Book: My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos
Ridiculously simplified summary: The author realizes the Jesus he believes is real is really just a convenient Jesus he's imagined. On a quest to find the real Jesus, Matt meets countless other imagined Jesuses. Hijinks ensue, with characters like Simon Peter and a talking donkey.
Content: I read this AFTER reading Matt Mikalatos' Night of the Living Dead Christian. (And on that topic, I'm still not exactly certain how the rather serious Luther, who didn't seem to me to have a great sense of humor, made it through this book.)
So yeah, when my co-author and I started this review system early this year, we made a special point to say we wouldn't rate based on religious content per se, because something that touches one person might bore another, and so on.
I had no idea that was going to cause me trouble as early as March! Page 8 of this book has the apostle Peter and Jesus in a brawl:
Pete punched Jesus hard, in the face, causing his head to snap to the right and bounce off the window. I jumped to intervene. Pete dragged Jesus from the table, and Jesus kicked over the chair, feet flailing. Pete had him in a bear hug, and Jesus elbowed him in the stomach. Pete lost his grip, grabbed Jesus by the hair, and slammed him to the ground...
Of course, this Jesus is the Jesus that Matt (Matt as the character, as distinct from Matt Mikalatos as the author) made up in his mind. It's not the real Jesus. The whole idea that we all envision Jesus wrong is an important one and the point is made in a memorable way.
But how to rate it? I counted the name "Jesus" (or "Jesuses") 17 times over 2 pages. Page for page, this book says "Jesus" (or some variation thereof) way more than the New Testament. (Well, unless maybe your Bible has really tiny print.) So I can't really rate the book without taking the Christian content into account.
And how can I not rate based on my reaction to the irreverent treatment and portrayal of characters referred to as "Jesus"? The whole book has scenes like the above fight. Jesus after Jesus appears, and they do wacky things like racing down a hill in an inner tube while having a religious argument. Among the many false Jesuses are Feminist Jesus, Portland Jesus, Political Power Jesus, King James Jesus, and the popular Magic 8 Ball Jesus (which I'll admit hits the closest to home for me).
Humor lets an author get into places he or she might otherwise never reach. At least one agnostic read and enjoyed "Imaginary Jesus" (though it didn't bring him back to Christianity). But a disadvantage of using humor is that if the reader isn't smiling, he or she is probably getting annoyed. Or offended.
Most the other reviews I saw were glowingly positive, though it appears the vast majority of those positive reviews were also from people who found the book hilarious. It sounds like I'm in the distinct minority, but I just don't see any humor in (fake) Jesus literally cackling, "I'll get you, my pretty! And your little donkey, too!" And I think it's sad to see a fake Jesus trying to win Matt back like the proverbial mop in the Swiffer commercial.
Anyway, I could probably end the review here. If you find the above ideas more humorous than blasphemous, you'll likely enjoy the book. If it's too edgy/irreverent for you, there are still some great lines and ideas in this book. For instance, Political Power Jesus does a good job selling some of Satan's lies:
"Let's be frank, Matt. The real Jesus is inconvenient. He doesn't always show up when you call. He asks for unreasonable things. He frightens people. He can be immensely frustrating. But you can still serve him while working with an imaginary Jesus. We provide a service to get closer to God."But it was a challenge for me to get past the irreverence that permeated the book to focus on the message.
I rated the review categories as best I could for the rating below, but I won't break them down here because they all pretty much came down to "If you found it hilarious, (insert category here) was probably good." Humor is so subjective and my rating system doesn't cover religious content, so the objective rating system which seemed like such a great idea yesterday has utterly failed me here.
Reading the bonus material at the end, I was surprised to see how much of the story was REAL--including parts I didn't find believable when I thought they were fiction. And I found Mikalatos the author interesting and likable. (And I wrote that before I knew he'd be checking out the reviews.) I think I may have preferred to read Mikalatos' real journey, instead of this half-imaginary one. (Maybe I should get to reading Real Matt's blog.)
I thought the storyline was more cohesive in Mikalatos' follow-up book, Night of the Living Dead Christian, and unlike most reviewers, I found that one funnier, too. (I also liked "Matt" better there.) Looking forward to seeing his next project!
Recommended for: People who enjoy the first few pages on Amazon.
Maybe not so good for: Ultra-conservatives; active Mormons (being friends with several, I thought they were mocked pretty relentlessly); people expecting a fantasy or science-fiction world (I wouldn't call this speculative except in the VERY broadest sense of the word).
Total Rating: 2.6 out of 5 stars
Thanks for the tour, all! This is the first review tour I've done and I enjoyed it.
What about you? Do you have any misconceptions about Jesus in your life?
*I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale in exchange for this review.*