Is it desperation (for fans), fervor or greed driving first-time fundamentalist football boosterism?
Is there any major sports venue more American, more corporate or more violent than the Super Bowl extravaganza? Behind money and ego as political levers, religious fundamentalism kicks off an ad blitz against a world going more secular, a falloff in churchgoing, especially in the young – and mid-term setbacks of the old-time, evangelical “brand.” Clearly, there’s a finite “growth projection” on Bible-belt religiosity. As with Trump’s fan glass ceiling, there appears only so many gullible (fearful, obedient) types rushing to hear palpable fairy tales, laced by dismissible concoctions like God sends storms to punish the wicked, and ending with the inevitable donation pitch: “save yourself by investing in God.”
If ever in doubt, hawking Jesus in Super Bowl ads confirms that the business of Christian nationalism is growing its business – altogether aligned with white supremacy cohorts. With the inescapable contradiction of any fundamentalist end game – that every one of thousands of sects owns the one and only truth – how does the infamous, predatory Prosperity Gospel thrive without promotional pizazz. What a backfield, full of religious fervor, knock-down thumping, and a global TV display of true believer wealth.
That primal fiction – that each radical Protestant sect commands some absolute truth – sets up not just internal conflicts (survival of the fittest pitch) but against openness, tolerance, diversity, and secular modernity. By cementing all the key truths worth knowing, like the best stairway to heaven, the alt-right religious resist advances in consciousness, knowledge and science. Who needs better “updates” when centuries old scripture reveals all? Like certifying that homosexuality is a sin or the cynical fabrication of “grooming” when DNA and birth determine orientation. Like knowing with exactitude when “life begins” (no abortion says at conception) even though that’s either a fool’s errand or playing semantics (is a zygote a sustainable “person” with full rights?). Does rape not matter?
Why didn’t Jesus clarify such currently cosmically-important questions – or ever oppose what we call gay rights? Truth is, here and now educated people understand no one knows everything, nothing complexly human answers to oversimplified or faith-alone reductions, and not one genius has ever convincingly defined God’s nature, nor proved earthly intercession by angels, demons or that bearded sky god allegedly, like gravity, “everywhere.”
Special religious gut instinct
Thus violating the rules of clear thinking, if not common sense, is nothing new for the ultra religious. From last week’s Daily Kos comes this delightful example, “Selling Jesus during the Super Bowl.” Behold fundamentalist Christian crusaders now spending $20 million to sell Jesus like other national “brands.” That’s a lot of Sunday donations to boost the 11th Commandment, “Thou shall have no other brands before me.” Corporate consumer titans – meet your ever-earnest competition for eyeballs. If this revealing media marriage be not made in heaven, then, hellcats alive!, easy (high) media profits answer to a darker source. Really, why doesn’t the world’s most famous religious figure deserve full branding?
Christianity, Inc. here we are – but you won’t learn Jesus’ highest, most spiritual vision – promoting love to friend and foe alike, community, compassion, tolerance, especially good works towards the needy. As it turns out, nervous, weekly churchgoers aren’t just fearful about being swamped by non-white, non-Christians; the alt-right elite seeks to offset challenges by embracing more Madison Avenue tools. Sunday sermons, blaring 24/7 TV/radio programs and online propaganda are not enough. Like slumping sports teams, lagging brands call for new venues and slogans – but never a new “playmaker” or heavenly coach. What’s wrong with Jesus getting hawked between beer, snacks, cars, movies, and toilet bowl cleaners? What if the alt-right elite endorses a “sport” renown for bashing heads, brutal tackles and bodily damage (despite constant fouls)? On second thought, does not pro football share many qualities with the Jan. 6 onslaught – bellowing, rabidly partisan crowds, rife with funny uniforms and headgear?
What wall between state and church?
Since the wall between state and church is crumbling quicker than George Santos’ lies, what’s wrong with mixing sports, politics, public entertainment, TV and Jesus, now the empathic “good guy” in the same capitalistic bowl (of munchies)? What’s next: moralistic cheerleaders for faith, prohibitions against women’s medical freedoms, total company options which birth control products are morally acceptable, even torrential televangelists guaranteeing material prosperity if donors only “invest in the Lord.” Nobody thinks Trump originated that con. Oh, right, the Christian right does all that already. Praise the lord but pass the ammunition: there’s a war going on.
“What would Jesus say” when pondering personalized Super Bowl spots from “The Servant Organization” (the source, funded in part by rightwing Hobby Lobby owners)? What would Jesus think if, instead of helping the poor find food, medicine or housing, billionaire Christians plan to squander one BILLION dollars in the next three years broadcasting that “He [Jesus] Gets Us” across billboards, YouTube channels, and screens everywhere? This ad pitch is well underway, promoting Jesus also as a “refugee,” utterly “sick of hypocrisy,” who confronted “racism with love” and even “called huddles.” Huddles against racism? Salvation via the forward pass to paradise? What prescience from the huddle-free era 2000 years ago! But aren’t “refugees” rather like today’s immigrant asylum seekers escaping death or calamity – the ones good rightwing Christians (ever mindful of misery) don’t mind being caged. Whoops, may want to delete that pitch.
As the Daily Kos reminds us, “Christian activism in America rarely seems to have much to do with Jesus,” preferring instead to righteously demonize “enemies,” namely secularists, Democrats, gay rights advocates, lesser or non-Christians, odious critics and Never Trumpers. Christian zealots—at least the noisiest ones—spend far more time hunting targets to reject and hate than spreading the forgiving Jesus gospel. Charity stops at the church door. If extremism now weaponizes sports, why not expect pitches for the Ten Commandments, parochial education (without wicked texts), and even an ordained theocracy? Sky’s literally the limit.
Will the real Jesus please rise?
When fundamentalists start teaching the transcendent Jesus message, then we skeptical will change our tune and our sharp tone. When true Christians escape their entrenched, hierarchical organizations, Protestant and Catholic alike, then have no truck with racist, sexist, and xenophobic ideologies, that will resemble what Jesus actually said and did. There is a clear record how early Christians smartly assembled an edited Bible whose New Testament life story presented the better nature of our angels, especially aiding the bereft.
After all, Jesus wasn’t just a wandering “refugee,” nor did he actively push to start a new religion. Jesus was a lower-class, backwater, Middle-eastern Jew who would have railed against all anti-Semites who today denigrate his spiritual, tribal origins and family heritage. To be any sort of good Christian and a violent, intemperate anti-Semite is an impossible conundrum. Jesus was not “white” by any northern European, Aryan falsification that much later posited that God says some superior “white race” should dominate countless inferiors. Not even anti-Semites deny Jesus’ Judaism, nor the Aramaic tongue he spoke, though they strictly underplay that which historically distinguishes Jesus’ radicalism – his spiritual breakthrough in consciousness per the legendary Joseph Campbell – don’t just accept and reconcile with but “love thy enemy.” Love? Sorry, folks, but that’s one step too far for those who will never abide, let alone “love” racist, brutal, white supremacists who admire tyrants and favor theocratic rule by religious affiliation, skin color and lineage.
Right now, second only to Trump and his farcical election deniers, are there any greater hypocrites in the world than extremist American fundamentalists who want in a Constitutionally-secular nation to outlaw all abortion rights, reject gender rights, interracial marriage, banish library books, and censor professionally-trained teachers over what’s proper subject matter? When fundamentalists elevate tolerance, understanding and compassion, especially charity to all, and when they stop scapegoating minorities, immigrants, and dissenters from their “truth,” then they may approach what true Christians (and experts in religious studies) agree matters most when worshipping the inspirational Jesus – not a cartoon Super Bowl brand pitching football fans.