Not Your Messiah's Oldsmobile

SUV, Sport Utility Vehicle, Gas Guzzler, Gasoline, Fuel, The 1999 Cadillac Escalade, shown in this 1998 photo in Detroit, is Cadillac's first sport utility vehicle AP

So now there's a religious take on Ford vs. Chevy? In his latest Against the Grain commentary, CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer says, "STOP."

Here's a question facing the nation these days: What would Jesus drive?

[Insert your wisecrack here.]

But snicker not. A group called the Evangelical Environmental Network is getting a lot of press for a campaign devoted to the proposition that Jesus would certainly not drive a sport-utility vehicle, because Jesus would want to protect the environment. Amen.

"We think he is Lord of our transportation choices as well as all our other choices," said Jim Ball, an American Baptist minister who is director of the group. "When you need a new car, you should buy the most fuel-efficient one that truly meets your needs."

The green-Jesus group has even purchased television ads this month in North Carolina, Iowa, Indiana and Missouri urging car buyers to curb their gas-guzzling ways with the question, "So if we love our neighbor and we cherish God's creation, maybe we should ask, `What would Jesus drive?'"

This is not just a Christian fundamentalist fringe movement. This week in Detroit, the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign met with GM and Ford to spread a message of ecumenical environmentalism. Korean Presbyterians, Jews and Mennonites were represented.

Which leads to certain obvious questions. What would Moses drive? What would Muhammad drive? Buddha? Confucius?

Makes you think, right?

I don't see why the "what would a messiah or a founder of a religion think?" technique for political analysis should be limited to questions of vehicle choice.

What would Jesus think of a reduction in the capital gains tax? How about Lao Tze on gun control? Moses on second-hand smoke? Krishna on securities regulation? Mary Baker Eddy on national health insurance?

This could be a powerful marketing device as well. Jesus loves Coke, not Pepsi.

Christian opponents of road rage are selling HWJD t-shirts – How would Jesus drive?

The WWJD movement seems to have struck a chord, even if it strikes some dumb.

Everyone is doing a story on the Detroit-Bethlehem connection. CNN has covered the debate especially vigorously. The highlight was Rev. Jerry Falwell declaring that global warming is a big myth and he could care less what Jesus would drive.

The Internet, as usual, has been on to the WWJD movement for quite some time. Web wisenheimers have been circulating answers to the WWJD question. "One theory is that Jesus would tool around in an old Plymouth because the Bible says, 'God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden in a Fury'. But in Psalm 83, the Almighty clearly owns a Pontiac and a Geo. The passage urges the Lord to, 'pursue your enemies with your Tempest and terrify them with your Storm.'" (Credit goes to Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle and to Roy Rivenburg's Web site, offkilter.

The issue has been thoroughly discussed in online bulletin boards. A sampling from a site called therant.info:

"This world has been falling apart and dying ever since Adam and Eve sinned for the first time, so there's nothing a bunch of tree-huggin', animal rights activist, vegetarian, SUV hating wackos can do to make the condition of this planet any better."

"As a Catholic, I am offended that they are hiding behind religion/Christ to promote a communist and socialist agenda--shame! It's like Muslums (sic) high-jacking Islam to become terrorists."

"Fellow Christians and non-Christians, don't fall prey to this attempt at inciting feelings of guilt for your personal choices. This is all about power and usurping your personal freedoms. The Lord gave man dominion over the earth, and He also gave us the wisdom to manage it responsibly, which he will do without the meddling of a power-hungry government and misguided environmentalists."

It pains me to report some of these remarks because I am a card carrying SUV-hater. Part of me wishes them well, just like my secret appreciation for the zealots who run around putting environmental tickets on SUV windshields. Indeed, before I was aware of the WWJD movement, I wrote a column calling SUV's the "vehicles of Satan." I think an alliance between religious people and environmentalists would be very nice.

But I don't much appreciate it when someone argues that Jesus would ban abortions. And, though I favor capital punishment, I don't think Bible-based arguments have a place in that debate either. Whether it's TV preachers, book-writing rabbis or crusading imams, I'm not a big fan of the god-is-on-our-side crowd. Using messiahs to score political points is a bit tacky, too.

That doesn't mean, however, that we shouldn't get rid of SUV's. Immediately!

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.

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Against the Grain

By Dick Meyer
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