Christian fundamentalism’s cool factor

Why American businesses simply can’t afford to not love Jesus
Emma Teitel

A well known hardware store (Lowe’s) and a well-known travel website (Kayak.com) have recently pulled their advertisements from a little-known reality television show (All American Muslim) in order to appease a little-known group of anti-Muslim Evangelicals (the Florida Family Association). Why? Because according to said Evangelicals, All American Muslim—a TLC show about an average Muslim American family–“profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.” In other words, the characters on the show are not grenade-throwing Jihadists. They’re normal. Worse, they’re boring (the show’s ratings are abysmal, even in the midst of the current controversy). Or as Michelle Goldberg writes in the Daily Beast, “The boycott of All American Muslim marks the first time right-wingers have objected to a television show for being too bland and wholesome.”

The weirdest thing about this, however, isn’t that an apparently wholesome Christian group is carping about a wholesome TV show, but that two substantial businesses actually felt the need to listen to them; it’s as though Lowe’s and Kayak mysteriously absorbed some of the massive Tea Party pressure currently facing G.O.P. candidates—a pressure that has turned the United States into the next Twilight Zone. How else do you account for a country in which political incorrectness masquerades as political correctness? Apparently conservative politicians in America–and now big business–are no longer afraid that they’ll offend the oppressed and marginalized: they’re afraid that they won’t.

Just look at the way former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney recoils from the slightest suggestion that he was once a fair-minded and progressive guy. His desperate courtship of the Tea Party and his scorn for the liberal values he once endorsed makes him look like a 15-year-old girl who’s finally managed to join the most popular clique in her high school, and celebrates by loudly dissing her old, less exclusive one. It appears that if you want to win over the Christian Right in America, you can’t agree to disagree with your opponents: You have to deride them. Just watch this clip of Romney’s reaction to a Vietnam veteran at a campaign breakfast when he realizes the veteran is pro-gay marriage, and likely gay himself.

Deriding gay veterans is a necessary evil if Romney wants to appease his new God-fearing/Mormon-hating friends and win the G.O.P. nomination. But what excuse do Lowe’s and Kayak have for pandering to religious zealots? Why the Florida Family Association? And why now?

The answer is Tim Tebow. The unlikeliest success story in the National Football League this season, Tebow, the outspokenly Christian quarterback of the Denver Broncos, has singlehandedly made religious zealotry mainstream with (alongside an uncanny string of fourth quarter comeback victories) his game-time Jesus attributions and random acts of “Tebowing” (he literally bows on the football field in celebratory prayer, looking a bit like Rodin’s The Thinker.) How cool has Tebow made religious fundamentalism? Two New York high school students were just suspended for leading a giant “Tebow” session in their school’s hallway (think The Thinker meets Clueless); and Denver football fans, apparently deducing that only a true miracle could have given the Broncos a chance to make the playoffs, have started wearing “Jesus”-branded jerseys. Religious fanaticism, it turns out, is good for business—so the question isn’t why would Lowe’s (a company who once sponsored an award Tebow received at the University of Florida) and Kayak pander to a Christian lobby group; but rather, how can they afford not to?

In the United States, Jesus saves sells.