Religious Conservatives Have Lost Their Way! Pious Right-Wing Republicans Smear the Name of Jesus and Ravage the Image of Christ
by Nick Paccione | Sep 20 2006 -
There was a brief period during the early seventies when Jesus Christ was on the way to becoming a totally bitchen, hip and with-it cultural icon in America. He was climbing the Billboard charts as the subject of several songs including "Jesus Christ Superstar" in 1971, "Put Your Hand in the Hand (Of the Man Who Stilled the Water)" in that same year and "My Sweet Lord" in 1970 (Granted this George Harrison song was more about Krishna but the general public didn't really see it that way. If you were Christian this song was about Jesus Christ). In his 1973 hit "Why Me," Kris Kristofferson sang "now that I know that I've needed you so; help me Jesus--my soul's in your hand."
The Doobie Brothers crooned that "Jesus he's my friend" in "Jesus is Just Alright" circa 1973. Judy Collins had a hit record with "Amazing Grace" in 1971. "Prepare yourself, you know it's a must; gotta have a friend in Jesus" came from Norman Greenbaum's smash hit "Spirit in the Sky" from 1970. "Day by Day" had regular airplay in 1972 with a chorus that proclaimed "Oh dear Lord three things I pray: To see thee more clearly; love thee more dearly; follow thee more nearly--day by day." These were not Carrie Underwood cornball-country hits about Jesus driving an old Ford Fairlane on a rural icy road and they weren't restricted to Christian radio either. They were 100% mainstream Billboard Top 40.
John Lennon was the most popular spokesperson in those years for the spirituality that told his audience to imagine a world without war, hatred and greed; a world in which we were encouraged to give peace a chance and to love one another. He provided a platform for Jesus' greatest hits in an extremely endearing and popular package and many hundreds of pop stars have followed his lead without directly mentioning religion or Christ. (The message of loving one another is at the poetic heart of all the world's religions.)
In 1973, Hollywood produced a movie based on a Broadway hit called Godspell (Columbia Pictures) which depicted a contemporary version of the gospels, opening with John the Baptist calling young New Yorkers to follow and learn from Jesus. In the movie Jesus' followers develop a nomadic entertainment troupe that enacts the parables through song, dance, comedy, and mime. With thoughtful symbolism we see Jesus crucified in a junkyard and then resurrected by his apostles so that he can enter the world of the living on the streets of New York City. Franco Zefferelli weighed in with his more literal interpretation of Christ's life in "Jesus of Nazareth." And the rock-opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" was given the full Hollywood promotional push as a major motion picture release with heavy-weight Norman "In the Heat of the Night" Jewison directing for Universal Studios.
Jesus' popularity during this period was a natural offshoot of the hippy movement. Let's face it; the hippies of the sixties were a lot closer to being Christ-like than today's Evangelical Christians who as a voting block believe that capitalistic, jingoistic, pro-war, anti-immigration politicians and televangelists are the be all and end all. Yes the hippies were too idealistic and some just pretended to believe in the whole "love-one-another" groovy vibe so they could take advantage of the free love aspect of the movement. And yes, that probably led to the record number of sexually transmitted diseases of present times. But the heart of the hippy was usually in the right place with the idea that many of them found love and peace at the heart of Jesus' message--a sadly naive and seemingly overly sentimental notion among Christians in the USA of today.