Book Review – Grand Theft Jesus (Part 1)

I just finished reading the book Grand Theft Jesus — The Hijacking of Religion in America by Robert S. McElvaine.  I really expected to love the book:  after all, he starts out sympathizing with

“the Christian Messiah (as he) looks at the crew of megachurch preachers, televangelists, hypocrites, imposters, snake-oil salesmen, and just plain snakes who have hijacked the name of Christianity, perpetrated identity theft against Jesus, subverted his teachings, transformed his name into a representation of just the opposite of what he stands for, mocked and damned those who advocate what he actually said, and shouted ‘Jesus! JESUS! Jeee-SUSS!’ at the top of their lungs to distract attention from their crimes against the one they blaspheme.”

Anyone who’s read more than five minutes in this blog knows I resonate with that sentiment.  But despite the fact that the author –in my estimation– correctly catalogs and decries the manifold abuses of the Religious Right (who he alternatively mocks as the “Irreligious Wrong” or the “Xian Lite”), I found the book an exhausting read.   The first three quarters of the book are an unrelenting tirade against the evils of the “Christian” Right and their outright distortions of the message of Jesus, and however well-deserved McElvaine’s accusations may be, I started feeling like I was just reading a left-wing equivalent of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter.  That may be refreshing to some…and if I defined what is wrong with conservative Christianity primarily by its being associated with the “wrong” wing, maybe I’d like it.  But I’m getting to the point where I’m tired of nastiness and ad-hominem regardless of whether I like the target (or the attacker) or not.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I remain firmly convinced that a great deal that passes for conservative Christianity in America today is misguided at best and idolatrous at worst.  I am deeply offended at the hatred and bloodshed and plain-old meanness that are frequently perpetrated by those who loudly shout the name of Jesus.  I’ve said before, and it’s still true, that if all I knew of Jesus came from what I’ve seen of Christians, I wouldn’t be one either.

But replacing right-wing vitriol with left-wing vitriol, to me, is not progress.  If you feel the same, I suspect you, like me, would find Grand Theft Jesus to be an unpleasant read.

There are other issues.  In the last two chapters of the book, McElvaine does some spectacularly sloppy exegesis of Genesis 1-3 and comes up with a truly mind-bending screed against the male domination of society in general and religion in particular.  I’ll get into that in a separate post.

But for now, I’ll just say that while I’d probably enjoy a lively discussion over multiple beers with McElvaine, I cannot recommend his book.  More’s the pity too!

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