Six Flags Over Jesus


Thought this might be of interest to some. An interesting excerpt:

Don’t you think there’s an element of condescension in saying the congregants are using religion to escape from or cover up the problems in their own life? Don’t some of the members profoundly believe in God and find that religion serves a positive purpose in their lives?

In the introduction, I say that it’s a cliché for the snobbish, urbane writer to go hang around the rubes and pick on them for their primitive ideas. On some level, it’s kind of a villainous endeavor. But I tried to be aware of that the entire time and not be condescending in the way I treated these particular people. I tried to make them all out to be whole human beings. In these kind of mega-churches, what’s really striking is that there’s so little that’s like a genuine religious communion. They’re more like factories, like fast-food franchises, than they are like churches or communities.

23 Responses to “Six Flags Over Jesus”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    Seems like he spreads his condescention around — doesn’t hoard it up for one particular group.

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    And since I’m seeking Truth these days in Amazon’s customer reviews, review #2 of the book JU’s post is about is a masterpiece that was worth reading in its entirety because of a single sentence in the middle of the review that I assume only makes sense if you’ve actually read the book (which I haven’t). The writer compares something that’d happened in the book to one of my all-time favorite movies: Joe Dirt. I love Joe Dirt — used to watch it all the time — and I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything and actually had the movie Joe Dirt spring to mind. So all kinds of props to this reviewer.

  3. alsturgeon Says:

    Wow, that was a very interesting interview. The balkanization deal is a biggie, and the “factory vs. community” observation is worth discussing.

    I got a kick out of the alcoholic circus clown father bit, but the funniest part is that he probably found it funny that people believed him. What he doesn’t realize is that much more outlandish backgrounds are common in church circles. 🙂

  4. dejon05 Says:

    This Taibbi sounds like a fiery, irreverent firebrand who holds no loyalty to objectivity and employs Machiavellian tactics and situational ethics to make his point.

    I immediately put his book at the top of my wish list.

    Most of us here have bandied around the topics of church, religion, theology, etc. for quite a few years now. And the more I think about where I’ve come from and what I’ve seen and carried away from my church heritage, the more I identify with Taibbi.

    Some one asked me just the other day, “What are you looking for in a church?” And the question left me biting my tongue. The first retort that came to mind was “sanity… as a starting point.” Quickly followed by a firm grasp on reality, and (not to get greedy here but) it would also be nice to have some sense of purpose outside of self-service.

    I particularly enjoyed the discussion between Taibbi and the interviewer re: the dangers of equating Christians with members of the 9/11 Truth Movement. The question is legit and pointed, but I like Taibbi’s counter.

    The interviewer justly points out the differences between the “truthers” and the religious. And Taibbi responds by drawing parallels that I’ve seen from my vantage point as well.

    He states:both groups sort of violently disbelieve in the humanity of anybody who is outside the group.

    Concur… Good stuff.

  5. alsturgeon Says:

    And what’s ironic is that (I believe) what’s to be different about Christianity is this very thing.

  6. mrspeacock Says:

    Reading this article, I really identified with Taibbi, then I had to back up for a moment. Something I realized a few years back is that I’m very non-judgmental when it comes to non-Christians (thank you for that lesson, mom and dad), but I have a BIG problem judging Christians. Especially Christians who are judgmental! Aaah, the hypocrisy. Dad pointed that out to me one day, and I thought, “Crap. Something I’m going to have to work on.”

    Granted, I still challenge the religion-as-politics stance, and I’m completely opposed to the self-serving, “insane,” non-thinking Christianity DeJon speaks about. It’s just that nowadays I try to challenge that notion with a little less hostility.

    I am happy to report that the “insane” church is no longer my experience. I spent last Sunday afternoon helping Memphis Urban Ministry get ready to host a summer camp for inner city kids this summer. A couple of Sundays back, some friends and I bought non-perishables and stuffed boxes for people who come to the church asking for food. The church’s primary focus is service and outreach, and it’s like hearing an Amos Lee song after an entire album of Linkin Park.

    Amen to Al’s comment. Preach on!

  7. urbino Says:

    Something I realized a few years back is that I’m very non-judgmental when it comes to non-Christians (thank you for that lesson, mom and dad), but I have a BIG problem judging Christians.

    But isn’t that part of your job, as a member of a church community? The NT takes insiders of various kinds (Pharisaic, Jewish, Christian, Jewish-Christian, rich Christian, etc.) to task for judging outsiders, but does not tread lightly when it comes to insiders judging and disciplining insiders. It is a well exampled practice, and Paul makes it quite clear that while judging “the servant of another” is none of one’s business, judging insiders is a duty.

    As Al-erwaus (a new terrorist group?) might ask, how can the church be a disciplined community if internal judgments are not made?

    Closing one’s critical eye isn’t what’s taught, AFAICT. Rather, turning it inward instead of outward. Thus a church community can be a community without falling into the trap of tribalism that DeJon commented on.

