Hipster Jesus, A New Bible And The Re-Marketing Of Belief

“We don’t need to edit God. We need to let him be the author of our new lives.” – Stephen James

There is a growing trend toward reinventing the bible and constructing a new Jesus. I am not referring to the Conservative Bible,” which had all the “Liberal” bits cut out, or the one put out by the Jesus Seminar folks. Those have changes along theological lines, and are basically arguments about which version of a fairy tale is more accurate. Suffice to say, who cares? What I am referring to is the removal of “soft words” and replacing them with words that reflect a closer rendition to the words of the ancient languages used when the bible was constructed. These new words do not change context, but focus on a re-tooling that reflects the church’s attempt to re-market Christianity, as does the reconstruction of Jesus, which I will cover a little further down.

The quote I used above was written by Stephen James, a Christian author of more than 30 books, including “Flirting with the Forbidden,” which explores forgiveness from a Christian point of view, and is part of an article he posted last weekend on CNN’s “Belief Blog.” His article stood out to me because it points to the above, and is something that I had been noticing as part of my ongoing research for the articles I post here.

True Colors…

In James’s article, he points out that over the years the church has watered down the bible so as not to offend the sensibilities of the believer. Mind you, he is not, by far, the first believer to launch accusations about dilution. That concept is still the foremost reason for church splits and formations of new denominations and cults. James is, however, one of the minority to address it in the context of language instead of theology. James calls the bible, “gritty, raw and real,” then goes on to offer some examples, such as,

“Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags.” The original language doesn’t say “filthy rags”; it says “menstrual rags.” But that sounds a little too crass, so let’s just call them filthy instead.”

He reveals that when a criminal was crucified, they would be nailed to the cross totally naked. I have yet to see an image, carving or sculpture of a naked crucified Jesus, but it does give me a neat Photoshop idea. James is correct, though, and if the character portrayed as Jesus in the bible had existed and was crucified by the Romans, he’d be in the altogether.

The author then refers to the character portrayed as the Apostle Paul’s comment that his deeds are “a pile of garbage,” as one can read in Philippians 3:8. A more accurate translation of the Koine Greek word actually reads as the equivalent of a “pile of shit.” More examples ensue regarding pissing on walls, murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex, animal sacrifice, etc.

But why are they doing this? Why the desire of late by an increasing number of clergy and scholars to go back to using a more accurate rendition of words when many of the replacement words and phrases would obviously be offensive to traditional believers? I reason that it has to do with…

Marketing…

The portrayal of the traditional Jesus as a stoic, perfectly groomed and well-mannered messiah-about-town was losing it’s appeal on a post-modern youthful congregation. Even the time-honored sermons by the likes of Calvin and Spurgeon that depicted Jesus as a radical are a far cry to what our younger population considers a radical today. It’s no secret that the traditional worship services filled with muted organ music and time-honored sermons about a life of quiet self-sacrifice to be followed by an eternity of sitting at the feet of Jesus are becoming a thing of the past. They are  just not cutting muster with the youth, who are the future of the church. The fact that even the most conservative of churches have been offering a “contemporary” service in addition to the traditional is evidence that the old stuff just doesn’t work anymore and the old guard is dying off.

Many Pastors have been preaching a “hipster Jesus,” one who wasn’t religious, who liked to party and was no stranger to the buffet table. Kinda like going to the club, drinking with your friends and then meeting at the Waffle House afterward. They are also preaching a new Heaven, and all this is being done as part of a shift to larger churches with contemporary music, stunning audio-visual effects, cafe-style sanctuaries and jeans-and-tee-shirt worshiping. The church is trying to keep up with a post modern world that includes the Internet, video games, smart phones and electronic book readers because it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw and retain new converts.

