H.L. Mencken, in The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:
NIETZSCHE was a preacher’s son, brought up in the fear of the Lord. It is the ideal training for sham-smashers and freethinkers. Let a boy of alert, restless intelligence come to early manhood in an atmosphere of strong faith, wherein doubts are blasphemies and inquiry is a crime, and rebellion is certain to appear with his beard. So long as his mind feels itself puny beside the overwhelming pomp and circumstance of parental authority, he will remain docile and even pious. But so soon as he begins to see authority as something ever finite, variable and all-too-human – when he begins to realize that his father and his mother, in the last analysis, are mere human beings, and fallible like himself – then he will fly precipitately toward the intellectual wailing places, to think his own thoughts in his own way and to worship his own gods beneath the open sky.
As a child Nietzsche was holy; as a man he was the symbol and embodiment of all unholiness. At nine he was already versed in the lore of the reverend doctors, and the pulpit, to his happy mother – a preacher’s daughter as well as a preacher’s wife – seemed his logical and lofty goal; at thirty he was chief among those who held that all pulpits should be torn down and fashioned into bludgeons, to beat out the silly brains of theologians.
But while Nietzsche declared that “God is Dead” in 1882 (God would seem to provide a rejoinder 18 years later), everyone in pop culture seems determined to pose as His son. The most recent example was spotted at Glenn Beck’s perhaps appropriately named Website, The Blaze. “Atheist Comedian Ricky Gervais Poses as Jesus in ‘Blasphemous’ Mag Cover:”
The late George Carlin posed sitting next to the empty seat of Jesus at the Last Supper for his 2004 book cover:
Just in time for Christmas of 2004, Morgan Spurlock, who consumed 5000 calories a day and then was apparently surprised he miraculously became Super-Sized was photographed as Jesus; as James Lileks wrote at the time:
But still: is it possible that some people in the overculture lack an elemental understanding of what this holiday means to some? I know, I know. Madness. Bear with me.
I don’t think people in the Evil Coastal Godless Baal-Loving Media hate Christianity. I’m sure some hold it in disinterested contempt, the way they view NASCAR and Simplicity dress patterns and those giant salad forks some people inexplicably used as kitchen-wall decorations. But for many – yes, the dreaded inexact “many” – religious ideas don’t register at all, so they don’t know how their actions might seem to those who take the whole God thing seriously. A perfect example was found in a recent Entertainment Weekly, which ran the annual list of up-and-comers. For Morgan Spurlock, the wonderfully named filmmaker who did the “Supersize Me” doc, they used this photo:
A couple of years later, Rolling Stone, perhaps struggling to overcome its crossover demographic with AARP’s magazine, photoshopped Kanye West as Jesus. West, who was described by an earlier Time magazine cover as “Hip-Hop’s Class Act” and “The Smartest Man in Pop Music” until he wasn’t, is crucified by Pontius Wenner for his remarkably self-inflicted sins:
In 2008, perhaps as an unintentional homage to Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds, Portland Oregon’s Willamette Week magazine was keen to show a first-term Illinois senator as miraculously walking on water, trusty unicorn behind him:
In Mencken’s profile of Nietzsche, there’s a passage that’s very much a dual-edged sword:
[If] we admit the indisputable fact that Nietzsche died a madman and the equally indisputable fact that his insanity was not sudden, but progressive, we by no means read him out of court as a thinker. A man’s reasoning is to be judged, not by his physical condition, but by its own ingenuity and accuracy. If a raving maniac says that twice two make four, it is just as true as it would be if the Pope or any other undoubtedly sane man were to maintain it. Judged in this way Nietzsche’s philosophy is very far from insane.
Or to put it another way, Nietzche was far from all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.
One last note to all of the above. In contrast to the ease of publications gleefully crucifying celebrities, most magazines were reluctant to run images parodying another messianic religious figure back then. I wonder why?