All this week in Detroit, we've seen sober, serious newspaper articles and TV reports about the "What Would Jesus Drive?" campaign by some religious leaders.
Their stated aim is to persuade auto companies to make cleaner, more efficient vehicles.
The clerics got to meet with automotive big shots like Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Clay Ford Jr.
Why? Because the auto big shots are so desperate for customers that they feel compelled to be nice to every group with an agenda that can muster some attention.
When the clerics left, the auto big shots said, "Who were those goofballs and why were we having that cockamamie discussion?"
Well, maybe the auto big shots didn't really say that. But they should have.
What would Jesus drive?
The question is so silly it wouldn't get a blink of notice, except that it's a catchy derivative of the "What would Jesus do?" slogan popular on bracelets in recent years.
Nothing in the Bible provides much clue to what wheels Jesus would want if he were among us today.
Jesus and his disciples rode in boats. And Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. But he didn't say anything for the ages about his transportation philosophy. Certainly nothing that corresponds to the message in TV ads from the Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign.
The ads show traffic-clogged roads and a child breathing with an inhaler, demonstrating, I suppose, that the Big Bad Car Companies are killing children. (I assume the ads don't mention dramatic improvements in U.S. air quality during the past three decades, due in part to much lower vehicle emissions.)
A couple of the self-righteous clerics drive hybrid gas-electric Toyota Prius cars, implying that Jesus might make a similar choice if he were here today.
But how do we know Jesus would drive at all? Maybe he'd stick to bicycling, or striding through the countryside with a walking stick, like Gandhi did in India. Maybe he'd have two big honking sport-utility-vehicles, so he could schlepp all the disciples around with him. Maybe he'd drive only 50 mph on the freeway, the most fuel-efficient speed. But if so, what would he think of all those people on the interstate flipping him the bird?
Point is, if we're going to moralize from the pulpits about our driving choices, what's next?
What would Jesus wear?
What would Jesus eat?
And here's another WWJD derivative: What would Jesus drink?
He didn't mind a little vino; the Bible tells us he turned water into wine for a wedding and took a nip himself at the Last Supper. How would he feel about malt liquor or Jell-O shots?
Don't get me wrong. Fuel economy and alcohol use are legitimate subjects for public debate. But are they the paramount moral issues of our time?
If Jesus took human form today, he'd find himself in a world of furious ethical debate over cloning, a world of ethnic cleansing, suicide bombings and a looming war in which our smart bombs might kill innocent Iraqi civilians only by the hundreds, instead of by the thousands.
Yet some people think Jesus would care about me driving a Grand Cherokee? Maybe the joke will be on me, but I'll take my chances.