Friday, January 30, 2004

Books I'm Reading: American Jesus

Prothero, Stephen. American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

I've been skipping around like I sometimes do, reading in the middle, the back, whatever page opens. From what I've read so far, the book is great. For one thing, it helps me understand the Jesus People movement, which affected our family in several ways. My youngest sister got converted to Christ in a laundromat on Haight Street in San Francisco in 1970. I was led to return to my faith by a young woman who was in Campus Crusade for Christ in the late 70s, and in the early 80s I went to Jesus People Church in Minneapolis. All of these are included in the history Prothero tells.

This reminds me of another book with a similar theme that I read when I was in the Ph.D. program in American Studies. That author described very well (to my mind) the American version of Christianity, which teaches that followers of Jesus can claim and get health, wealth, and personal power if only they have enough faith. That belief of course is proof texted by selected passages that "prove" that Jesus came to bring us all these things and that if we don't have them it is our fault because we don't have enough faith. Their argument for the promise of health was a verse that says (in the King Jame's version which some evangelicals think is the only divinely inspired translation), "By his [Christ's ] stripes [scourging] we were healed."

When I was "a new Christian" I swallowed everything, but in retrospect it dawned on me that all of Jesus' apostles were martyred (except perhaps John). So much for health, wealth, and personal power. Jim Bakker and his wife were great proponents of that philosophy too.

I searched today at google and within some referenced sites for the above-mentioned book from the 80s, but it might be out of print. Tony Robbins came up in almost all the links.

His tapes promote those same ideals of health, wealth and personal power, which he claims are within the reach of those who follow his methods. Religion is absent from Robbin's sales pitch. To succeed you need to believe in Tony Robbins enough to pay him a lot of money for a set of tapes, and then you need to practice what he preaches. It worked for him, he tells us. He was out of work, overweight, depressed.

He didn't have a job, but he did have height and good looks, and good speaking ability. I have read some of his stuff (I read everything that comes my way). He is an example of one of my pet theories: that "logic" can be used to prove just about anything. When somebody writes a whole book supporting a set of theories with "facts" and "statistics" culled from God knows where, the average reader has no way to evaluate the accuracy of each of the cited "facts," which may be and often times are spurious. I have read maybe hundreds of books "proving" various and often contradictory theories. Hugh Hefner's Playboy Philosophy from 1962 comes to mind (because I believe it had a great influence on the thinking of my generation. And his "facts" were based on the equally erroneous "facts" promoted by sexologists Kinsey and Albert Ellis.

My husband loved Albert Ellis. When we visited New York City during one of our many road trips, we went to two places George just had to go: the Edgar Cayce institute and someplace on the upper East side to hear Albert Ellis talk.

I'm trying to think of ways to suggest how a person can safeguard against being swept away by that kind of writing. It seems to make sense while you read it. People internalize what they read and sometimes (often) go on to build their whole life's actions on ideas they have internalized from their reading, even if their emotions and their conscience tell them that what they are doing is wrong. I think of the example I've quoted elsewhere from John Updike's story about a man leaving his family, grieving over the violence he is causing to his wife, his children, his own memories, but determined to continue "because a man owes it to himself to pursue his sexual happiness."

I don't really know an answer. What has kept me out of a lot of harm in the last two decades of my life has been to follow Christianity as well as I knew how.

The current state of language as a means for communication is debased. As Orwell powerfully predicted in 1984, language has been corrupted, but not to suit the needs of the state.

The main thing that bothers me is that almost everyone's mind and heart has been captured by the rhetoric of the sexual revolution. Examples of how it hurts women and men and children and society are ignored. People recognize some of the evils it has spawned, but don't understand the root causes.

It inspires me to write a novel following the lives of a group of young people living out the ideals of the sexual revolution, working title Casualties of the Sexual Revolution. I may not be up to such an undertaking, but I pray that God will clear out the swamp of wrong thinking that makes up our society's values today.



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