Jesus Junk, Seriously?

Earlier this week I started reading  Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh.

Jesus Junk Flip FlopsIt’s full of descriptions of Jesus Junk, Bible-themed games and toys, religious theme parks (who don’t call themselves theme parks because they want to be tax exempt), Christian rock concerts and aerobics classes, Biblical sex advice — you name it. If it’s kitschy and Jesusy, it’s in this book. Check out some of the Jesus Junk on the author’s website. The stuff I remember from the 70s and 80s is on steroids in the 21st century! 

I wasn’t planning to write about this book on Skepchick, but it turned out to be much more interesting than the cover and title let on.

Serious part below the fold:

I shopped for Christian albums and comic books, sheet music, Bibles and books at Christian book stores in the 1970s and 80s, but other products were scarce. Message t-shirts had started to come out but I was a Christian when I was in high school. I’d gotten used to not being popular, and although I did carry my fat leather-covered Bible to all of my classes, there was no way I was going to sport “Jesus Saves” on my boobs. Today, apparently, Witness Wear can be cool. I always seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although it’s easy to make fun of Christian kitsch and Jesus Junk, Radosh goes beyond his initial instinct to laugh and he takes the time to talk to the people who produce and consume products and services for the Christian market. What he discovers, is that the evangelical community is much more diverse than one would be led to believe by the media.

I must admit, many of the products and ideas discussed in Rapture Ready! deserve to be mocked. Although I can still feel the tug of my old beliefs whenever I read books like this, I also feel disgust and anger over the way I was manipulated when I was younger. I also can’t stand the arrogance and hypocrisy of people who think they know the best and only right way to live, and who claim that they can’t be expected to live up to their own standards because “I’m not perfect. Just forgiven.” This kind of false humility makes me want to puke. It comes from living a sheltered and coddled life, insulated in a subculture that considers the outside World — the real world — to be dangerous and evil. This insulation, I think, is a both a cause and effect of fundamentalism. One question Radosh raises is: does Christian pop culture encourage or discourage this type of isolation?

As usual, after reading the first couple of chapters, I skipped to the end. I found something very interesting there, and much more serious than I expected to find in a book about pop culture. 

Having met [moderate Christians] and seen their growing discomfort with the way their faith has been represented to the nation over the past two and a half decades, I’ve come to conclude that they are the ones who will bring about the demise of the religious right — probably the only ones who can. The recent vogue for neoatheism notwithstanding, nontheistic rationalists are grossly outnumbered and outgunned. Picking a fight with fundamentalists may be emotionally satisfying, and morally and academically correct, but we’re going to get our teeth kicked in. Moderate Christians, however, have a fighting chance at quelling fundamentalism, ant at least as much at stake in doing so.

It is often said that the strident tone of the new atheists turns off potential allies to the “secular cause.” That may be true, but I don’t think it’s terribly important. What is of greater consequence is that by framing the debate as any religion versus no religion, atheists force religious moderates to side with fundamentalists–to forge alliances based on a single shared concept about the existence of a supernatural deity when they might actually have more in common with people who share their beliefs about other things, such as the nature of society and the respect that should be accorded to one’s fellow man. After all, secularism as a sociopolitical model is not exclusively the property of the nonreligious.

What do you think? I’m not quite willing to admit that I’m going to get my teeth kicked in. But I do sometimes wish I were still a Christian so I could speak to a Christian audience without being automatically written off as a mouthpiece of Satan.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. I *LOVE* the sandals, but only if you read them in the correct order, turning it into a command for the only-begotten-son:

    “Jesus, follow!”

  2. As a more serious response to the issue brought up in the last chapter of the book, I’ve struggled with understanding the concept of religious moderation (see here and here). To me, either one accepts that the Bible (or any other such book) is, as it claims, the unerring word of god, or it isn’t.

    I suppose I am in favor of religious moderation. The fewer stonings of gays and adulterers the better… I just don’t understand where one draws the line and says “well, God didn’t really mean it when he told Saul that women shouldn’t be allowed to speak in church.”

  3. greenishblu,

    Did you read our discussion about this last week?

    Regarding Saul (Paul), my conclusion was this:

    As I went through all of Paul’s letters to find what he had to say about women, I decided that I simply did not agree with him. This made me nervous. Was I in rebellion against God because I disagreed with something in the Bible? It turns out that Paul himself let me off the hook when he noted twice in I Corinthians 7 that he was giving his own opinion, not God’s law. “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord,” and, “I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment…” he wrote, specifically when giving advice to women (about whom he knew nothing, being single and allegedly celibate). Paul’s words, I saw, weren’t necessarily God’s words. Some things in the Bible were just opinions.

    It was probably my first step in understanding that the whole Bible was just a collection opinions!

