No doubt, a lot of people are upset, or are going to be upset, about Saturday Night Live’s recent skit “DJesus Uncrossed.” The two-minute sketch lampooned director Quentin Tarantino’s penchant for turning tragic history into gory revenge and imagined what Tarantino might do with the crucifixion and resurrection. (Have they been reading my blog?).
I’ve already heard some rumblings of anger at the skit’s treatment of Jesus, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned into a full-blown manufactured firestorm of outrage.
But you won’t hear any complaints about the sketch from me (and many others).
That’s because even though the sketch satirized Tarantino, it also said something quite profound and revealing, if unintentionally, about how Americans have remade Jesus in our own violent images.
Because, if truth be told, we’ve been trying to uncross Jesus for decades in this country, long before SNL got their pens into him.
We have tried to arm him with our military-industrial complex, drape him with our xenophobia, outfit him with our weapons, and adorn him with our nationalism. We’ve turned the cross into a flagpole for the Stars and Stripes. We have no need for Tarantino to reimagine the story of Jesus into a fantasy of violent revenge. We’ve done it for him. We’ve already uncrossed him, transforming him from a servant into a triumphalist who holds the causes and interests of our country on his back rather than brutal execution.
The SNL sketch reveals the paucity of American popular theology with its camouflage and flag-draped Bibles that segregate the story of God for American patriots only. It pulls back the curtain and shows us just how twisted our Jesus really is: We want a Savior like the one SNL offers. We want the Son of God to kick some ass and take some names. Specifically, our enemies’ names. And maybe the names of a few godless Democrats. Definitely the Muslims. And the atheists. And the … I could go on.
In fact, DJesus Uncrossed kind of reminds me of the Jesus who appears in Revelation (or at least how he is understood in pop theology and throughout a fair amount of Christian history).* He returns, riding a war horse. He is armed with a sharp sword for a tongue with which to destroy the nations. He is harboring a righteous rage that’s been smoldering for quite some time. And who came blame John of Patmos for envisioning Jesus in such a way after all he and his fellow Christians had been through?
It’s human to imagine divine vengeance.
It just isn’t Jesus, though. And seeing the vengeful Jesus of Revelation roll away the stone of the tomb and exact bloody revenge on the executioners he had just asked God to forgive three days prior should jar us.
But this vengeful Jesus of Revelation is the one many of us prefer. The one who gets even. The one who finally settles the 2,000-year-old score. The one who, at last, gets to send the unbelieving, unrepentant masses off to an eternity of torment in hell. It’s the Jesus someone like Mark Driscoll seems to worship: “In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” This, of course, sounds a great deal like a certain group of Roman soldiers who mocked Jesus, calling on him to man up and come down and uncross himself. It’s enough to make one wonder whether all this time, it has been DJesus that Driscoll has been worshipping rather than Jesus.
In the end, whatever the fallout from the skit, American Christianity didn’t need Tarantino or SNL or anyone in Hollywood to think up something as absurd and as base and as hysterically inaccurate as DJesus Uncrossed.
We’ve already done that for ourselves.
Say what you will about how offensive SNL’s sketch was. Our popular theology is more so. Because we should know better.
But satire reveals truths that are hard to hear. That triumphalist Savior many of us worship? He more resembles the sword and gun-toting DJesus who brings righteous vengeance than the prophetic vagabond foot-washer Jesus who preaches liberation and love of neighbor in the Gospels. The Savior we have created in our own violent images seems more like a character of a Tarantino film than the one at the heart of God’s story of eternal love.
The truth is, deep down, I suspect we like DJesus the Uncrossed better than Jesus the Crucified. It’s the same reason why we like Tarantino films as opposed to actual history.
In the wake of horror, we like revenge.
In the aftermath of the unspeakable, we like scores settled.
And we like justice, but only in the name of our God, Retribution.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, take a few moments to subscribe via e-mail and receive posts directly to your inbox.
Update: I thought I was clear in the post that I was engaging with American pop theological understandings of Revelation a la Driscoll and that I was critiquing the militant and vengeful understandings of Jesus through the lens of Revelation. It should also be noted that the vengeful and violent Jesus has been the common understanding of Revelation for much of Christian history and it is important to challenge the myth of redemptive violence it helps to create. But based on the enormous feedback I’ve received (some of it via links that framed my post in different terms), I could have been more clear that there is work offering different intepretations. I have added a line in the original post that I hopes clarifies things. I don’t want a side point and rhetorical strategy to distract from the primary point of the post nor to sidetrack the discussion into the symbolism and style of apocalyptic literature. We could spend a semester on that.