By Alan Bean
Saturday Night Live has everybody talking. Actually, the sketch described below has folks beating their chests, rending their garments and howling at the moon.
Is it blasphemy to portray Jesus as a revenge-seeking action hero from a Quentin Tarantino movie?
It all depends. If you portrait of Jesus is primarily culled from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) then the SNL spoof will make you wonder what these guys were thinking. On the other hand, if your vision of Jesus is a cross between the more graphic bits of the book of Revelation, a Jesus-is-a-badass Carmen number, and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series (more on this below), then SNL is pretty much on target. Fred Clark, who has been writing a running commentary on the Left Behind books for edification and laughs, has some insights that will amaze and horrify you.
Here’s the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, as envisioned by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in The Glorious Appearing [note: this is R-rated graphic violence]:
Rayford watched through the binocs as men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood. It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.
… Tens of thousands grabbed their heads or their chests, fell to their knees, and writhed as they were invisibly sliced asunder. Their innards and entrails gushed to the desert floor, and as those around them turned to run, they too were slain, their blood pooling and rising in the unforgiving brightness of the glory of Christ.
… Their flesh dissolved, their eyes melted, and their tongues disintegrated.
… And Jesus had killed them all.
Jesus Christ, killer. Mass-murderer. Spiller of blood and entrails. He crushes his enemies, sees them driven before him, and revels in the lamentation of their women. (That quote is from the Bible, right?)
This is received not as the most pernicious blasphemy imaginable, but as wholesome, biblical, family-friendly entertainment for good evangelical Christians. It’s seen asedifying. It’s part of a beloved and phenomenally popular series of books, published by a respectable evangelical Christian publishing house and sold in every Christian bookstore chain in the U.S.
But the following video, on the other hand, has been denounced as an outrageous sacrilege — not by Tarantino fans, but by American Christians. Quite a few American Christians who have no problem at all accepting, enjoying and celebrating Tim LaHaye’s gory Jesus in the Left Behind series nonetheless pretend to be horrified bySaturday Night Live’s spoof “DJesus Uncrossed”:
Is this possible? Is this at all believable? Can anyone credibly claim to find that video offensive, but not be even more offended by that scene from The Glorious Appearing?I don’t think that is believable at all. It seems like indignation-addicts just seizing on one more excuse for getting high on offendedness.It’s understandable if someone thinks the SNL skit goes too far — that’s what it’strying to do. But the premise of the sketch is far more reverent than the premise of Tim LaHaye’s scene of mass-slaughter.
LaHaye revels in gushing entrails and melting eyeballs, his blood-smeared face breaking out into a pious grin as he cheers. “This,” he says, “this is what Jesus Christ is really like! This is the real, true Jesus!”
The SNL skit, by contrast, presents itself as offering the most over-the-top, ludicrous idea it could conceive. “Nothing,” it says, “nothing could be more absurd than to imagine Jesus like this.”
This eschatological understanding of a violent Second Coming leads us to believe that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion.
… If we remain charmed by this kind of eschatology, we will be forced to see the nonviolence of the Jesus of the Gospels as a kind of strategic fake-out, like a feigned retreat in war, to be followed up by a crushing blow of so-called redemptive violence in the end. The gentle Jesus of the First Coming becomes a kind of trick Jesus, a fake-me-out Messiah, to be replaced by the true jihadist Jesus of a violent Second Coming. This is why I believe that many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse, are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral.