Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, I saw this story and just had to laugh. A Christian broadcaster and author, Joe Battaglia, has written a new book. He titled it Make America Good Again: 12.5 Biblical Principles to Unite Our Nation, Restore True Greatness, and Reshape Our Political Rhetoric. Ouch. Yes, we’ve found ourselves yet another Christian who thinks he’s figured out the way to fix everything wrong in America. And that way? Everybody just needs to Jesus harder. Today, let me show you this popular non-solution — and more importantly, let me show you why his crowd likes it so much.
Everyone, Meet Joe Battaglia.
Joe Battaglia is, according to the story at Christian Post, the president of Renaissance Communications. That, in turn, is a company that does consulting and media services for Christian clients who want to reach the right-wing Christian market. It looks like a very small company. (Presented without comment: the most recent work in their display archive seems to be from a Luis Palau revival meeting back in 2003.) Christian Post tells us that he was involved in various recent Christian
treacle movies like The Passion of The Christ, I Can Only Imagine, and I Still Believe.
Battaglia actually obtained a decent education in journalism and — according to his Renaissance bio — has worked steadily in communications ever since.
Obviously, he’s also a fervent Christian. I can’t find out if he’s a super-hardline Catholic or a swivel-eyed fundagelical, that fusion of fundamentalism and evangelicalism that’s been causing so much damage. They’re all but identical lately. (He’s done a good job hiding whatever he is. So I’m going to go with a wildcard here and say “give me ‘homebrew apocalyptic Mormon offshoot’ for $1000, Alex.”)
And as you might guess from the name of the book under discussion today, he thinks that America’s got a big problem. Yes, America’s just not “good” anymore! He says in that Christian Post article,
[. . .] to me, greatness is about achievement but goodness is about character. We have lost our moral and national character.
Oh, dear! Oh, my! Our moral and national character!
Y’all! How can we ever solve this terrible problem???
Blurb Dishonesty (Again).
Battaglia pulls in contacts from his professional life to assure us that yes, he can solve this problem. And I want to pause here to mention these recommendation blurbs he includes, because they give us a clue about him, his work, and his ideas.
Ever since I caught on to the nature of recommendation blurbs in Christian publishing, I’ve been paying special attention to them. And I’m not disappointed here to find a strong professional connection that somehow doesn’t get disclosed.
Almost all of these people look like past clients and important contacts from Battaglia’s media business. One stands out in particular: Eric Metaxas. He’s the toxic Christian who wrote that Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography that got savaged for its ineptitude. In it, he seems to have deliberately mischaracterized Bonhoeffer and his views to bolster the credibility of the toxic-Christian culture wars. Renaissance worked on VeggieTales stuff right around the period when Metaxas worked on that series. So that’s probably where these two met. Metaxas went from there to becoming a fixture in the awful end of the Christ-o-sphere.
Metaxas’ endorsement blurb looks a lot like a favor got called in. Here, he refers to Battaglia as his “friend” and somehow omits any hint that they’ve probably been professional contacts for decades.
He and all the rest of Battaglia’s friends/acquaintances/remote professional contacts make this book sound like the salvation of America.
The Big Problem Here.
Joe Battaglia completely and absolutely buys into the false notion that once upon a time, Christians’ sheer religious exuberance and constantly-displayed goodness made America “great.” From the Christian Post article, he says:
A quote has often been attributed to [Alexis de Tocqueville] but he really did not say it, at least it can’t be found in his book. Maybe he said it somewhere else, or maybe someone else said it and thought he could say it. I won’t go through it because it’s a really long quote. But the essence of it is at the end, where it says, when he looked for America’s greatness, it wasn’t until he went into the churches and saw pulpits of flame with righteousness that he [then] understood what made America great. America is great because she is good and if she ever ceases to be good, she’ll cease to be great.
Yes, this guy takes life advice from a quote he can’t accurately source. Worse, his guiding wisdom is something that he knows wasn’t actually said by the famous person in question. To Battaglia, de Tocqueville should have said it. And that’s good enough for him.