  4. I would identify myself as a moderate Christian. I still get automatically written off as a mouthpiece of Satan by some. Others, even among the most fundamentalist, are perfectly willing to listen and discuss theological and political issues. We may not end up agreeing, but we can have a meaningful discussion.

    This is about the same as in discussions with atheists. If both sides start by attempting to understand the other, there is a meaningful exchange and both sides tend to further refine their views and move toward the middle.

    On the other hand, arguments with hostile atheists tend to end with me closer to fundamentalists than before. Arguments with hostile fundamentalists end with me closer to liberalism.

    So we need to get the extremists on both sides to shut up, and maybe we can get some rationality in politics!

  5. Actually, no I must have missed that. Interesting. I’ll have to go back and give the whole thread a read! Thanks for the heads-up. :)

  6. I am a moderate Christian, and I find that discussions with fundamentalists tend to be nonproductive except in that my blood pressure goes up. They (and I realize I’m lumping fundamentalists together here monolithically, and I don’t much care) tend to be so convinced that they are right, and that only they are right, that they can take a self-righteous “poor misguided person, let me love you and help you get closer to Christ” attitude even with the folks with whom they have something in common theologically. I agree with Andrew C that little progress will be made if we only have dialog with the extremes, but unfortunately they tend to be the most vocal participants.

    Brief digression: on my university campus we recently had a roundtable discussion on how homosexuality is dealt with in the Bible. While the panelists took the Episcopal position (that there is nothing inherently sinful about homosexual relationships), one member of the audience proceeded to rattle off snippets of Scripture that spoke against their position, with the unspoken conclusion that it was the words that matter rather than that overarching message; sort of a forest-vs-trees argument, I guess.

    I guess my point, rambling though it may be, is that the evangelical community has been caught up with so much emphasis on leading the “Christian Life” that they don’t have time for the actual message of Christ, which was almost exclusively one of active involvement in social justice. As one panel member said as I was leaving the room (I had a meeting that I couldn’t postpone), “Jesus said that he was the fulfillment of the Law; it is fulfilled. We no longer need it.” (I paraphrase but this is very close to his actual wording). So I certainly hope that we moderates can bring about the demise of the Religious Right, at least as a political force, and show the world that you can be a Christian without being an asshole.

  7. What I’ve noticed is that there are (loosely) two kinds of defenders of religion from a book by one of the horsemen.

    Fundamentalists attack by pointing out what evil scum atheists are. (Hitler, Stalin, Etc.) and then how we are all fundamentalists yadda yadda yadda…

    Moderates defend by pointing out what evil scum atheists are (Hitler, Stalin, Etc) and then how we are all fundamentalists yadda yadda yadda…

    But moderates ALSO go to great pains to point out that they do not share the loony ideas described by Harris et. al. And that’s important.

    The reason its important is that the fundamentalists DO believe these things, and the new atheists point that out. Yes, they point out a common enemy… but they also point out to moderates who their allies are. It is no coincidence that moderate christianity is starting to fight fundamentalist bullies now, perhaps.

  8. sethmanapio , sounds like you’ve just read I Don’t Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges. :-)

    I don’t think Radosh is saying anything like that about atheists, at least not in the parts of the book I’ve read so far. I hope to finish it this weekend. He’s Jewish and apparently goes to Synagogue, but from the part I quoted above, he seems to group himself in with unbelievers.

  9. I don’t think it’s possible to know whether there is or is not (are or are not) a god (gods). By definition that sort of experience is removed from the everyday. My response to that issue is to say: given that I see no reason to believe in a god, I won’t. That’s why I consider myself an atheist, and there are many others with the same outlook.

    It’s my understanding that many moderate religious people are people who see that same issue and say: I have a gut feeling that a god exists. Since it’s an impossible-to-prove question anyway, that’s the best I have to go on, so I will believe.

    As long as no one’s militant about it — just saying, this is my best guess based on my experience and perspective — I think it’s easy to imagine an alliance between people who think in these two ways.

  10. “sethmanapio , sounds like you’ve just read I Don’t Believe in Atheists by Chris Hedges. :-) ”


    Heard him on POI!

    My point isn’t so much about moderates not liking atheists, so much as moderates distancing themselves from fundamentalists. People go to great pains to show how their brand of xtian is different than the one Hitchens or whoever is criticizing.

    That’s important because maybe some moderates don’t know about the real crazies.

  11. “I have a gut feeling that a god exists. Since it’s an impossible-to-prove question anyway, that’s the best I have to go on, so I will believe.”

    cornflower,thanks for putting into words something I have been thinking about for some time now. You have described the religious “belief” of myself and many of my friends quite well with that simple sentence.

  12. I confess that’s a question I have issues finding a comfortable position on. On the one hand, if we place religious believers on a scale of scriptural literalism and adherence to beliefs that stand in contrast to fact, placing, say, Wahhabist Muslims on one end with the Rapture-ready crew a few notches down on one end, with Deist/Unitarian Universalist-types, sans essentially all supernatural notions or a favorite book by an invisible friend on the other end, an argument can be made with cooling our jets and shaking up with anyone towards the rational end of any particular issue.