It’s The Same Old Story…

Those like Mr. James have not diverted from the same purposes that have always been at the core of the Christian ministry. Evangelism for the un-churched and revival for those they believe have fallen into various states of backsliding. The message is the same as the old-time, fire and brimstone preachers, but for reasons stated, only the methods are different. James makes no bones about the need for the clergy to drive home their belief that there is still a need to strengthen the warning of God’s displeasure in humanity and, as he states,

how  far we, as a race, have fallen and how far God was willing to come to rescue us from ourselves.”

This entire movement is, and has always been, a fortification of the belief that the Christian should expect persecution and receive it gladly – even unto death – because there is a reward to come in the afterlife. Christianity is still a religion that focuses on the extremes between this life and the one they believe comes after our time on earth comes to an end. Rewording the bible with even more detriment and self-loathing would, by definition, make the believer long even more for the afterlife. All they had to do was make the afterlife more inviting that what we have in the here and now.

James fortifies this by stating,

“Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” He said the kingdom was like a homecoming celebration, a wedding, a party, a feast to which all are invited.”

Who would want to miss out on an eternal party? James and those like him play on the need for the spiritual, but the disdain for the compulsory. On love over ritual and on peace over guilt. They decry the “dry, dusty duties of religion” and focus on cutting loose and celebrating. And it is working. Membership in the traditional denominations is declining at about the same rate as membership in the modern church, with it’s fearless use of modern language, rock and roll music and the aversion of the traditional is growing. The bait was cast, and our youth are swallowing it – hook, line and sinker.

Still A Death Cult…

Christian doctrine has not changed, however, no matter how the words in the bible change. It still brings on feelings of guilt and has a morbid promotion of death over life. The cross is still a symbol of suffering, torture and death. Naiveté and willful ignorance are still at the core of the faith, which is contrary to the development of knowledge through reason and rationality. It clearly teaches people not to trust in reason, and to only accept – without question – the dogmas of the church. James states this dogma well, when he wrote,

“I don’t believe we’ll ever recognize our need for the light until we’ve seen the depth of the darkness.”

These more progressive churches with their gritty language and modern accouterments remain true to the fundamentals of the same religiosity the church has had throughout it’s history. The whole idea of heaven and hell is a perfect illustration of just how the core of Christian doctrine is antithetical to reason, rationality and even life. It elevates ignorance and non-productivity and suppresses creative and innovative thought. No matter how hip Jesus is made out to be and no matter how shocking the words in the bible are translated.

My Response…

I rarely comment on CNN’s belief blog, but today I chose to add a reply:

On Point…

I used to be fond of saying, “you can’t polish a turd.” Adam and Jamie have disproved this. You can, indeed, polish a turd. However, as the Mythbusters pointed out – a polished turd is useless for anything other than having a shiny piece of shit. The experiences that are offered in the modern church are attractive to the part of the brain that controls fantasies, and church leaders do understand this. This is why there are more conversions and re-dedications of faith at services that resemble rock concerts, complete with light shows and other visual effects. This same concept is used during Halloween in the productions the church calls “Hell Houses” or “Judgment Houses.

The whole process is designed to make “receiving Christ and the Holy Spirit” invoke “warm and fuzzy” feelings, which are then explained as a genuine interaction with the divine. Telling someone they have been personally touched by the supernatural is a powerful way to convince them that their religious experience is real, and that it must be reciprocated with a confession of sin and dedication of service to the faith.

This serves as the perfect venue to convince the new believer of the validity of doctrine and dogma, in spite of the fact that many of these doctrines have been disproved many years ago. Thus we have self-propagation. Of course, in reality, this experience is a purely physical one that is the result of the stimulation of the temporal lobes of the brain. It can be duplicated in a lab.

Final Thoughts…

Mainstream, moderate Christianity is still the dominant religion, and it is making great strides to keep up with a post-modern world. Progressive denominations are recognizing the facts of evolution and are becoming more relevent to a changing world. But this does not make for exciting news. The virus of fundamental Christianity is getting most of the press and although it is often marketed as the true religion of love and tolerance, inwardly it is a destructive force that causes division, promotes willful ignorance and retards intellectual growth.  Broken families, ruined lives and destroyed friendships are prevalent because of the infection of fundamental religion.

