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The shopocalypse is nigh: What Would Jesus Buy?

Why is Christmas defined by Congress and retail receipts? Like so much else in America, the right, consumerist wing of Congress is politicizing Christmas in an effort to show that they stand for something. In fact, after the debacle of the Iraq war, the false fear-mongering on Iran, and the war on climate science, the embarrassment of Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Mark Foley, it appears that some people want to change the topic.

Today, crusaders like Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Reps. Virgil Goode (R-VA), and Tom Tancredo (R-CO) are showing up at the end of the year to introduce a bill (HR 847) recognizing the “importance of Christmas and the Christian faith.”

Whew! What a relief! Now America can rest easier that Congress has recognized that both Christmas and Christianity are important.

Rather than reducing Christmas to a literal bomb in America’s aging culture wars, I prefer to think of what it has come to mean in mainstream America. If it is, as these politicians argue, a defining symbol of Christianity, than looking at how Christmas is observed will help us see what Christianity means to most Americans. This approach is brought to the screen in the whimsical documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? (2007), produced by Super Size Me‘s (2004) Morgan Spurlock.

The larger than life-size star of the show is Rev. Billy with bit roles for his Church of Stop Shopping traveling choir. The films shows the ups-and-downs of their comedy activism, in which they preach and sing in malls, big-box stores and Starbucks with the message that people should “stop shopping.”

Now the literalists among us may bulk at this extremism. But in fact, Rev. Billy and choir shop too, in fact there is a great scene in a truck stop as they stock up on supplies. Are they hypocrites?

Watched critically, the film works against the old chimera of guilt-based activism that makes us feel bad about the compromises we all make. Instead, What Would Jesus Buy? — the title itself is absurd, who really knows? — works to make Americans more conscious about how they spend their money.

Toward the end of the film, the camera follows the out-of-character, but still in the spirit Rev. Billy as he buys a sweater in a small Midwestern men’s clothing store in dire straits due to the Wal-mart down the road. It may not make into a Congressional floor speech proclaiming God’s X-mas, but the goodwill in the scene made me want to rush out and be more intentional about my getting, not just my giving.

P.S. Today, the Talking Jesus action figure has sold out at Wal-Mart.

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