August 2002

Michael Schaub


Extreme Answers to Extreme Questions by Katie E. Gieser et al.

Given fundamentalist Christians' vaunted unconcern for all things secular, you might not expect to see evangelicals hawking Jesus the same way multinational food corporations hawk carbonated beverages.

You'd be wrong, heathen. Ever since the Christian right realized they could reach young people by "speaking their language," they've been pounding home messages like "Jesus loves you, dude" with the dogged repetitiveness of a third-grader who has just learned to play "Hot Cross Buns" on the recorder. Think of the just-past-middle-aged cop who lectured to your high school class about the dangers of drugs abuse, saying things like "I know you might think that 'weed' is
'groovy,' but after you suffer memory loss and emphysema, you'll think it was a 'bum trip.'"

The point is, it's harder for authority figures to learn fluent youthspeak than it is for a blind person to learn sign language. And the Christian right are kind of national authority figures -- hell, they successfully elected one of their own to the American presidency. But they still keep trying to capture the imaginations of American youth, hence Christian bands like DC Talk and Sixpence None the Richer, and hence books like this one.

"If you have extreme questions," teases the back of the book, "you better believe God has extreme answers." After carefully perusing the 300-plus pages of this book, I have yet to come across a question that would even remotely qualify as "extreme." Why don't the authors address genital piercing? That's pretty extreme. Or necrophilia? You best believe that would qualify as extreme. But no, instead we get questions like "Has Jesus ever sinned?" ("No. But was He ever tempted to sin? Yes.") So what's "extreme" about Extreme Answers? Well, the typeface on the chapter headings is broken and kinda funky. And the whole thing is printed in purple, pink and red. And the authors occasionally use words like "groovy" and "crummy" (seriously). I guess that's all you need to get kids' attention these days. Jesus, I guess I grew up all wrong.

Actually, it turns out I did grow up all wrong. I never knew I had committed so many atrocities against God until I read this book. Secular rock music, casual drug use, premarital sex -- I can't believe I'm not in hell already. I even learned about sins I didn't actually know were sins -- cross-dressing, for example. "God hates cross-dressing. It is a sin that grieves him," we are told. Man, I'm glad I don't wear skirts. I'm even gladder that I don't have any tattoos. The authors quote Leviticus 19:28 ("You shall not tattoo any marks on you") and then inform us smugly, "That doesn't leave a whole lot of room for debate." Jeez, I guess not. Of course, Leviticus also prohibits planting different seeds in the same field, not to mention wearing clothes woven of mixed fibers. And don't even think of going anywhere near a menstruating woman. Extreme Answers doesn't go near the menstrual-cycle topic, so I guess the only sins worth caring about are the ones that piss off both God and the authors of this book.

Predictably, it's the sexual sins that provoke the most ire -- both in Katie Gieser and her fellow fundamentalists, and, presumably, the man upstairs. The first entry in the chapter on sex is the hilariously naive query, "Cybersex is OK, right? I mean, nobody's really doing anything." The authors patiently explain that cybersex is not actually OK with a cryptic analogy: "It's like when you should be waiting for dinner, but you're spoiling your appetite with a snack that really is not good for you." So masturbating while exchanging instant messages with a complete stranger is the moral equivalent of eating a Snickers bar. If I were a Christian teen, I'd be tempted to risk the consequences, just as long as it was with a stranger of the opposite sex. We are reminded yet again in this book that homosexuality is a grave sin. Does anyone NOT know how fundamentalist Christians feel about gays? "If you have a friend who is living in this sin, you must confront them....You've got to let them know what God says about their lifestyle. But, say it in love." Advice like this seems to ensure that young Christians will never have gay friends for more than five minutes.

There's a lot more in this book by way of questions-and-answers. We're told that God loved Hitler; that witches and astrologers are all evil; that smoking pot is wrong; and that it's never OK to get drunk. (The last one sort of surprised me, but then, I'm Catholic.) But to hit the respective points home, the authors employ short profiles of "modern young people who have faced some tricky situations that required some sharp thinking."

For example, there's Jason, who, when confronted by a pop-up ad for a pornographic website, bravely presses the escape key to rid his computer of such filth. (Incidentally, this doesn't actually work.) There's Scott, who dumps girlfriend Autumn because she's not a Christian. There's Alex, who bravely defends his faith in a Catholic school where his fellow students are, apparently, rich atheist drug addicts. There's Luke, who befriends gay Matthew, and then tells him, every day, that he's hellbound for his sins.

A motley crew, to be sure. It's pretty obvious that the young people profiled are purely fictional, but that's hardly the point. If you actually take any of this stuff seriously, you're probably not going to care about minor details like that. So who takes this seriously, anyway? I'm not sure, but I can see this book selling big to church youth groups, Sunday school teachers, and anyone else with a vested interest in converting teens to Christianity. And that's apparently audience enough to keep Thomas Nelson Publishers in business.

I only wish I'd had time to read the other volumes in the "Extreme for Jesus" series. I'm particularly curious about the "Extreme Teen Bible," which comes in "deep purple," "lava orange," and -- I swear this is true -- "slimey limey green." For the first time in my life, I actually feel nostalgic for Davey and Goliath.

Extreme Answers to Extreme Questions by Katie E. Gieser et al.
Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers
309 Pages