The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Killing Jesus

September 4th, 2014 · No Comments · christianity, culture, media

Recently, conservative media darling Bill O’Reilly wrote a book called Killing Jesus. Normally, such an event would go unremarked by me, but there was an awesome review of the book on Salon that I really got a kick out of. Richard Price starts out by propping up his conservative bonefides, insisting that he is actually a big fan of O’Reilly. Then he gets out his steak knives and gets to work.

I haven’t read O’Reilly’s book, nor am I likely to. I’m not his audience, and I’m okay with that. According to Mr. Price, Killing Jesus is doctrinaire propaganda for the literalists and biblical inerrancy crowd, so I wouldn’t enjoy it much anway. Well the book irritated Price so much, he wrote a very stern blog post about it. He says, I should estimate that reporting the historical truth about Jesus falls somewhere between documenting the facts about Robin Hood and Superman.”

Comparing this book to Mel Gibson’s film Passion, he says, Both are exhibitions of popular piety aimed at reinforcing believers’ faith and stilling their doubts by providing a real-seeming illusion about the myths and legends of the gospels.” He sees the audience for such material as similar to those who read “End Times” fiction. Such materials, “help buttress faith in the ever-receding, always deferred Second Coming of Christ by depicting it in narrative form before the eyes of those who would really like to see the Rapture, the Great Tribulation and so on occurring on the evening news. They don’t. They can’t. So End Times fiction is the next best thing, a game of pretend.”

Just in case Church Lady hasn’t yet fainted, he whips out with: The familiar Sunday school tales are dressed up in pseudo-documentary form to make the Christian reader feel confident that the legends are historical reports, not legends at all.” 

In the next paragraph, he equates the sophomoric fact-checking in the book to the work Da Vinci Code‘s Dan Brown did, who based his work on Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh’s “cinderblock of misinformation”, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. All O’Reilly really did was crib from other literalist, historical Jesus writers. And it really upset Mr. Price that they would have such a point of contention.

The mythic Jesus position isn’t the popular stand among the general population. Within some circles, such beliefs are tolerated, but rarely encouraged. It’s interesting to hear from folks on the right playing the minimalist card, and rare enough to be noticeable. Having gone from the a strongly literalist position in my youth to the fully minimalist position today, I can appreciate the range of opinions between those two boundaries, and how challenging it is to make the transition.

It’s difficult to get believers to read something that begins by denying the reality of a god whose followers imagine so intently. O’Reilly definitely had the easier task here.