    On the other hand, we have the question of whether such arrangements are, so to speak, dances with the devil. If the issue is that, at the end of the day, belief in divine favor unsubstantiated by evidence is a time bomb waiting to flower into bad decisions of other kinds, laying off the moderates seems more like surrender.

    The “Sam Harris hypothesis” is one more wrinkle-does government support or free social license for moderate faith breed an atmosphere where extremism can flourish, under the aegis of religious tolerance?

    And (rant on) in a nation where more than half of the population denies Darwinian evolution, or in a world where the most moderate Muslim nations still have majority approval of the occasional use of suicide bombers against civilian targets, where the hell are the moderates? (rant off)

  13. “I have a gut feeling that a god exists. Since it’s an impossible-to-prove question anyway, that’s the best I have to go on, so I will believe.”



    I have a gut feeling that fairies exist.
    I have a gut feeling that homosexuality is against God’s will.
    I have a gut feeling that the earth is 6000 years old.
    I have a gut feeling that I recieve coded signals from aliens via the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

    For a given definition of “prove”, you can decide that ANY of these propositions are impossible to prove. The first 2 are unprovable in exactly the same sense as the god concept, and the last is only different in its weirdness.

    Does it make sense to accept any of them? And how does it alter your behavior? Moderate christianity is sort of the equivalent of someone who says that YES, the aliens exist, but they are NOT sending signals through Limbaugh… or if they are, they aren’t specific calls to action but just gentle hints about the right direction to take in life. Depending on our definition of moderate.

  14. I frankly don’t care if people believe in God as long as (in no particular order):

    1) They try to use reason for making most or all of their day-to-day decisions.

    2) They don’t try to force anyone else to believe or claim that those who don’t believe are damned for eternity or in any way less righteous/good/etc.

    3) They don’t try to push their religious agenda onto everyone else through politics.

    There may be more, but that’s what comes to mind immediately.

    I really like this post on The Friendly Atheist, which sort of reframes the fundamentalist/moderate issue to totalitarian/pluralist. It makes a lot of sense to me (although the article linked to leaves out unbelievers entirely…sigh)….

  15. But I do sometimes wish I were still a Christian so I could speak to a Christian audience without being automatically written off as a mouthpiece of Satan.

    But just because you are no longer a Christian doesn’t mean you can’t speak with some authority when dealing with evangelical or fundamentalist Christians.

    I am an ex-fundamentalist and I find the fact that I was and that I no longer believe a strong combination. Not that I seek out opportunities to confront. But, when it does occur I typically start off be saying, “I remember believing the very same thing” and then giving more details so the person knows that I know what he or she is referring to.

    Good post, BTW. Love the sandals, too. :)

  16. Marnie, I’m not sure anyone is talking about dismissing atheism’s relevance. Can you clarify what you’re talking about? I just don’t think we can expect to get a lot of de-converts, at least not in the US, so we should work with those believers who share common political and societal goals with us.

  17. Sorry, I could have been more clear on that. I was responding to the quote in your post about atheism alienating moderate Christians, which I find disheartening.

    atheists force religious moderates to side with fundamentalists

    Atheism should have no more impact on whether a Christian is a moderate or an extremist than vegetarianism. But study after study seems to suggest that American are frightened and distrustful of atheists. Just bothers me. Perhaps it’s a tangent :)

  18. I see, yeah, well that’s true. And I agree with you. Why should atheism have any impact on the type of Christianity a believer follows?

    But I think what the guy was trying to say was that when atheists say all believers are just as bad as fundamentalists — or if you believe in god you are an idiot — then they do alienate moderate Christians.

  19. That’s a good point. I would argue though that people who claim that you can’t be a good and true Christian if you support neo conservatism, may very well push moderates in the other direction as well. Every group has its extremists and most people hate that they appear to speak for the more moderate under the same label. I just think a lot of the well balanced, friendly, good hearted, charitable and conscientious atheists feel they have to be somewhat or totally closeted so as not to be reviled. If more were open and comfortable, then the extremists wouldn’t seem like the norm and there could be more logical and thoughtful debate.

    Ok, did I totally get off topic. I’ll stop if you’d like. hehe

  20. If more were open and comfortable, then the extremists wouldn’t seem like the norm and there could be more logical and thoughtful debate.

    I agree with this 100%. I am very out about my atheism and I run into people all the time — at the bookstore, at cafes, at knitting shops, etc. — who break into a huge grin when I say I’m an atheist and say “Wow! Me too!” I would never know about them if I didn’t out myself first. And Colorado is not exactly a bastion of liberalism. I live only 90 minutes away from Focus on the Family and a huge mega church here is fighting to annex land to build a commune.

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