Since Battaglia defines “greatness” by the fervor of Christians which naturally produces “goodness,” he sees America as being not-great lately because it’s not dominated quite as much as it used to be by fervent Christians who behave according to his rules.
Obviously, if that’s The Big Problem Here, then the solution will be for Christians to become super-fervent again and also become a dominant faction in America at the same time.
In other words, he wants everybody (and that includes everybody) to Jesus Harder. If some of us refuse to clap, then Jesus will die!
Solving The Big Problem Here.
It’s almost impossible to nail down exactly what Christians are supposed to do to express this faith. Christian Post‘s writer asks him,
Bringing it back to Jesus, as you did in your book, does provide a unique perspective in showing that good starts with God. Can you talk to that?
Why yes, yes he can. He replies with some blahblah about how sad he is about Kids Today:
America has not been great to everyone and we understand that. That saddens me as it should everybody.
And how do we fix that vast social issue? I’m glad you asked:
We really need to make sure that America is great to everybody and the only way we can do that is if we reconcile ourselves. It’s not the other person’s fault. That’s what we always love about who Christ is in our lives. He always calls us out to a standard, He doesn’t call somebody else out. He always asks me, what am I doing my best to change myself? What am I doing to become a better neighbor?
Really? Because I’m going to need a citation check on that assertion. It seems to me that Jesus ain’t doing anything to strong-arm Christians into living according to even a basic standard of human decency, much less surpassing it. The more fervent they are, the worse they behave. But Battaglia talks about “unity” and mentions Jesus’ prayer for unity among Christians (which failed “fantastically” to say the least, as Neil Carter delightfully puts it).
And to achieve this unity, Battaglia asserts that Americans must once again operate from the “biblical frame of reference” that they lost when evil secularism became popular. That’s what went so wrong. That’s why America stopped being “good.”
The heart of Battaglia’s “biblical frame of reference” seems to be what he calls “faith-based morality.”
(We’ll talk about “biblical” soon. For now, it’s just a modifier that indicates friendliness to the toxic-Christian culture wars. “Faith-based” works similarly. Both function as dogwhistles to the super-authoritarian end of Christianity. To people outside that tribe, these words sound utterly harmless and even praiseworthy, but to those in it, they’re a potent signal of affiliation.)
Battaglia calls in his pal Todd Starnes to discuss these ideas in the foreword to his book (preview available here). Todd Starnes was one of the more-dishonest toxic-Christian talking heads at Faux Noise. One major news site called him a serious drag on the network. Seriously. Here’s how that Todd Starnes describes “goodness” in the book’s foreword:
Goodness is all about how we resist in bowing to the god of self-aggrandizement to pursue true humility, speak truth, show mercy, love the unlovable, and even embrace opposition.
Irony, thy name is Toxic Christianity. Dude just disqualified himself on every single count.
At the end, he praises Battaglia for “show[ing] us the path we must take in order to make America good again.”
How to Jesus Harder.
Have you ever heard of a C25k Plan? These are fitness plans that promise to get someone from couch-potato status to being able to gracefully complete a 5k race. Fitness experts design these plans for people who are totally out of shape and want to become more active. Here’s the first half of a sample plan from that link above:
Since a 5k race involves objective reality, a good plan includes tangible action steps. Those trying it will know if they succeeded or not: their bodies will reflect their effort. The goal cannot be both completed and not-completed. You can find people on Reddit talking about these plans — here’s one of those discussions. They don’t always work in the timeframes given, true. But they’re objectives-based and performance-measuring, just like the 5k goal itself.
Well, Christianity — any flavor of it — is the opposite of a good Couch to 5k (C25k) fitness plan. Because it’s not based in reality, it’s impossible to use it as a roadmap to get anywhere. Most of the time, Christian leaders don’t even try to outline a concrete list of demands on their flocks.
Sometimes — and this is a very bare sometimes — you get demands like tithing 10%+, adhering to a dress/behavior code, or attending church thrice-weekly. But the goal of these shows of fervor, typically greater faith in the religion’s false claims or increased morality as a person, isn’t one you can reach through displays of religiosity or obedience to authoritarian demands.
