The Common Good

In the Footsteps of Jesus?

Angels and Demons, the movie inspired by Dan Brown's novel by the same title, has raked in nearly $190 million worldwide (with approximately $90 million in the U.S.) in only its second week of release. Dan Brown's books, spurred by the Da Vinci Code, have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

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According to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times titled "Dan Brown's America," Ross Douthat says that "if you want to understand the state of American religion, you need to understand why so many people love Dan Brown." Douthat points out that Brown's message is "perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized 'religiousness' detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition." He goes on to state that recent polls do not show a dramatic increase in atheism, but rather "they reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional religion's dogmas and moral requirements shorn away."

Interest in Dan Brown's "theology" perhaps reveals the American people's fascination with religious conspiracy theories. Or maybe it elucidates a current rising religious trend in the United States of a more privatized "Christian" spirituality devoid of obligation to Jesus' message of social responsibility. This stems from a faulty understanding of the person central to Christianity, Jesus.

Dan Brown portrays Jesus, according to Douthat, as a modern day messiah who is "sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshipping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity." In other words, Brown's Jesus is similar to a modern day mega church preacher who constantly praises the gospel of prosperity. This, no doubt, is a far cry from Jesus as the revolutionary rebel who died for his interrelated political and religious movement known as the kingdom of God, which as scholar John Dominic Crossan asserts,

... did not mean for Jesus, as it could for others, the imminent apocalyptic intervention of God to set right a world taken over by evil and injustice. It meant the presence of God's kingdom here and now in the reciprocity of open eating and open healing, in lives, that is, of radical egalitarianism on both the socioeconomic (eating) and the religio-poltical (healing) levels.

Of course, it is easier to believe in a friendly divine Jesus who constantly heeds our pleas by offering us solace in our moments of intense despair and agony. Harder, but ultimately more rewarding, is following today the teachings of a first century Jewish peasant who violated social norms by inviting outcasts to the table, who "cleansed the Temple" from the economic corruption of the Sanhedrin, and who preached liberation from all oppressive contexts. Yet this latter understanding of Jesus has been replaced by a domesticated Christ who seems more concerned with personal piety and holiness rather than social change.

A visible example of this metamorphosis in the understanding of Jesus is the Eucharist. Christians believe that at the Last Supper Jesus entrusted his disciples

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