Jesus v Christianity

Newsweek magazine has revealed that this week’s edition has Jesus on its front cover. But he’s not a Jesus wearing sandals and badly-fitting robes. Instead, he’s dressed as a hipster, with a check shirt and a navy jacket straight out of Gap, and he’s standing in New York City’s Times Square.

The only things which tell you it’s Jesus (aside from the big ‘Follow Jesus’ headline) is the beard and IKEA-style crown of thorns, plus the intense expression. As one commentator has quipped, he’s so hip they might as well have headlined the cover, ‘Follow Jesus to Urban Outfitters’.

Newsweek has paid host to Jesus before… seven times before, actually. And it’s not necessarily because the magazine is so fascinated with the founder of the Christian faith. According to Folio, a publishing trade magazine, featuring Jesus on your cover can boost sales by 45 per cent, and that’s important to a magazine which has seen declining sales in recent years. It brings a whole new meaning to ‘Jesus saves’.

What makes this story interesting, though, is that behind the hip cover is an essay by Andrew Sullivan, a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times, which pits Jesus against Christianity. ‘Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists,’ says the blurb. ‘Ignore them and embrace Him.’

While that’s not a particularly new message, the platform given to it by Newsweek, which sells 1.5 million copies a week despite its circulation woes, has raised debate about the issue online.

Sullivan’s pitch is that the church has essentially failed Jesus. He says that the Catholic Church lost its authority in America when Pope Paul VI banned the pill in 1968, and then destroyed what credibility remained in the child abuse scandals over the past 15 years.

Meanwhile, the mainline Protestant churches have either declined, or have wedded themselves to biblical literalism, turning their backs on science and embracing a gospel of prosperity. The result, Sullivan says, is a sharp contrast with the teachings of Jesus himself.

‘The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear in… the original New Testament. Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce (now commonplace among American Christians) and forgiveness for adultery.’

Despite the crisis of Christianity and the newfound popularity of atheism, Sullivan says that people still thirst for God. ‘How could it not be,’ he says, ‘when the profoundest human questions – Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death? – remain as pressing and mysterious as they’ve always been?’

Read Andrew Sullivan’s piece here.