Even the most authoritarian fundagelicals would agree with me there — though without realizing what they reveal about their broken system when they talk like that. Of course, they’ll still make the demands, expecting their invisible friend to be the magic fairy dust that makes their demands doable and worthwhile.
However, in Battaglia’s interview you won’t even get a plan that clearly-stated.
Jesus Harder, Everyone.
Usually, Christians try to inspire each other to behave more like Jesus. That’s normal. But they’ve never agreed on what that looks like.
It ends up looking like busy-work. Worse, these suggestions often come off looking a deliberate attempt to hide the fact that the person making these demands is completely clueless when it comes to pleasing their imaginary friend.
In the interview, Battaglia describes his version of just Jesus harder, everyone:
So I wanted to talk about what can we do to look at ourselves and see how we can become a good people again because what I see out there and what a lot of people see out in the news and all around is just a lot of hate, and violence, and animosity and racism, and anger and fear. This is not why Christ came and He is our model. He’s our true north. He is the one who helps us become the people that we should be. So wanted to run my thoughts past him, if you will, and say, this is what He would be like, how can we model that?
Ugh. The interview contains absolutely no concrete suggestions for “model[ing] that.” None.
Just.. be like Jesus, everyone! GYAH, do you not get how this works?
This pretense reminds me of the campaign speech of the doomed class president in that Invader Zim episode:
President: Isn’t our school just great? Our greatness is greater than all other greatnesses of all the other schools combined! And it’s that greatness that makes us great!
(Of course, as soon as she dares to mention the school’s filthy bathrooms, the administrators disappear her.)
The Message Beneath the Message.
I wish Christians would forget this fixation on the supposed virtues of Jesus. He was not a good person, and his ideology wasn’t designed to help a basically-awful person become a better one.
If Christians could even consistently behave like decent human beings, they’d sell way more product and significantly raise their credibility level. But they waste time instead by running around after their own tails trying to guess what their imaginary friend wants them to do. And since he isn’t real, their subjective impressions of his character don’t ever have to touch base with reality.
The end result of just Jesus harder starts looking a lot like a permission slip they write themselves to behave however they like best.
But this book won’t inspire the flocks to do either one. It’s just poorly-disguised right-wing propaganda.
Indeed, if Battaglia hadn’t given away the game with all his dogwhistles, thus reversing any hint of good advice he might have had to offer, the tribe would have already trampled him into the mud and written him off. I mean, Jen Hatmaker told them much the same things but with way more sincerity, and that’s exactly what they did to her.
But not this time.
This time, they heard the message’s real meaning loud and clear. They recognized Joe Battaglia as one of their own. And they responded with full-throated approval.
Words Mangled Beyond Recognition.
There’s a method to Battaglia’s schemes. He presents himself in this interview as the voice of reason. Yep, he’s the guy who understands How Bad Things Have Gotten! And he’s seen the way through the fog to the Promised Land of Christian Unity, Togetherness, and Jesus-osity.
Aren’t his tribemates lucky that he’s decided to return to share his wisdom with them?
I’ve got a few posts planned on this guy and his ridiculous book. There’s a lot going on here and I want to see it all.
He’s telling toxic Christians a whole lot of things behind his sweet words, and not one single bit of it is good. In fact, it’s horrifying. And in coming days, I’ll show you what I mean.
For now, I say this: telling Christians to just Jesus harder doesn’t work. It never worked. And it never will work. Nonetheless, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ love this demand. There’s a very important reason why.
Long, long ago, they created a substitute for goodness: religious fervor. And that substitute serves them way better than obeying all those boring commands that Jesus’ ghostwriters actually gave them.
NEXT UP: A Christianese lesson about conviction.
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Final note: (Mr. Captain, reading my introduction: “Wait. 12.5? Seriously? Did he actually use the number ‘12.5’ in his subtitle?” [Me: “Yes.”] “*** this guy.” I think that’s the fastest he’s ever landed there.)