[November 25, 2002]

What Would Jesus Drive?

by Wayne Dunn

(Published in Capitalism Magazine; a short version, "Christ and the Crankshaft: A Cruise through Civilization," published in The Tennessean.)

A group of Evangelicals claims a hazard lies ahead. Is their concern radical Islam, you may wonder? Violent crime, you may ask? Smothering taxation, you may guess? No, these Christians got wrapped around the axle about the sinister sport-utility vehicle, or SUV. So much so that they've reengineered a popular catchphrase to meet environmentally-conscious specifications. Drum roll please...unveiling the new, 2003 four-word jive ecological guilt trip, complete with hot-air bags, anti-life brakes and eternal ramifications the slogan: "What Would Jesus Drive?"

No, it's not a joke; it's the tagline in a series of TV ads that the National Religious Partnership for the Environment will run in Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and North Carolina. This revved-up version of WWJD is supposed to steer Christians toward "the most fuel-efficient vehicle that they think meets their needs."

The premise: Lord Jesus wouldn't trash the ozone by tanking around in one of those evil, low-mileage, gas-guzzling SUVs, so neither should you.

Okay, let's take their slogan literally and try to imagine what the Messiah would be driving if he were alive today. But first let's take his teachings for a little test spin.

Jesus preached that the love of money is the root of all evil, and that focusing on the material world is a major no-no. He taught that servile obedience, not independent thought, is a virtue, and that suffering and self-sacrifice, not happiness and self-interest, are noble pursuits. God ensures that birds eat and lilies bloom, and we're more important than they are, explained Jesus, so we shouldn't worry about food, clothes, and such have faith and God will provide.

Given his views his contempt for wealth and earthly pleasure his disdain of independence and self-interest his derision of material values there's no doubt what the Savior would drive (no, not a Jesus Chrysler). If humanity stuck to his beliefs, he and the rest of us would likely be "driving" the same mode of transportation (besides sandal-power) Jesus reportedly did use: a donkey. And, brother, that's what his environmentalist devotees are making of themselves.

Why? Because if people down through the ages had consistently followed Jesus' doctrine, there could have been no Model T, much less SUV or any other technology to speak of. There could have been no Renaissance, no Industrial Revolution, no Declaration of Independence, no Capitalism, no Ford Motor Company, no mass production nothing. Nothing, that is, except a far greater measure of what historically did roll off the Christian assembly line: superstition, oppression, squalor, and stagnation subsequently dubbed the "Dark Ages."

Consider. Would a philosopher in the 16th century propose using logic if he believed men should mindlessly obey the Bible? Would thinkers in the 18th invent the power loom and steam engine if they took up the cross and shunned the physical world? Would a colonial planter declare that all men have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if he thoroughly subscribed to the Christian ideal if he held that God owns one's life, that the only "liberty" is liberty from sin, that true happiness lies beyond the grave? Would an economics based on the profit motive arise if everybody thought riches jeopardize one's soul (i.e., Easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than a rich man into heaven)? Would an ambitious entrepreneur have had the moxie to build automobile factories had he instead been a humble servant who rebuked worldly success?

Easier to get a Christian through the slot of an ATM than uphold free enterprise with Christianity.

Thus, it is fitting that evangelicals should join forces with environmentalists and denounce SUVs. For that marvelous piece of engineering has come to symbolize human progress, affluence, and pride concepts scorned by naturalists and supernaturalists alike.

There's irony in this though. The same industrial civilization that created the SUV also affords ecologists the spare time and resources to coalesce against it, to fret over air quality and the like. During the medieval era, when air and religion were "pure," the 30 years the average person lived were utterly consumed by the day-to-day struggle for survival. Most fared little better than the birds and lilies Jesus cited. Man, toothless and lice-ridden, was virtually at the mercy of the elements, such that an early frost might spell disaster and a simple flu bug death. Oh, but a priest was usually near to read Last Rites.

Nature is a harsh mistress, religion a cruel master. Their marriage does not pave the way for a nice Sunday drive.

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© COPYRIGHT 2002 by Wayne Dunn