  8. dejon05 Says:

    JU beat me to it. I would only add that Jesus left his harshest sentiments for the “insiders”
    – “brood of vipers”
    – “white washed tombs”
    – “get behind me Satan”
    – “blind leaders of the blind”
    – “…honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me”

    Seems pretty critical to me.

  9. alsturgeon Says:

    The proof text for proof texters is 1st Corinthians 5. Paul makes it abundantly clear that the Church is to judge the Church.

    And the popular “do not judge” injunction from Jesus is an interesting case study as well – he goes on to talk about planks and specks, but a close reading reveals that Jesus is in favor of judging a brother but only after very careful self-examination.

    But in a sense, all this says everybody can be right (man, I absolutely LOVE being a postmodern!). Though judging the Church is a requirement for Church Folk, one can also have a “problem” with judging other Christians (i.e. not carefully examining planks, etc.). So, there.

  10. urbino Says:


    I knew that looked wrong when I typed it. Should be: Al-erwas.

  11. alsturgeon Says:

    I like Al-erwas.

  12. urbino Says:

    Stanbert Alerwas?

  13. alsturgeon Says:

    Has a nice ring, no?

  14. mrspeacock Says:

    Come on now, boys! Just when I’m starting to see some progress, you tell me that I was better off before! All that self reflection for nothing.

    But isn’t that part of your job, as a member of a church community?
    Sure, it is (as Al so adeptly pointed out). Thus the reason for my second paragraph. My problem is with the hostility I sometimes see in myself. It is very easy for me to see the flaws of the modern church. It’s what comes most naturally. But the first tenant of true Christianity is love, and that doesn’t only apply to outsiders. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” right?

    Yes, Jesus railed on the Pharisees constantly, and that point isn’t lost on me for a minute. But I’m not exactly the Son of God here, so I’m still trying to employ that whole speck/plank business.

  15. urbino Says:

    I don’t think it’s intended to be a sequential process, Mrs.P: first get the speck/plank thing down, then hold insiders to account.

    I realize that’s not what you said, but what you said does sort of suggest that line of thinking.

    Hostility is nearly always counter-productive, and therefore a thing to be deployed with great discretion, of course. But both Jesus and Paul deployed it (with insiders). Nor does it seem one needs to be a divinity (or an apostle) to do it. In neither of the two most famous cases (driving out the temple crooks and “I wish they’d just castrate themselves!” []) is anything supernatural at play. Jesus doesn’t whip the religious swindlers because he’d looked into their hearts in some divine way and found them evil; he does it because their actions make them religious swindlers. Similarly in Paul’s case, no supernatural apostolic mojo is employed; just ordinary “by their fruits ye shall know them” observation.

  16. urbino Says:

    The “[]” above means nothing. I had to stick something in between the close quote and the close parenthesis to keep it from being converted to a quite inappropriate “) face.

  17. dejon05 Says:

    One can probably gather from my tone when issues re: organized church–particularly the state of said organization in contemporary southern U.S.—comes up in conversation that I’ve ran in to a person or two willing to point out that it is no better to judge harshly and with malice the people that call themselves Christians than it is those that do not.

    I’ve had this conversation a number of times resulting in varying degrees of mutual understanding.

    Each time a common issue emerges. After any pursuant discussion it becomes clear that the person providing me my warning is not as concerned with what s/he may perceive as my malice, but is more concerned with anyone who might be pointing out major flaws in the church model over which they hold a great sense of pride and ownership.

    You see I’ve found that contemporary churches often times have found a unique way to talk about things of spiritual importance without engaging spiritual importance at all.

    But those addicted to this church model do not like it when someone points out the distance between churchiness and spiritual relevance. To attack the system or the model is to attack a fundamental part of the church member, and often tears at the foundation for their world view.

    While this issue may not be germane to the thread above, I have found it particularly surprising and disheartening.

  18. mrspeacock Says:

    I’m pretty sure this thread is dead, but I did want to say that I’ve only been speaking of my own experience. My posts haven’t been a passive-aggressive attempt to condemn your perception the modern church. You didn’t say that, but in light of your last post, I wanted to clear it up just in case.

  19. DeJon05 Says:

    mrspeacock said: My posts haven’t been a passive-aggressive attempt to condemn your perception the modern church.

    A kind and appreciated sentiment, but I was much more concerned that you might see my opinion as predatory. I assure you it is not. I whole-heartedly respect the work you report from your ecumenical community.

    My sentiments are directed more broadly, and spawn from my sense of a strong need for an advocatus diaboli critique to the church’s often-ignored dark side.

  20. alsturgeon Says:

    I despise dead threads. 🙂

    DeJon’s last sentence. Wow. That sounds like lawyer talk!

  21. urbino Says:

    I once had some avocado diaboli at this Mexican place. Not recommended.

  22. alsturgeon Says:

    Spawned a strong need for something else, eh?

  23. DeJon05 Says:

    If I’ve learned anything in this world, (and that’s up for debate) it is this. Everything is cooler in Latin.

    ab uno disce omnes

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