I owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel Radosh's Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture for hipping me to the existence of today's entry in the Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club, The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith as well as the mind-boggling genius of Larry Norman. If you own just one album by a freakishly pale, long-haired eccentric Christian outlaw obsessed with the Rapture you cannot do any better than the utterly essential Norman retrospective Rebel Poet, Jukebox Balladeer: The Anthology. Seriously. Buy that shit. You won't regret it.
I was a little wary of Radosh's book initially. If it were dedicated exclusively to ridiculing what Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip indelibly called those Crazy Christians it'd get old pretty fast. But Radosh's book is a fundamentally serious, sober if amusing and entertaining attempt to create a bridge between progressive Jesus-lovers and the secular world. It's less concerned with scoring cheap points at the expense of zealots than in understanding them. It's as interested in what unites Christian Fundamentalists and the secular world as it is in what divides them.
That isn't to say that Radosh entirely refrains from snark. When Stephen "Sarah Palin's favorite" Baldwin won't sit down for an interview Radosh conducts a mock-interview where his questions are "answered" with passages from Baldwin's gloriously meat-headed exploration of why Christianity is totally tubular. Heaven knows Baldwin gives him a lot to work with.
I expected Baldwin's book to be 90 percent Hollywood tell-all, ten-percent theology. Instead it's ten percent heavily sanitized memoir, 90 percent dumbass theology. Baldwin should be able to deliver a powerful testimony about the power of faith. Baldwin was, after all, a man who enjoyed all sordid temptations of the ungodly world: blow and fame and women and booze and palling around with Pauly Shore. Yet he forsookified–to the X-treme!–the sinful pleasures of the wanton and hellbound for the delayed gratification of an eternity in heaven.
Yet Baldwin whitewashes his pre-saved existence to an almost perverse degree. Fans expecting sordid revelations will have to settle for a passage where Baldwin writes of hanging out at the Playboy mansion with Robert Downey Jr. Baldwin headed down the primrose path to a wine cellar where he and the poster boy for drug abusage spied an image of unimaginable decadence and sin that will haunt him til his dying day. I hope all of you are holding onto your monocles with a steady grip for what I am about to tell you will shock you to your very soul–Baldwin stumbled upon a handful of playmates smoking pot! Can you believe it? That's not even legal! They could totally get arrested for that! Where others saw only hot chicks blazing a fatty Baldwin sensed the presence of pure evil.
When describing his pre-saved existence, Baldwin has a most unchristian habit of making himself out to be King Shit of Fuck Mountain. He writes that fans want to know if he banged all his sexy female co-stars before Jesus hit like an atom bomb. Baldwin writes that he didn't–but he could have. Now, I'm not too well versed in the New Testament. What does it say about pride again? That it's awesome and everyone should have a whole lot of it?
Here's Baldwin on his pre-Jesus days:
People constantly ask me for details of my "Damascus Road" experience (see Acts 9) that made me give my life to Jesus Christ. Most assume I hit bottom and had nowhere else to turn. They're wrong. Nothing in my life made me say, Oh God I can't live like this anymore. I can't do it. I'm going to kill myself. Help me! I've got to admit, my life was pretty awesome. When I woke up one morning and realized some studio had just paid me eighty times what my old man made a year to play Barney-freaking-Rubble, how could I not pinch myself and say, "Is this a great country or what!
Reading The Unusual Suspect is a little like watching an edited-for-TV version of Scarface. The pre-saved Stevie B apparently swore like a sailor with Tourette's but post-salvation Baldwin keeps it family-friendly by substituting G-rated replacements for all his favorite curse words. Needless to say, he does a really freaking golly-danged sweet job of refraining from profanity, dabnabit!
Baldwin spends much of the book responding to fake, italicized questions and challenges from nameless, theoretical skeptics who just can't believe that Stevie Freaking B, that knucklehead from Long Island, is really down with the big J. A sample passage might go something like: "Wow, Stevie B, it sounds like since you got saved, you wake up every morning with a million dollars in your pocket, can fly, control the international stock market with your mind and can turn yourself invisible at will. Is that true, Stevie B? Will embracing Christ's purifying love give me superpowers as well?
The doubting voices inside Stevie B's head who challenge and confront him throughout the book curiously all speak in the same Bio-Domelicious surfer patois as the author himself. A chapter about Satan and his big lie ends thusly:
You know what, dude, your whole Jesus thing is just your way of being a big wuss, a weak little pussycat who can't handle life in the real world. No, dude, your lack of willingness to attempt the Jesus way just shows you've been blinded by the king of all lies. I tried it your way. I tried to find happiness in the world system of take, take, take. It didn't work. But in choosing to surrender my will to the will of God, I found something that does. I wake up with a smile. Why would I ever want to turn back now?
Yes, it's The Gospel According to Bill & Ted as Saint Stephen extols the virtues of a gnarly, in-your-face, Rastafied God who's all about kicking ass and taking names, not peace and love. Baldwin came to know this X-treme God through a series of semi-coincidences he divines as the Lord's plan.
It all began when Baldwin's Brazillian wife decides to hire a Brazilian housekeeper. This blows Baldwin's mind: who ever heard of a housekeeper from South America? In an even more mind-blowing coincidence, Baldwin's devout housekeeper was keen to share her religion with her new employers. Who ever heard of a religious zealot wanting to evangelize the people around them?
Baldwin's wife caught Jesus fever first. Initially, this just annoyed Baldwin: when he saw his beloved in a semi-fetal prayer crouch for hours every morning all he could think was, "Where's my gosh dang breakfast, woman?" Then something amazing happened to Baldwin. Oh, and to everyone else in the world: 9/11. Baldwin figured that if zealots with box cutters could terrorize the most powerful nation on Earth then clearly Jesus was headed back to Earth to kick it with his main man Stevie B and maybe drink in some of the wicked skateboarding tricks of Baldwin's skate team.
Baldwin is over four hundred percent more in-your-face than the average Christian. As Radosh notes in Rapture Ready, Baldwin likes to ask friends, strangers, acquaintances and startled, irritated passersby, "How's your sex life?" I imagine most folks answer, "That's none of your business, Stevie B. You are seriously creeping me out. Also, how did you get into my house and why aren't you wearing any pants?" but there is a method to his madness. Think about the current state of your sex life. Now imagine how wicked sweet it would be if you plugged the power of the Lord into the equation. You could be having mind-blowing sex just like Stevie B and his wife.
Who wouldn't want Jesus and friends involved in their sex lives? Introducing Jesus into sex is like having a thousand winged cherubs gently massage your balls twenty-four hours a day. Or something. It's best not to think about it too much. The Unusual Suspect is like a having an overly caffeinated sixteen year old intoxicated with the sound of his own voice follow you around for three hours talking about his life-changing bromance with a bitching dude named Jesus.
Faith can move mountains and accomplish great things. Faith has transformed the world in profound ways, both good and bad but The Unusual Suspect suggests that Samuel Johnson had it wrong: it's the opportunistic skate ministry, not patriotism, that is truly the last refuge of dumbasses.