The painting has inspired a lot of genuine critical discourse about its style, the message, and the monarchy itself. But I’m an easily amused magpie, and I love seeing how moments like this are re-interpreted through a goofy lens. These memes are brief, and fleeting, but for a moment they are beautiful.

And if that’s the case, and goofy meme creators as well as serious art historians are talking about it, then if I were Jonathan Yeo (the artist), then I’d be seriously happy about that. It’s hard enough to get art to be talked about – really talked about – and in a week or so, his work has gone viral.

Which brings me to an increasing number of interpretations I’ve seen from Christians. Well, not all Christians, but some, and perhaps the usual crowd. And some of their responses are going viral too.

You see, that painting is all a bit of a hidden conspiracy. If you print it four times and put the results in a quadrant you can see a goats heat (the devil) in the background. There’s hidden stuff all over the place there! It’s a painting, that if you have the right Gnostic insight, can reveal to you the true powers of the age, hidden behind a vegan-loving, modernist, generally not-a-true-Christian King.

A New Spin on an Old Spin

To which I say, “Here we go again!”

Back in the day – MY day – the biggest hidden scandal that Christians were outing, whether that was in Christian magazines, on handed-around and recopied cassette tapes (remember them), and in shonky videos, was that albums by great artists were back-masked. This is just a new spin on an old spin.

By albums I mean vinyl albums. By back-masked I mean that a hidden message – usually the music equivalent of four portraits of the King that picture the devil – was hiding in the record.

All you had to do was spin the album backwards on the turntable, and let the needle do its magic. Hey, voila! You could hear stuff about the devil, about marijuana, about illicit sex and stuff like that.

Hey, wait a minute! I said spin it backwards, not forwards! Yep that’s right folks. If you want to hear messages like that on your album collection from the 1970s, a good forward spin will do. All that great music from the late sixties through to the early eighties: So much of it about the devil, marijuana and illicit sex.

Those kind of conspiracies went viral in a pre-internet kind of way. Preachers would go on stage and play the music backwards and you could hear it! At least you could hear the words that they had already told you would before BEFORE they then played it.

Folks, the only real conspiracy here was the power of auto-suggestion, in which a charismatic (personality not theology, though there was a crossover), told you something that you wanted to hear, and your ears itched, and hey presto!, you heard it.

Or maybe that was just part of the conspiracy, and the real conspiracy was the fact that the Christian Rock music industry wanted to flog you more second-rate records. You could burn/sell/hide for two decades until the storm passed your Eagles albums, because, well you know, things could get better in the long run. Except for your music taste.

You could toddle off to Christian Kmart and buy second-rate, instantly forgettable albums by Christian bands with names that reflected some kind of mortal combat with the aforementioned (or backwards mentioned) devil, marijuana and illicit sex (honourable exceptions including true talents as Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy and Keith Green).

Though I do remember Petra having an actual back mask on one of their vinyls that asked: “Why are you looking for the devil when you should be looking for the Lord?”

Here’s a little Easter Egg for you. My twin brother is the Professor of Hearing, Language and the Brain at a major Australian university, as well as the Director of Australia’s Hearing Hub, a world-leading institution of academic and industry cooperation.

Hey, maybe we’re the same person. Some say we’ve never been seen in the same room at the same time.

He has sat with me over dinner last year, and given me a list of twelve statements – all seemingly random – and as I read each one aloud, he then plays a muffled voice that says exactly that line! And then I read the next line – something different altogether – and then he plays that same muffled voice and – you guessed it – it says exactly that line! Launder, rinse, repeat. (that’s not the line, that’s just what he does 12 times!).

Conspiracy Theory Christians

We simply says that we are way too suggestive. We are suckered in by all sorts of peripherals that do not matter to the gospel! Christians of all stripes should be the least into conspiracy theory and kooky ideas about reality. But in fact there’s a whole subset out there – and it’s growing – who are going down the YouTube rabbit holes.

