Parents object to book calling Jesus a vagrant

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / December 14, 2010

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BEDFORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire couple told a school board yesterday that their son’s civil rights were violated when he was assigned a book that describes Jesus Christ as a “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist.’’

The 2001 book, “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,’’ documents author Barbara Ehrenreich’s attempts to live on minimum wage as she critiques the US economic system.

Aimee and Dennis Taylor complained about the book’s foul language, descriptions of drug use, and characterization of Christianity when it was assigned to their son’s personal finance class at Bedford High School in the fall and later pulled him out of school at his request.

Yesterday, they asked the school board to remove the book from the curriculum and create a committee of parents to review and rate all other books used in the school, but the board held off on making a decision until it hears from its curriculum committee next month.

Dennis Taylor said school officials were either utterly careless in choosing the book or were “intentionally agreeing with Ehrenreich and taking the position that Jesus was a drunken bum.’’

“The administration and the people with the master’s degrees taking care of our children clearly in this case seemed to lack common sense, common decency and with regard to civil rights, an understanding of common law,’’ he said.

He noted that had the book been turned into a movie, his son would be too young to see it given the obscenities. And both he and his wife said the passages about Jesus were an attack on their son’s faith.

In a passage describing a tent revival meeting she attended, Ehrenreich writes about feeling troubled by its emphasis on Jesus’ crucifixion and wishing the preacher would focus more on his teachings of social and economic justice.

“Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say,’’ she wrote.

In a question and answer section on her blog, Ehrenreich denies that the passage insults Jesus and points out that the book has won a Christopher Award, given by a Catholic group to recognize books that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.’’

“In the section at issue, I observed that the social teachings of Jesus went utterly unmentioned at the tent revival I attended. The revival preachers clearly preferred the dead and risen Christ to the living Jesus — who did indeed drink wine and could even make it out of water,’’ she wrote. “As for the vagrancy charge: that’s what he was, a homeless, itinerant preacher.’’