I live in the tarnished buckle of the Bible Belt. After four years here, few things about ultra-conservative Evangelical Christians surprise me. Church signs that claim my folk will burn for all eternity rarely register anymore. Half-crazed preachers standing in the middle of campus spewing venom don’t appear unusual. The local competition to see how many Jesus-fish one can attach to a car bumper no longer seems ominous.
Early in the semester, though, I went for a walk to the Student Union building. My search for a chocolate product and caffeine became derailed when I saw a new banner hanging from the ceiling of the Union’s main walkway. This area often has the standard banners created by student groups to attract new members. One sees calls for fraternity rushes, soccer practices, and Klan drives (otherwise known as Republican Party registration).
On that fateful day, however, a banner appeared with such supreme novelty that I was left speechless. Bold, but crudely painted, letters proclaimed:
I am a Princess Because Jesus is My King
This banner pulled off some neat tricks by drawing together seemingly unrelated and irreconcilable discourses. For me, the creator of this banner had quite the set of ovaries. She ignored historical Jesus' messages of humility. Instead, this woman envisioned her religious beliefs aligned with, and even validating, the current image of a consumer princess.
Let me offer some truth in advertising. I consider myself spiritual and believe in higher powers in the cosmos (karma and all). Still, Jesus as the whole-son-of-god thing doesn’t really work for me. Don’t get me wrong. The historical Jesus had some noble ideas and hung out with a cool crowd. He liked to kick it with prostitutes, the poor, rock stars, etc. My guess is that he probably spent a bit too much time in the desert sun, though, which explains his vision of being part deity.
I offer this disclaimer because it should be clear that I have nothing particularly vested in the Christian message. I also don’t disparage those who do sincerely believe. It just doesn’t work for my view of the universe.
Yet this banner suggests just how askew U.S. Christianity has become. Most of the campus religious groups use religion to form a sense of individual identity through messages of moral superiority. There seems to be a twenty-first century version of the Gospel of Wealth emerging. This scheme links together material wealth and spiritual authority. Aspiring to the privileged, self-indulgent world of the rich is fine because the rich are the rightful beneficiaries of God’s blessings. One can ignore the poor, the sick, and the starving as long as one gives lip-service to an abstract Jesus.
For these folk, God exists only to grant them wishes. Let’s call it the I-Dream-of-Jeannie version of God. If they pray for a higher test score, God will grant it to them. If they want a new BMW, a few extra prayers at night should take care of it.
What’s disturbing is that this vision of Christianity eliminates these folk’s agency in their own life and obligation to their fellow humans. Working hard for those test scores or BMW becomes unimportant. They need not take personal responsibility for their actions or commitments.
Thus, the banner’s creator can think herself clever by playing on the modern meaning of “princess” as a spoiled brat with her religious expression. Material success testifies to one’s Christian devotion. The poor, conversely, clearly don’t pray hard enough. How else can one explain the unequal distribution of wealth in the world?