Since 2016, four friends who met online—Amanda Glover, Melanie Cress, Yaki Kostelec, and Kyle Hide—have had a running group chat, mainly to talk about three things: Lady Gaga, Minions, and God.
Each was raised religious within different denominations of Christianity, and the foursome found connection through their churchgoing, pre-Internet childhoods and shared queer identities. “We [each] had these, like cursed experiences with religion growing up,” explains Hide. Their digital space to share God memes invoked the very question of God, effectively interrogating the group’s estranged religious roots and rekindling their true belief that God loves them and there was nothing they could do about it.
In 2018, they made their private chat public-facing, before the eyes of God and of Instagram. The handle @ineedgodineverymomentofmylife took inspiration from this unofficial Minions image. Due to Instagram’s character limitations, the ‘single’ was dropped.
Now, I NEED GOD has a following of over 20,000. With I NEED GOD, you are guaranteed to have God in at least most moments of your life, at least on your social feed. It is a massive moodboard of found memes and media that Hide calls, “real sentiment about God and faith,” wrangled in from other corners of the Internet, like a parody of the CDC vaccination card that identifies the holder as “Vaccinated by the Lord” or the canonically Christian Veggie Tales vegetables paired with a nod to an Internet catchphrase dujour, “God made you...Submissive and breedable”. It gives lighthearted reminders that, “God gives his silliest battles to his funniest clowns”, but also reaches for bigger questions like, “Hey, Atheist idiots if God doesn’t exist why is this Bible so heckin true and valid?”.
I NEED GOD's first product.Courtesy of I Need God
I NEED GOD offers its wisdom in light of the collective trauma of the ongoing global pandemic: “Normal isn’t coming back. Jesus Is.” To Hide, “The world is so crazy, nothing makes sense anymore. All meaning is breaking down. No one knows how to act with each other. And we're so alienated and the computers are dividing us through the algorithm and like, you just got to surrender to God at this point, because ‘there's nothing that's gonna save us’ kind of vibe."
God has been on the rise in popular culture. The theme of the 2018 Met Gala, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” bridged religious iconography with celebrity and style: Jared Leto (already predisposed to looking a lot like Jesus) donned a gold crown; the late Chadwick Boseman wore a priestly all-white Versace suit. High fashion celebrated high religion, its iconography, and its grandiosity. The following year, in 2019, Kanye West began holding his Sunday Service series, an exclusive, invite-only pop-up church experience in the leadup to his album Jesus Is King. That album’s accompanying merch (marketed at Coachella 2019 as “Church Clothes”) made clear that Jesus is King—but also lets us know that Kanye is one too.
Following that trend, I NEED GOD made its own similar pivot. In October 2020 they launched their webstore, i-need-god.com, first offering only a single solid crewneck sweatshirt bearing a simple sentence in sans-serif typeface: God loves me and there is nothing I can do about it. “It’s kind of weird how Instagram is becoming a mall, but my thought was why resist that? If we have a successful meme page, [we] might as well use the platform for what it is,” Hide explains. “It follows a certain line of Protestant Christianity that loves to sell things. So like, when we're selling stuff, I feel like I am embodying that kind of capitalist Christian spirit in a way.”
Since then, I NEED GOD has worked closely with similarly Very Online designers to produce original merchandise that has turned a meme page into a fully cohesive brand. Now, there are booty shorts that say GOD WON’T LET ME DIE on the ass, tees bearing their slogan in the Twilight font, a big GOD IS GAY beach towel, and a shirt with a direct quote from Justin Bieber’s Instagram: “God is obsessed with you!” With their Summer Pride collection entirely sold out (and half the proceeds donated to Black Trans organization The Okra Project), the designers behind I NEED GOD are thinking ahead to its upcoming Christian Girl Autumn collection, and dreaming up ambitious collaborations. “We would love to collaborate with Justin and Hailey Bieber, stage design for Willow Smith, or host a church-themed club night,” Hide says. “Maybe we'll make an art book, a worship album, or do an IG live from the Vatican.”
By design, much of the Internet is confused as to whether I NEED GOD is serious or not. One comment on the brand’s Instagram posits, “Pretty sure this page is 6 layers deep but unironically true.” (One response:“That’s why it’s the best.”) The founders say that their curation is engineered to make the audience question their belief. Even so, Hide insists, “there's no ironic way to use God, no matter how deep that irony goes.”
Lately, I NEED GOD has had company in the form of the fashion label Praying. You might have seen their wares: the brand rose in popularity after TikTok user @jaylampy danced to a trap remix of a song called “Sweet Jesus” while wearing their signature Holy Trinity bikini. (“Father” and “Son” are placed over each breast-triangle, with “Holy Spirit” over the bottom part.) Other looks are similarly provocative: there are the Corinthians quote shorts featuring a bible verse about becoming a man right over the crotch. Praying seems to be a little more interested in cultural ideas around Christianity, juxtaposing religion-adjacent phrases with not-so-religious design choices, best displayed on the God’s Favorite trucker hat and crop top, and the Father Figure rugby polo. Praying’s online shop, littered with Y2K WordArt, blows past piety and goes straight for a ketamine-addled religiousness.
Praying's controversial bikini.Courtesy of Praying
Praying is the project of designers Alex Haddad and Skylar Newman, who seem to have a distinctly fashion-first approach to religion. Speaking to The Face in 2020, Haddad said, “I believe in God, but I think that’s almost unrelated to the brand, ha ha!” Indeed, some Praying products are not about God at all, like the [Princess] Diana (Forever In Our Hearts) Crewneck or the BRANGELINA collection honoring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s failed relationship (2005-2016). Under the Praying label, they are deified; pop culture is made holy. The brand has also taken the liberty of playing with followers’ notions of reality, photoshopping their goods on still-alive celebrities like Adam Sandler and Paris Hilton (something I NEED GOD also did). The fakes may have garnered some real celebrity attention, however: Praying took credit for Billie Eilish’s latest merch design, stripped of religion but retaining the Times New Roman type and the bratty attitude.
Hide insists that God has been trending, pointing out that “Jesus was one of the OG celebrities,” and that “When you think about celebrities today, they’re really trying to do what Jesus did, which is like, become remembered forever and sacrifice themselves for the public,” citing Lady Gaga’s 2009 VMA performance where she killed herself stage, crucified in the wake of the fame and the paparazzi.
The I NEED GOD collective maintains that culture is growing tired of a “harsh, faux-secular public sphere.” Yet why on God’s green earth are we flocking to the irony of worship now? As society faces uncertain futures and much of life increasingly lived on an Internet overflowing with misinformation, the disruptive fashion found in these brands’ dualism compatible with both sincerity and irony starts to make sense. Style has evolved to be the perfect playplace to avoid cheugy religiousness and ask whether maybe we do need a higher power, if it’s in praise of a celebrity or the almighty himself, and whether we can find relief in such faith.
Despite being on different sides of the altar, I NEED GOD and Praying have worked separately but collectively in the name of God. Together, they have unlocked an untapped audience through the bottomless irony of religious declaration and carved out a new place for God to exist. Whether this inspires true belief remains to be seen, but for the godless downtown crowd looking to pull a subversive look, it is also totally beside the point.