Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is Jesus Too Nice?

Ideas are resilient things; they never die. Even when an idea goes out of style (no matter how deservedly) it will always return at some point in the future. Otherwise, how to explain the popularity of things like leeches or swing dancing? While this may be comforting news to someone like Fosco who loves out-of-style ideas like Baked Alaska and Communism, it also means that all of history's bad ideas are (at most) only a decade or so away from revival.

Even though Fosco (mostly) believes this theory, he wasn't exactly expecting the recent return of Calvinism. (For those of you who are godless heathens, that's theological Calvinism, not illustrational Calivinism.) Theological Calvinism maintains, among other things, that (and Fosco is no theologian here, so please cut me some slack) individual salvation was determined in advance by God and there is nothing that a human being can do to affect their eternal fate. Some are predestined for heaven; some are predestined for hell. And there's nothing anyone can do about (including understanding why God would even do such a thing).

Calvinists arrive at this conclusion through the belief that there is nothing at all redeemable about humans, that they are corrupted through and through. So naturally, there is no way that a human could ever do anything that would result in pleasing God. Ergo, anyone who ends up in heaven must do so contingent on God's unknowable pleasure, rather than as a reward for anything that could be done on earth. It's kind of like a supernatural lottery. Actually, it's exactly like a supernatural lottery. And as religious faiths go, it's not exactly one of the warm and fuzzy ones.

You might think that such a faith would be radically out-of-touch with any but the most annoying of contemporary Christians. Well, you're right. But it seems that there are a lot more of these annoying people than you expected. According to a profile in Sunday's NYTimes Magazine, Calvinism is making a comeback, especially among youth in major urban centers like Seattle. According to the piece, one of the stars of the movement is Mark Driscoll:

Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos.
A macho Calvinism? What the hell would that look like? It's worse than you think:
On that Sunday, Driscoll preached for an hour and 10 minutes — nearly three times longer than most pastors. As hip as he looks, his message brooks no compromise with Seattle’s permissive culture. New members can keep their taste in music, their retro T-shirts and their intimidating facial hair, but they had better abandon their feminism, premarital sex and any “modern” interpretations of the Bible. Driscoll is adamantly not the “weepy worship dude” he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, “singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.”
Ummm. Okay. Fosco would just like to point out that, based on all the pictures we have, Jesus' hair is a bit too long for product--you really can't style hair of that length. As if product would have held up in that heat, anyway!

Sick of this guy yet? It gets better:
The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”
Richard Simmons! (Incidentally, Richard Simmons is another man whose hair is not amenable to product.) You know, I tend to think that if Jesus was worried about comparisons to Richard Simmons, He probably wouldn't have kept forcing his disciples to weigh in while telling everyone to "love your neighbor as yourself, girl!" I think it's also worth pointing out that Richard Simmons has already sent fifteen people to hell (mostly drifters). But seriously, just when you think Christianity can't get any more homophobic, some nuts go and "out" Jesus.

Of course, all of this macho Jesus shit is going to sound just a little familiar to any of you who have studied Victorian culture. Back then, it was called muscular Christianity and it celebrated physical activity and manliness as Christian virtue. It was also an influential movement in the US. As far as Fosco knows, it wasn't a particularly Calvinist thing; however, in the same way that ideas never die, they also endlessly recombine to form stupid new remixes.

Next week's stupid remix: Jews for Jesus. Oh wait, that's real. Ummm. How about compassionate Conservatism? Oh really? That one's real too? Gee. Maybe "lesbians who love being teabagged"? Does that work?

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