Should Jesus sue? Perhaps he should.
In the late summer of 2003, FOX News filed a lawsuit against Al Franken. FOX claimed that the title of Franken’s most recent book: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, was a trademark violation. FOX stated that the phrase “Fair and Balanced” was a company trademark and that Franken, by using the same phrase for his book title, violated the trademark. Furthermore, FOX asserted that Franken was using the phrase so as to deceive customers into buying what would appear to be a FOX-endorsed product. Eventually, the charge was considered by the judge to be flimsy and it was dropped.
Now compare that recent event to the financial niche that the Christian Right has managed to build for itself and the implications of such a niche. It is quite obvious that Christian-themed products have been selling successfully. Capitalism has certainly been kind to fundamentalist Christianity in America. But one ought to question this business venture.
Why exactly is the Religious Right trying to make money out of Christianity? Is it for fund-raising? Perhaps. However, profits from evangelical Christian sales have run well into the billions (in US dollars). Yes, these proceeds may indeed fund the Christian Right’s campaign to turn the US into a theocracy. But is all of that money really going into the good cause? Perhaps not. It would be no surprise if some of those profits were pocketed away. So have Christian fundamentalists gone the way of self-interest? Quite possibly.
But would Jesus approve of this marriage between fundamentalist Christianity and cold, hard cash? Jesus did say in Matthew 6:24 that one cannot serve both God and Mammon. On the contrary, one can only act for either God or Mammon. If this is so, then it is easy to see just who or what people such as Marion Pat Robertson are serving. Liberian mining deals with one Charles Taylor come to mind.
Of course, conservative Christians might attempt to justify this by saying that they are indeed serving the Lord, that the revenues from the Christian market are irrelevant, that they are to be used for furthering the Christian cause–or to even serve as a reward for the faithful.
However, if those same Christians were to take another look at the New Testament, they should pay close attention to John 2:13-16 (also Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48) in which Jesus entered a place of worship and saw that it had become a marketplace: currency exchange was carried out and materials meant for sacrifices were being sold. The Jewish holiday of Passover was nearing and Jesus was outraged; he went around knocking down stands and tables, scattering goods and money. (And if Franken had the gall to go into a FOX News building to personally hawk his Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, the reaction of FOX executives would be undoubtedly to get security to either kick him out or have him arrested.) Surely, the merchants in that temple-turned-marketplace would claim that the money they earned would be used for charity and tribute to God. Their sincerity can be considered questionable; after all, the profession of the businessman is to seek financial profit. Since Christian fundamentalists would not freely admit that they are marketing the Bible for personal gain, and since they are making so much money out of Christianity, one should also wonder if they are truly sincere in their claims to be faithful and altruistic.
And although Franken’s use of “Fair and Balanced” can be considered trivial, the Christian Right’s for-profit enterprise is far from excusable. Firstly, the phrase “Fair and Balanced” is a common one. Also, it is not something that would command great respect. On the other hand, religious figures such as the Biblical God and Jesus Christ do command such reverence. To misuse the names of these icons would be blasphemy. By publishing fiction books, movies, and music that concern Christian theology and trying in general to speak in God’s name, the Religious Right is already stepping on shaky ground. One wonders if the Christian Right is not tampering with Christian theology, or if they even had permission from God to do such things to begin with. The ground is shakier still because enormous profits are being made from these books, films, etc. Would God and Jesus be pleased about how their followers make their money? Would they really think that the money is truly being used to strengthen Christianity? And if FOX News had wanted to sue Franken over what would seem to be petty wording, should not the Christian divinity have the privilege of filing suit for blasphemy and unreasonable profiteering?
So, should Jesus sue? Perhaps he should.
Note: All Bible references are from the New Revised Standard Version.
On why the temple is mentioned in John 2:13-16 (and also in Matthew, Mark, and Luke):
- See: “He drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip of cords” in “Hellfire Jesus.”
On the Christian Right’s billions:
- See: “Christian Product Sales Exceed $4 Billion” in Connection Magazine News Brief.
- See: “Survey Tracks Industry Sales at $4.2 Billion,” in CBA Market Place Online, July 12-17 2003.
On the FOX v. Franken case:
- Phil Hirschkorn, “Fox News loses attempt to block satirist’s book” at CNN.com/Law Center
On Robertson’s business dealings with former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor:
- Michael Barone, “Dirty Diamonds,” US News & World Report, 12 November 2001
- Colbert I. King, “Bunkum From Pat Robertson,” The Washington Post, 1 December 2001, p. A25
- Colbert I. King, “Death and Diamonds in Liberia,” The Washington Post, 3 November 2001, p. A27
- Colbert I. King, “Pat Robertson and His Business Buddies,” The Washington Post, 10 November 2001, p. A27
- Colbert I. King, “Pat Robertson’s Gold,” The Washington Post, 22 September 2001, p. A29
- Colbert I. King, “Pat Robertson: His Liberia Deal,” The Washington Post, 20 October 2001, p. A27