Here in America, land of oxymora, the
concept of contradiction is largely lost on us. A square peg will
indeed fit in a round hole if only one should hit it hard enough,
as we like to say. Thus, conflicting ideas often collide and
combine with strange consequences. Sometimes the results are
annoying and shoddy, as when real life and television gave birth to
reality TV. And sometimes they’re miraculous and wonderful,
as when white people and rhythm met in the form of Eminem.

Joel Hoard – Weekend

However the latest — and perhaps the strangest —
fusion of contradictory notions involves Christianity and
capitalism. At their cores, the two are diametrically opposed.
Christianity promotes compassion, charity and selflessness;
capitalism encourages competition, greed and selfishness. The two
shouldn’t coexist, let alone merge.

But they have. Since the dawn of the W.W.J.D. bracelet, Jesus
has become a commodity. A simple copy of the Bible is no longer
enough for today’s modern American Christian. Now it’s
as if one’s piety is directly proportional to one’s
accumulation of Jesus-themed merchandise. It’s impossible to
be a Christian without the proper T-shirts, jewelry, CDs and even
dinnerware.

But with the exception of W.W.J.D., Christian merchandise
hasn’t seen the light of day in mainstream pop culture; it
has been limited exclusively to Christian retailers such as Family
Christian Stores and LifeWay Christian Stores, and films and
television programs have largely been restricted to Christian
outlets.

All of that changed this year with the release of Mel
Gibson’s blockbuster Jesus biopic “The Passion of the
Christ,” which was tops at the box office this past weekend
for the third consecutive week. At last tally, it had grossed $264
million. Not since the staunchly conservative days of “The
Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” has a
Christian-themed film received such attention or earned so much
money.

Certainly the bajillion dollars that the film will make (of
which a projected $300 million will go to Gibson himself, according
to Newsweek) have to make Mel and his associates extremely
happy.

It’s not that I question Gibson’s motives for making
the film or his sincerity when he says on the film’s official
website, “My intention for this film was to create a lasting
work of art and to stimulate serious thought and reflection among
diverse audiences of all backgrounds.” After all, Gibson did
pay for the production of “The Passion” out of his own
pocket.

Where Gibson et al. went wrong was in the line of officially
licensed “Passion” merchandise now available for
purchase at www.sharethepassionofthechrist.com as well as Christian
bookstores across the country. The items, which are divided into
sections including witnessing tools, jewelry, gifts and other
licensed products, are shameless promotional items that stray far
from the film’s intent into consumerist territory.

Of all the items, my personal favorite is the pewter nail
pendant, available in 1 7/8-inch and 2 5/8-inch sizes. Selling at
$12.99 and $16.99, respectively, buyers can have their very own
replica of a nail used to hang Jesus on the cross. Each comes with
a 24-inch leather cord. I’m only surmising, but the larger,
more expensive nail pendant must be for the truer, more faithful
believer.

The “Passion” crew aren’t the only ones
looking to cash in. According to Reuters, Transit Books is
releasing the second in their innovative new line of
“Bible-zines” — Bibles repackaged in a magazine
format to appeal to today’s cool, urban youth. The cover of
the latest, titled “Refuel,” aimed at teenage boys,
shows such hip items as guitars and extreme sports. It also boasts
“GIRLS spill it all.” You hear that, guys? Girls!

These aren’t the first in-your-face Bibles to hit the
shelves, however. In 1999, Transit released “Extreme for
Jesus” and “The Extreme Teen Bible.” Only in
America could the holy book of a religion that promotes modesty and
restraint be marketed as “extreme.”

Perhaps the most egregious example of the phenomenon is Urban
Outfitters’ line of “Jesus is My Homeboy” apparel
and its magnetic dress-up Jesus doll, aimed at the secular crowd
that finds such items ironic and hilarious.

The blame for all of this lies with America’s consumerist
nature. There’s money to be made at every turn in this
country, so it was only a matter of time before the consumerism bug
infested our nation’s religious institutions. Up next, Xtreme
Worship, brought to you by Pepsi.

 

What Would Joel Do? Find out at
“mailto:j.ho@umich.edu”>j.ho@umich.edu.

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