It is my hope that one day reason and rationality will prevail, and the infection that our society suffers due to the virus of fundamental religion will be eradicated. It is only through the minds that have been freed of superstition, fear and irrational beliefs in non-existent deities and mythological saviors that our society will achieve it’s potential.

 

  18 comments for “Hipster Jesus, A New Bible And The Re-Marketing Of Belief

  1. grumpyoldfart
    February 27, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Pick any point in history and I’ll bet you can find preachers suggesting that the time is ripe for a return to “that old-time religion.” It’s standard procedure. Keeping the flock unsure of the direction it should be heading is how the preachers stay in control – and religion is all about control.

  2. h. hanson
    February 27, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Love it! Sending a copy to my mom.

  3. February 27, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Great article Al. I see this as a desperate attempt by religionists to try to keep up with all the facts that are being posted by non-religionists on blogs and forums everywhere. They’re in a race that they will eventually lose.

    When you give the facts to children at a young age and hopefully before they’re indoctrinated by their parents or church, they will always choose what is right by using their logic and rationale. This is how we can eradicate religion’s poisoning of our kids. Give them the facts and in one or two generations, religion, in North America, will become just like Greek mythology, a thing of the past.

  4. February 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks for the information, Al! I was unaware of this re-packaging effort, although all such efforts are just repackaging the same old shit. Polished or re-packaged, the shit stays the same!

  5. February 27, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Hipster Jesus makes me think of Hipster Mithras.

  6. jj7212
    February 27, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    If it looks like shit, smells like shit, it must be christianity.

    I wonder if the post-modern church will talk about how jesus moonwalked on water. ‘hee-hee!’

  7. bahrfeldt
    February 27, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    “If it looks like shit, smells like shit, it must be christianity”

    It can be any fundamentalist religion, screwed over from beginning to end by the fanatics.

  8. Norman Lycan
    February 28, 2012 at 12:22 am

    I am reminded of the movie “Dogma” where Carlin is trying to sell a newly commercialized vision of Jesus to the Catholics called “Buddy Christ”. I favor a theory that Jesus was a real historical figure, but, since then, he has been transformed in so many ways to appeal the paying audience. If he was real, the best I can pick from the story is that he was a radical that thought he could overturn the rich hierarchy of the Jewish religion by preaching a god with a new personality. Instead of an angry god who mercilessly punishes his enemies, he’s a kind and loving father that loves all his children and forgives them their faults. That’s a nice sales pitch, but he really pissed some people off. Kinda like burning a piece of paper in Afghanistan that has something holy written on it. (those people can’t be helped, they live in the stone age) It didn’t end well for him.
    The Jews worship a god that murdered the entire planet in the flood. I gotta cut the guy some slack, as a tent dwelling carpenter who could not even write his name, I think, he was at least headed in the right direction. That children emulate their father. And in this case, that’s not a good thing.
    But, here’s where it gets worse, after millions of years of hard work by the process of evolution that created the age of the dinosaurs, it was pissed away by some natural disaster, and while debate continues about that event, one thing is clear. No one stepped in to prevent it. I think we can logically conclude that no one has our six. We are on our own as well to survive on our own merits. But we are the first species privileged with the perogative to destroy ourselves and every other organism with us. We are SO!!! special.

    • Dave The Sandman
      February 29, 2012 at 4:01 am

      “The Jews worship a god that murdered the entire planet in the flood.”

      So do all Christians, so do all Muslims. Possibly because all three are evolved forms of Abrahamic Monotheism.

      Where did you get your religious education…off the back of a Cornflakes box?

      “Kinda like burning a piece of paper in Afghanistan that has something holy written on it. (those people can’t be helped, they live in the stone age)”

      Thus you nicely prove the recent study linking low intelligence and racism.

      Please Norman…go back to posting on The Blaze. Striping you is getting dull.

