April 15, 2004

B- List

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No matter where you go today, you can’t get away from Jesus. He’s everywhere! And not in the omnipotent sense either. He’s there in books like The Da Vinci Code and movies like The Passion of the Christ. Does this have anything to do with the resurgence of right-wing beliefs in the political arena? Are post-modern blues turning people back to stricter doctrines and dogmas for structure? Since Easter just celebrated the anniversary of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I thought I’d take this opportunity to ponder a little bit about this apparent resurgence of Christianity.

There’s always been a strong Christian population that has been willing to spend money on Christian fiction; it’s just only recently that people outside of this community have noticed this fact. Libraries all over the country are rushing to purchase the Left Behind series by Timothy Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, a series that has already sold over 60 million copies. Most people are becoming quite familiar with this series, but I wonder if most people know just what the premise of these books actually is. The Left Behind series is based on the idea that the Rapture occurs in which Jesus takes faithful Christians to heaven with him, leaving the rest of the world behind to be tormented by the Antichrist. My favorite part of the series is how a sinister yet hunky Romanian uses the UN to establish one religion and government for the entire world. The writing is immature, the story line is ridiculous, and stereotypes appear so often that it basically makes me sick. Buried in the schlocky writing is a fundamentalist Christian message that, unfortunately, appeals to many people: repent, and the Antichrist won’t torment you. Lahaye’s interpretations of Biblical prophecies are just weird. Maybe if the writing had a bit of style to it I could at least get through a whole book and be able to mock all of it instead of just the generalities that I’m poking fun at here.

Frank E. Peretti’s book, This Present Darkness, first published in 1986, was one of the first fundamentalist Christian works to become widely popular. I have actually read this book, and though I find the plot to be unrealistic and filled with conspiracy theories, the writing is vivid and engaging. The religious beliefs presented here are a little less crazy than Lahaye, though the premise of the book is still much too wacky in my opinion: a New Age plans to take over the town of Ashton before taking over the world. By the power of prayer, the demons are defeated. This book is at least entertaining, though it does come across that if you’ve ever read your horoscope or bought a crystal necklace, you’re going to hell. After being pestered for what seemed like forever, a friend of mine finally got me to read The Da Vinci Code a few weekends ago. It was a fast-paced and dramatic read, reminding me of the early Grisham novels with the danger and intrigue. This book, however, is a definitely not a fundamentalist view of Christianity. In fact, the ideas presented in this book have been around for a long time and have been deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, a lot of the “history” presented in this book is not true, which is fine, since it’s fiction. But I’m sure many people read it like a textbook. If you have nothing to do one weekend, it’s fine to kill some time, and perhaps might even interest you in French dynasties. Plus, it’s a great girl-power book. Lastly, to beat a dead horse just a little more, I’m going to talk about The Passion of the Christ. I have seen it, and it absolutely repulsed me. It wasn’t just the violence that upset me, but the glorifying of torture that made me want to puke. If Jesus was just a man, then this movie was the closest thing to a snuff film ever made by a major Hollywood production company. If Jesus was God, then none of it matters, because he didn’t really die. All of the attention on the torturing of Jesus is appalling because from what I understand, the point of Christianity is to follow the teachings of Christ’s life — how he treated other people, and how he loved even those who hated him. Focusing on his death doesn’t bring anyone closer to a divine understanding of God.

In general, I’m sick of fundamentalist books and films propagating their idea of Christianity so that the entire religion comes off looking like a bunch of crazy people. It’s true that the Bible is written in a very accessible form, allowing people to take out of it what they see. But that doesn’t mean that every Christian agrees with the ideas of prominent Christians who have a podium to shout their beliefs from. Also, it’s dangerous to give books like The Da Vinci Code more authority and historical credence than they merit, as entertaining as they might be. Basically, I feel that if someone is going to promote their own idea of Christianity in film or print, fine, but at the very least, they need to make it well done and not try to pretend theirs is the only view of religion.

Archived article by Sue Karp