Blue Like Jazz: A book for disillusioned Christian fundamentalists
For the Christian who is disillusioned with the fundamentalists (and the fundamentals), along comes Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, supposedly the youthful and honest voice of modern Christianity (I wouldn’t know for sure – old fart that I am). Miller writes with a very casual style – more fitting to random and disjointed diary entries, than as a cohesive unit. But I suppose that is what gives the book its seemingly authentic and honest veneer. Yes folks, here is a Christian who attends a secular college, gets drunk, hangs out with the dopers and attends anti-Bush rallies. Not that any of that particularly bothers me; I remember fondly the old days of the Pentecostal Jesus movement from the early 70’s. But even though Miller claims that Christianity is at its core unhip, he strives to make himself and his version of Christianity the hippest act in town. Miller seems almost oblivious to his self-absorption, and I continually wanted to shake him in my frustration so as to snap him out of his stupor.
The book was recommended to me by fellow church-goers as a means of questioning my questions, and doubting my doubts. I read it during the early stages of my own suspicions of the claims of Christianity, and I was told that Miller’s experiences would mirror my own. Wrong – oh how wrong they were. What Miller shows is not doubt nor skepticism toward his beliefs, rather disillusionment towards the political right wing that Evangelical Christianity has recently taken. This goes without saying, and answers no questions about honest doubt in God or the Christians’ supposed relationship with him. To counteract his ‘doubts’, Miller devises a tepid theology is of the ‘feel good’ variety. He admits that he never really doubts his faith in Jesus, so rather than try and ground his faith, gains self gratification by a variety of good deeds: feeding the homeless, donating time to charities, and making banners for anti-Bush rallies. Oh yes, and smoking the occasional weed. Not that there is anything wrong with his good deeds; giving is an admirable trait. However this does not make one’s faith grow – I know this from experience. Miller never deals with core issues, such as the reality of Jesus Christ and the holy nature of God, things that I desperately searched for. Sorry Don, but endless similes and metaphors just did not cut it.
Ten pages of meaningless, and frankly insulting, Don Rabbit cartoons don’t make matters much better. But the fact that Miller must fill pages with crude rabbit and astronaut cartoons is symptomatic of the entire book. It is meaningless fluff – fast food, junk candy and brain Novocain. Blue Like Jazz is that bad. Is it any surprise then that many young Christians have no idea what their Bibles even say when they rely on vacuous McBibles like this for their Christian foundation? If Miller’s goal was to meet doubting Christians at a halfway point, I found the effort to be condescending. Miller writes as a self-absorbed young man who attacks traditional institutions like most college students do, Christian or not. The book reads like a diary written during fits of procrastination from doing freshmen psychology homework.
I will be blunt. Blue Like Jazz is garbage. Miller should have left it unpublished and given it to a girlfriend so she can read his ‘most deepest and innermost thoughts’. Other then that, I cannot see how anyone can possibly benefit from this pulp.
On a side note, I found the entire chapter entitled “Confessions” nauseating. Miller attempts to win fellow college students to Jesus Christ by personally apologizing for the 11th century crusades. Did potential converts really talk like that at his confession booth, or was it as contrived as it seemed?
(originally published on 17Aug 2007)