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The death penalty and Iraq have proven that it is not killing per se that vexes right-wing fundamentalist Christians. Rather, they make a fetish of helplessness and innocence: the thought of unadulterated fetuses sucked unceremoniously back into the void is a torment. Then there is Terry Schiavo, whose being brain-dead made her especially helpless, therefore especially pure. (A corpse won’t do however, the point is to have something warm and pulsing on which to hang the tatters of your heart, so when reasons start to invade your thoughts you can reply to them, “don’t be so heartless!”). Under this rubric we can place some forms of worship of Jesus Christ: not as a long-haired, socialist gadfly and pacifist hippie. There are only two acceptable forms of Jesus: little baby Jesus, and Jesus with large nails connecting him to beams of wood. These Jesuses are sufficiently catatonic, whether in manger or on cross, to arouse right-wing pathos.

One might imagine that Jesus would rightly object to the millenia of abuse to which he’s been subjected via such images. And perhaps he will return (grown up, mobile, brain fully intact) to put everything straight. It might involve a little heavy handedness — showing up to sweep the baked goods of the Church bake-sale tables, for instance (“this is a house of prayer!”).

By the time he gets heavy handed he’s proven himself, of course — the videos of miracles have made their appearance on YouTube. No one doubts he’s Jesus; the question is, who is Jesus? And there is inevitable conflict with his own followers, right-wing or not. Why is Jesus stealing crucifixes from Churches and publicly destroying them? Why is he showing up to heckle sermonizers, carrying “Twilight of the Idols” and “The Anti-Christ” and quoting Nietzsche about the “stench” of the church? Why is showing up at anti-war protests but not at pro-life rallies? Why does he seem a little unhinged, subjecting parties of church women to his angry ranting and even lurid stares (“Oh my, I just thought we were going to spend some nice time with Jesus”), a regular Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon.

It’s not that Jesus has lost his ability to be calm and peaceful and nice (a “rock”), it’s just that in this brave new world, and in a world with so many worshipers, he finds himself lost and unforgiving. There are TV appearances that are just plain odd, in which he makes Paula Abdul look coherent. There are others in which he is more brooding and full of scotch and strangely articulate than Christopher Hitchens. There are bitter debates with Anne Coulter on Fox news: (her with precious, self-satisfied irony) “I think we should arrest Jesus and convert him to Christianity”. We begin to wonder about Jesus — “Jesus, are you ok?” becomes the signature opening line of TV interviewers.

And we do all wonder about his mental stability. But some now openly wonder about his divinity — once a non-issue, but Jesus has not trotted out the magic tricks in a long time, and these days our attention span is short. “Come on Jesus,” says Bill Maher, “I’m your biggest fan. I’ll have you on every show if you want. But if you really are Jesus, teleport us to the Playboy Mansion right now. Prove to me that you are who you say you are. It’s not that I don’t believe in you, I just want to see it with my own eyes.”

Meanwhile, the Whitehouse vigils have shaken the Bush administration:

Bush
Good Cheney man, they’re right out side our yard
Good Cheney man, go call the National Guard

Cheney
No wait ….
We need a more permanent solution
To our problem
(Besides, the National Guard are all in Iraq)

What then to do about Jesus of America, miracle wonderman, hero of fools?

Look, it’s not that the world has no imagination, it’s just that history tends to repeat itself. That Jesus will end up back where he belongs, on the cross, is a foregone conclusion. And the perpetrators will regret it soon enough (“Oh Jesus, how could we have done that to you again?”) and fall to their knees and beg forgiveness. And Christ will have to pick himself up, dust himself off, and make another go of it. And the Christians, to their slight irritation, will have to get off their knees and watch it happen all over again. And in fact, the cycle will repeat itself endlessly, and the loop will tighten up considerably, but like dieters we simply will not be able to resist the temptation no matter how many times we experience the regret. In this Groundhog Day situation, Jesus and his crucifixion will become a regular part of our lives, and we will wonder at our own fickleness, after the foot of a cross has become a major tourist attraction, a must-see: “God, why hast thou forsaken me (for the 578th time)”. And the pilgrims can’t help thinking: “Jesus, he’s keeping count?”

And this cycle will not end until someone realizes that we can have Jesus to ourselves — baby Jesuslike, immobile, and totally innocent forever — if we induce just enough brain damage and fire up the life support. It’s a sad ending to the saga. Think of all those crazy times, all the things Jesus did while ambulatory upon the earth: the time he became a Muslim and changed his name to “Jesus Mohammed” and got on the no-fly list; the rumors of an affair with Lindsey Lohan (and many, many others); that crazy appearance at the Academy Awards — best supporting actor as Judas in a re-make of “Last Temptation” where Mark Wahlberg plays Jesus himself; the trial for pedophilia (“Jesus Christ Innocent”, reads the headline); the death from cocaine overdose (the only cycle in which he avoided crucifixion); and all the other times he pushed the envelope and tried to break out of that Jesus “image”, that “baggage” as he liked to call it (via the kind of high-risk behavior that kept getting him crucified).

But that all comes to end, and Jesus lives out a long last life as an innocent vegetable. That really takes the joy out of eternal return, so he just stops. And then the world laments this (“how could we be so sinful as to make life intolerable to Jesus!”), and Christianity continues with quite a bit more to chew on, and there are holy wars and revivals and ever bigger screen TVs in ever larger mega-churches, and the divine never again makes an appearance upon the earth.

(Disclaimer: this gospel is based strictly on revelation and not, for instance, on a viewing of Jesus Christ Superstar).

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