Esquire devoted more than 6,000 words to "Jesus 2004." How does this affect GetReligion's soul?
GetReligion rejoices that Esquire has published so many words on a topic of obviously keen interest to religion writers. But we grieve, to the point of wanting to rend our garments, that Esquire is being miserly about distributing the article online. (It's available for $2.95 from KeepMedia, and is supposed to be offered through that site's MediaPass feature later this week.)
Who is Tom Junod?
He is a writer at large for Esquire, which means he's better known -- at least to that magazine's mostly male, super-wealthy readership -- than the editors of GetReligion. In 1998 Junod wrote a highly acclaimed profile of Fred Rogers, which informed a Christianity Today cover story in March 2000.
What does Tom Junod know about Jesus?
Enough to write a witty piece that skewers Americans' tendency to interpret Jesus in our own image. Consider these two questions and two answers:
He really does sound like a great guy.
He can't help but be a great guy. "It's a matter of cocreation," Barbara Hall says. "He asks me, 'Who do you need me to be today?' And I say the same thing to him." We should all be so flexible.
Isn't the Jesus she describes just a new-agey, Hollywood Jesus?
Jesus' capacity to be the man -- or woman -- who stares back at you when you look in the mirror obeys no party lines. "On the Right, he's inappropriately recruited as an advocate of privatizing social security or making tax cuts permanent," says Gary Bauer. "But a lot of people from the Left write me and quote Jesus, and the only quote they know is 'Judge not, lest ye be judged.' They've turned him into a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, the ultimate social worker who will excuse you for anything you may do."
Who do you interview to write a profile of Jesus?
Junod writes that he interviewed 28 people, most of them Christians -- or, as Esquire's sarcastic deck describes them, "those who know him well." Junod adds that he "operated on the principle that no one believer is more of an authority than any other -- that belief is an authority in and of itself. It is the key to Jesus' ubiquity, the belief that there is an objective Jesus who can be known only by the most intensely subjective faith."
It's an amusing gimmick that allows Junod to poke fun at pastors like Randy Mickler of Mount Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia, whom he quotes as saying about the recent fascination with Jesus, "I believe the Holy Spirit is in this up to his eyebrows."
Are you confused by anything in Junod's article?
Yes. It's hard to decipher why widespread faith in Jesus somehow becomes a threat to nothing less than American democracy.
Is it a good thing -- good for American democracy; good for the American polity; good for the American soul -- for so many Americans to be following Jesus? Don't go there.
. . . The American experiment is unique in history because it's supposed to be just that, an experiment. The American character derives most of its best qualities -- its optimism, its humor, its tolerance, its genuinely democratic inclinations -- from the fact that its nature is forever unsettled. If "Jesus" is the answer to what is meant to be an ongoing question, then we cede our national capacity for self-examination to a guy who's even more averse to press conferences than our president.
Junod's concerns are addressed by the very diversity of views about Jesus contained within his article. In the Republican primaries of 2000, Gary Bauer was the nightmare candidate for people expecting Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale to begin reading like a daily journal of life in evil Amerika. If Bauer is willing to acknowledge how both the Right and the Left use Jesus for their own purposes, how much should anyone worry that most Christians will say that "Jesus" is the answer to every possible political question?
If Junod believes Christians are that one-dimensional in their political thinking, he may need to interview more than 28 people for his next article.