One of the pastoral issues that we will increasingly face is church members who take their theological framework from the algorithmic patterns that have shaped them online. You think that they’re growing in godliness and maturity – and the wisdom that comes from God – and hey ‘nek minnit” – they’re fronting up to church, bailing you up at the door and telling you what they really believe. And that if you don’t, well, can they really come to this church?

One of the signs in the first century that people were truly Christian is that they gave up on superstition, and silly arguments about all sorts of peripherals that never led to godliness, but always idle chatter. Paul himself says this to the church in Crete via Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless (Titus 3:9)

Granted, much of that was to do with Jewish mysticism and the like, but the point is made. Such things, the rabbit holes of Paul’s day, don’t help! They won’t make you more godly towards God. They won’t make you more helpful towards the people of God.

And of course, Gnosticism, the secret society stuff of the ancient world, took a pernicious grip on sections of the church in the early centuries. Proto-gnosticism – an early form of this – was already wending its way into the nooks and crannies of the church even in New Testament times.

Of course it’s debated whether there was such an influence and, ironically, if you’re looking for such a movement in the early church, then you can probably find a text in the New Testament that might support back-masking, er proto-gnosticism. But the point is more obvious than that surely.

Such insider-knowledge movements, whether they were a shadowy gnosticism, or whether they were “you must have one of the spectacular gifts to be truly spiritual” (hello 1 Corinthians), became ways of dividing the church between those in the know and those not in the know. It granted a special power and status – in the minds of the theorist and their acolytes at least – that the mere ordinary Christian wasn’t full bottle.

And that’s the same today. Less so about King Charles’ portrait, and more so about the Youtube industrial machine that spouts forth all sorts of nonsense falsely reported to be knowledge.

Very Superstitious!

Okay, you’re now humming the music of one of the great songs – Superstition – from one of the great artists, Stevie Wonder, who did you know, isn’t really blind (well I saw it on YouTube somewhere), but just does that as an act to sell more records? And in his song, he lists superstitions and their negative effects.

Very superstitious/Writing’s on the wall/Very superstitious/Ladders bout’ to fall/Thirteen month old baby/Broke the lookin’ glass/Seven years of bad luck/The good things in your past

When you believe in things/That you don’t understand,
Then you suffer/Superstition ain’t the way

In an age in which, rather than becoming more secular, our post-Christian era is becoming more superstitious and willing to believe any nonsense about the moon landing or the Twin Towers for example, (don’t Google it), it takes a certain spiritual intestinal fortitude to bat that stuff away. Sure it’s interesting.

And sure it MIGHT be the case that the Twin Towers were felled by the government. You know I’m not saying they WERE, but they MIGHT have been… blah, blah, blah. That’s autosuggestion right there. That’s superstitious nonsense right there.

The great irony is that generally in history, Christians have been the least superstitious people, precisely because we believe in an Almighty Creator, the three-in-one Trinity, joined in purpose and common mind. So much of the New Testament is about learning, understanding the things that we believe.

Unlike Stevie Wonder’s song, and perhaps it’s a dig at Christianity too, Christians actively sought an informed faith, not a blind one, from the get-go. That’s why Luke’s Gospel begins with a shout out to good journalistic methodology. In fact in the coming superstitious future, one of our great apologetic strengths will be our lack of superstition and our settled, firm convictions as people all around us lose their heads and minds.

Such a settled view of reality historically for Christianity, especially in the West, gave rise to modern science, and put the superstitious pagan nonsense of competing gods, spells and incantations in the shade.

That we are seeing an almost religious desire within the academy to insist that modern Western science must pay homage to pagan mythology as almost on equal footing, is a sign of the decline of Christian influence. And the rise of post-Christian madness.

Why, in the post-Christian West (still tied to its Christian moorings nonetheless) is superstition making a comeback? As Chesterton said, People, when they no longer believe in God, don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. It would be a shame if Christians fell for the spirit of the age at precisely the time vinyl is making a comeback!

It’s enough to make me red in the face. And speaking of red, did you see the King’s portrait and the way, if ….

Written by


There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

Stay in the know

Receive content updates, new blog articles and upcoming events all to your inbox.