The Passion of the Christ looks to have secured its place financially among the movies that have grossed the most during their opening week. Its $23.5 million first day's take puts it in the company of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" series and the latest "Star Wars" movies.

While it is a good bet that many of those attending the movie this week are Christians, it is also a good bet that many do not share Gibson's conservative Catholic piety or evangelical Protestants' theological commitment to seeing Jesus' act as one of substitutionary atonement.

This is just another reminder that the American fascination with Jesus—which begins with his Passion but radiates out to every aspect of his life and times—transcends theological camps.

Just a few examples:
Even in the current climate of Middle Eastern unrest, thousands of the devout and the curious still hope some day, before they die, to visit the Holy Land and walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

We re-enact each Christmas, on our front lawns and the small stages of our churches, the events of the Nativity. We meditate, our minds a romantic haze of camels, sand, and rough-hewn inns: what would it have been like for Mary, in that harsh, impoverished environment, to have that baby?

Over the years, controversial discoveries like the Shroud of Turin or the James bone box have attained blockbuster status because they promise to bring us closer to the physical presence of Jesus.

The erstwhile headline-grabbing Jesus Seminar has titillated us with its promise to reveal the "real historical Jesus"—as a Jewish mystic, or a wandering revolutionary, or something even more wild, foreign, and unsuspected.

The apocalyptic stories of Hal Lindsey and Jerry Jenkins have commanded sales in the millions ...

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