  9. John Morales
    February 28, 2012 at 4:51 am

    But we are the first species privileged with the perogative to destroy ourselves and every other organism with us.

    Such conceit! 🙂

  10. Azuma Hazuki
    February 28, 2012 at 11:55 am

    @8/Norman

    Oh please, I’d rather deal with OT Yahweh than NT Yahweh any day. When OT Yahweh had an issue with you, he smote you and sent you to lower sheol, where you froze and flickered for a while and then faded out of existence. None of this passive-aggressive “wait until my father who is also me gets home, he/I/we will torture you forever.”

  11. RW Ahrens
    February 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    I favor a theory that Jesus was a real historical figure, but, since then, he has been transformed in so many ways to appeal the paying audience.

    You know, I just don’t get it. If the story has changed so much you can hardly tell if the origin was real or not, what is so damned important about having that historical figure at the beginning? He obviously wasn’t divine, none of the miracle horse shit happened, he didn’t ignite the christianity we know today (Paul did that, along with the help of the Gospel writers and Constantine) and in the final analysis, turns out to have been, basically, a nobody.

    So why this nagging insistence that he was real? There just isn’t any evidence to support it, and the elements of christianity that were so obviously borrowed lock, stock and barrel from previous mystery religions of the recent (then) past go a long way towards showing that christianity was just an amalgam of crap all dolled up in window dressing. One can even show that virtually all of the sayings attributed to christ were already known in other places and other times. Even the golden rule was known by Confucius, what, four to six hundred years earlier?

    Why?

    • Norman Lycan
      February 28, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      good point, and I really don’t care if he was real or not, because even if he was real, his agenda was about politics in a province of the Roman Empire, and is meaningless on the modern stage.

  12. scenario
    February 28, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Whether or not there was an actual Jesus isn’t that important. Its just that some people believe that an actual Jesus that started it all is more believable than a totally made up Jesus. From a practical standpoint, it doesn’t really matter if there is there was a real Jesus because there really is almost nothing left of the real Jesus left in the gospels even if he existed.

    • RW Ahrens
      February 28, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      Whether or not there was an actual Jesus isn’t that important.

      People keep saying that, but I don’t think most folks think that through. Atheists who will argue till the cows come home that there isn’t a god say that. But I still don’t understand how you can reject the bible as any evidence for a god, yet accept it as evidence for a historical Jesus – who was billed as that god’s son!

      Once again, if the story is so jacked up with additions/alterations/mythology/magic that one can’t tell where a real man is hidden under all the BS, what makes you think there was one?

      I think it IS important, and it IS important because christians think it is. The evangelicals think he was the magic figure as told of in the bible, and the moderate/progressive christians need that historical figure, even if they dump all of the mythology/magic, to prove that they aren’t falling for a lie. The progressives, by their belief in that historical figure, are supporting the evangelicals, giving them more numbers, where their dependance on the logical fallacy of greater numbers lets them keep thinking that they are not only in a majority, but RIGHT because of that majority.

      Pop that bubble, and much of that fantasy begins to unravel, at least for the progressives, and with the progressives, goes the numbers supporting the fundies’ fantasies.

      Which makes me wonder why atheists still take the historical Jesus seriously. He’s all part of the same bullshit story. Nobody looks at the Old Testament and looks for evidence of some “historical god”.

    • RW Ahrens
      February 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      what makes you think there was one?

      That “you” wasn’t aimed at you, specifically, it was a rhetorical one…:-)

    • Norman Lycan
      February 28, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      scenario, nice paraphase, high five, but I think I just said that.

  13. Steve McCanse
    March 4, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Christianity started reinventing Jesus before his tomb even got cold(er). Paul contradicts Jesus on just about every critical doctrine Jesus taught, and Christians have bought it lock, stock, and doctrine.

    I wish believers in the NT would just be honest (and educated) enough to call themselves Paulians, because they sure as hell don’t respect the teachings of their Lord and Savior.
    🙁

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