Review: Jesus Died For THIS? – A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ, Becky Garrison

First of all – having a ‘to read’ label on my blog is not working.  As soon as I write it down as a reading priority, I  immediately find something else far more interesting so I’m just going to stick with that. Also, I have regular work now that doesn’t involve a lot of time on public transport so I’m having to find time to read at home so my progress isn’t as good as it’s been the last few months but hey ho, here we go.  

Becky Garrison is apparently a well-known religious satirist, I had never heard of her before.  In this book, she searches for God in the modern ‘post-Christian’ world.  The book is roughly speaking divided up into two sections, the first part is more of a travel journal as Garrison wanders the globe to visit various sites of religious/spiritual significance and then in the second part, she returns to America which allows her to consider how her own experiences and heritage influence her faith, plus wanders a bit more to various Christian events to look for God some more.  This is a very American kind of book and Garrison is writing as a reaction against the American culture of Christianity which she finds unfulfilling but I was immediately interested by the blurb when I first noticed it because occasionally I too take issue with the same thing.  Garrison makes reference several times to the fact that we are living in a post-Christian world and while I do think that we are long way off White Anglo-Saxon Protestants needing to complain about being persecuted, it is true that Christians are in minority in a way they were not in time past which means that finding God can become a trickier business.

Christians are cliquey, there’s no two ways about it.  For a religion that says explicitly that we are saved through Grace so that no man may boast, there is a heck of a lot of this.  This may not be explicit but there’s a lot of the looking-down-the-noses at people who are different.  A few years back, a friend told me in an exasperated way that she had to lead the following week’s bible study because the only other person available had an earring so what would he know?  I kept my trap shut.  I remember another girl being oh so worried about her best friend who attended church, prayed and read the Bible but who was probably not going to Heaven as she was still not a ‘real Christian’.  I kept my trap shut.  I was told by someone who had been my friend for nearly a decade that I was morally and spiritually toxic and of no further use more or less for reasons that he never explained but which I can surmise because I know him.  The same friend also told me in a lordly way that he ‘wasn’t the kind of person who forgave people’.  It strikes me as strange  how as people quest to become better Christians, they miss the central concepts of love thy neighbour, forgive others as we are forgiven (it’s in the Lord’s Prayer, it’s kind of a big deal) and to deal with each other with love.  My Dad. always eloquent on religious matters, states that all too many of  Christians today would fail the Good Samaritan test right off as they’d just give the beaten-up guy a good kicking as they’d think he probably deserved it.  As Garrison says, we see the face of God everywhere except in those who we do not like.  
I recently moved home and have also been trying to find the right church, something which has always been a problem in my home area.  I am a Presbyterian by birth, as in all of my maternal family are but to be honest I sometimes wonder if it’s more the Northern Irishness that has been drummed in to me than me being specifically Presbyterian and I have wandered between Presbyterians, Anglicanism, the Baptist Church and while I lived in France I used to wander up and pray in a Catholic church but actually dodge the services.  So essentially, I relate to trying to find a church where you can be at home with God.  In the opening paragraph of this book, Garrison ponders how at times even in a church where everyone has come together to look for God, it can often feel that he is not there, this is again often true.  By necessity, a lot of religion is rooted in ritual and when it gets to the point of being routine rather than sincere that is where the disillusion can come in and that is why Garrison sets off on her spiritual journey.

This is not a perfect book.  As she wanders from place to place, Garrison meets dozens and dozens of people along the way and it does get past the point where you can really take in who they all are. The short chapters which brought in a host of new characters could be confusing and I did lose a bit of the thread. Additionally, I personally didn’t feel that there was much satire.  She had a few gentle digs here and there but there was a definite sense of playing it safe.  Religious satire is a dangerous area, people are hyper-sensitive and all too likely to say ‘people wouldn’t be poking fun at the Muslims like that’.  Garrison mentions Jonathon Swift a couple of times and to be honest I can’t think of another well known religious satirist so Garrison could really break some new ground here if she were to have the courage.  

It is true that there is a lot to poke fun at in religion and unlike with politicians, people are wary to poke fun at religious leaders because it says in the Bible that we shouldn’t.  While on my church-search, I was in a service where during the hymns a woman who looked to be approx. 40 got up and danced in front of the congregation.  This was apparently a regular thing, she just waved her arms around and looked up at the ceiling in a ‘deep’ way.  I stared around puzzled for the first few verses, trying to figure out if this was a church-wide joke but it wasn’t.  It was sincere.  Garrison is right that where there is sincerity, we should not mock and I can see why she does not want to be insensitive but you can’t help but feel that in her search to appeal to all Christians, she misses the opportunity to give a jolt to those who need knocking out of their Christian comfort zones.  

All too often it is said that Christians are what make other people feel they do not want to follow Christ and I really liked what Garrison said in explaining her own experience as a woman in her twenties when she joined a church and all of a sudden felt she had all the answers which led her to behave in a way she now cringes at.  Young Christians can be ghastly and I count myself amongst them.  I worked at a Christian summer camp nearly five years ago and I remember watching the movie Saved in the middle of it, which is about a Christian high school in America, all through the film I kept  thinking that this film wasn’t a comedy, it was more of a documentary.  We none of us have all the answers, God is an incredible mystery and it is important to remember that our journey to know him is not one with a tangible destination.  The best parts of Garrison’s book were where she talked to the Ordinary Heroes who worked quietly behind the scenes to further God’s work, it is through them that Garrison felt more of the power of Jesus’ sacrifice, not through the grandstanding American-Christian leaders who had led Garrison to feel so disaffected.  

So yes, this was an enjoyable book if not exactly what I expected.  I’m not usually a fan of travel writing because when people moan about where they’re staying I think they sound ungrateful and plus when they’re describing the ‘deep’ parts of the journey, it takes quite an impressive writer to bring that impression over adequately on the page.  Garrison is a bit medium and she does get a bit startstruck with Ireland and then not so much with Belfast which was unfortunate since that’s one of my favourite cities in the world.  I also found it hard to relate to Garrison’s experience of ‘online buddies’ – I stay in touch with friends over the interweb and I am enjoying my blogging experience but I don’t think that virtual friendships equate to the real thing, but then as the book progressed, I think Garrison realised that too.  
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Jesus Died for This? by Becky Garrison
Published by Harper Collins on 2010
Genres: Religion, Christian Life, Spiritual Growth
Pages: 233
ISBN: 9780310292890

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2 thoughts on “Review: Jesus Died For THIS? – A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ, Becky Garrison

  1. I like what you write about her missing a chance to jolt people out of their Christian comfort zones. I think there is a definite need for that and in all churches, young/old/happy-clappy/reserved … IT seems that once people find something that makes sense to them and justifies their life, even if they don't say it, they look down on anyone who doesn't agree. It is this silent judgement which makes a lot of Christians unapproachable and it would perhaps be better if they shared their opinions openly (not rudely, mind), even if it means they get shouted at! At least then people would be talking and debating openly, not afraid of a backlash. Anyhoo, that's what I think!

  2. Hey – realised I'm about 3 months late in replying to this … or is 4? Never mind, anyway – my main feeling is that it is tempting when we are comfortable and confident in our Christian enclave to believe that we have it sorted but it is important to remember that we are on a constant journey with and for God. I think that the more 'on fire' you feel, the greater the danger is that you're just going to insult someone. I liked what this book was trying to do in just sincerely and without cynicism to just look for God.

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