Anderson, Eden Prairie's highest-ranking magic specialist, orchestrates fawning media coverage for himself--posing as public intellectual, CEO and historian. He does not respond to critics, however, and his fancily-dressed, frighteningly submissive congregation devotes most of its energy to honing various symbolic expressions of qualification-free approval.
Relating various biblical stories, Anderson reminds us again how often demonically-possessed people were brought to Jesus for exorcism. Were someone I know to describe another person as possessed, I would need a lot of evidence prior to agreeing--and indeed suspect several obvious alternative explanations might be at work: Perhaps the person suffers from a serious mental illness; perhaps the person holds unpopular opinions and is therefore called possessed as a means of rendering her powerless.
My skepticism would expand were the demon-possession accusation to occur in a poor, prescientific, illiterate society. In Anderson's retelling of bible stories, he never considers that the accusations may well be false:
Jesus took immediate control, forcefully ordering him to be quiet. Then Jesus commanded, 'Come out of him!' The evil spirit let out a shriek, dumped the poor man on the floor, and exited his body, leaving him uninjured. [p58]After relating the improbable-sounding, twice-removed narrative as The Truth, Anderson enters the minds of attendees:
It was a synagogue service the attendees would never forget. They buzzed with conversation: 'What is he teaching? He talks like he is the person in charge who has the authority and power to give orders to evil spirits. And then they do what he tells them!' [p58]Anderson considers all questioning to be presumptively ill-motivated:
It was a powerful speech, but it didn't persuade his critics. To the contrary, it inflamed them all the more. They started looking for additional evidence to accuse Jesus of wrong behavior and beliefs. It didn't take long. [p70]Furthermore--to Anderson--non-believers should be considered sub-human: A page or two after insisting upon the importance of loving one's enemies, he let's us know (paraphrasing the Good Shepherd) what he thinks of skeptics:
When it comes those necessary judgments, you should avoid giving what is sacred to unbelieving dogs or what is precious to pigs. If you don't make this judgment, you'll risk being trampled and attacked by those dogs and pigs. [p83]As Anderson tells it, Jesus most admires uncritical acceptance--and he's willing to threaten eternal divine hatred against those who aren't willing to roll over for him:
'Whoever is not with me is against me,' he said, 'and whoever doesn't help makes things worse. Listen to what I'm going to say because it is really important. God will forgive every other sin and blasphemy except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Someone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. [p97]The Jesus character Anderson describes, then--often referring to him as 'a celebrity'--is not an attractive figure. In addition to his hatred for disinterested reasoning, Jesus--as Anderson describes him--was able to cure the sick but often preferred not to bother. He often reminds one of Mel Gibson, even.
Reading the book is at times interesting nonetheless; I learned Anderson's theology accepts that Jesus had siblings:
One of Jesus' disciples told him, 'Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.' Contrary to expectations, he declined to see them, asking, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' Then he answered his own question, pointing at his most loyal followers in the circle around him. 'These disciples are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.' [p99]Great guy, huh? A person so human he'll even snub his mother.