In James Frey’s book The Final Testament of the Holy Bible (Gagosian Gallery, 2011) the controversial best-selling author gives us one of most revolutionary readings of the gospels I’ve encountered in any form of modern writing. Amazon.com describes the author and his book with these words:
James Frey isn’t like other writers. He’s been called a liar. A cheat. A con man. He’s been called a savior. A revolutionary. A genius. He’s been sued by readers. Dropped by publishers because of his controversies. Berated by TV talk-show hosts and condemned by the media. He’s been exiled from America, and driven into hiding. He’s also a bestselling phenomenon. Published in 38 languages, and beloved by readers around the world. What scares people about Frey is that he plays with truth; that fine line between fact and fiction. Now he has written his greatest work, his most revolutionary, his most controversial. The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. What would you do if you discovered the Messiah were alive today? Living in New York. Sleeping with men. Impregnating young women. Euthanizing the dying, and healing the sick. Defying the government, and condemning the holy. What would you do if you met him? And he changed your life. Would you believe? Would you? The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. It will change you. Hurt you. Scare you. Make you think differently. Live differently. Enrage you. Offend you. Open your eyes to the world in which we live. We’ve waited 2,000 years for the Messiah to arrive. We’ve waited 2,000 years for this book to be written. He was here. The Final Testament of the Holy Bible is the story of his life.
So what has James Frey to do with Ross Douthat’s thesis about Bad Religion? Well, for starters, James Frey has been a controversial guest on Oprah’s popular TV program and, here and elsewhere, has created more than his share of culture-wide debate. Further, his writing has a great deal to do with Ross Douthat’s thesis if you understand one of the major points Douthat makes in his book, Bad Religion (2012). Douthat believes that Christianity was able to establish orthodox belief and practice because, among other things, it clearly and strongly rejected the kind of sexual individualism that we now embrace. In it’s place, early Christians created a matrix of standard sexual practice that became normative for those inside the church. The modern era has created a new problem, one that challenges the church in a way that the ancient era did not. The ancient church saw itself as standing outside the culture, thus creating a separate community, a community of the baptized rooted in the radical teachings of Jesus. The modern Western church faces the most profound challenge to this matrix of belief and practice in all of Christian history.
The very popular God Within writer Donald Walsch says God’s only specific sexual commandment is that “no action involving another may be taken without the other’s agreement and permission” (Bad Religion, 237). Another central thesis of the modern culture and church is that “some forms of promiscuity may well be wrong, but that a strong emotional attachment, whether in or out of marriage, is enough to elevate sex from ‘casual’ to licit. Undergirding both of these standards are two deeper assumptions. First, that the urge to have sex is both irresistible and more fundamental to personal identity than other impulses and appetites. Second, that the act of sex itself is basically a small thing, a little spasm of delight which an all-powerful God can’t possible care that much about, at least so long as you’re a kind and charitable person whose heart is fundamentally in the right place” (Bad Religion, 238).
So back to the controversial best-selling author James Frey. Frey says that Jesus Christ himself would teach us