Writing for CNN’s “Belief Blog,” Steve Walsh notes that, “[f]rom telephone poles, to store receipts to a cheesy snack, people have claimed to see the image of Jesus Christ in all sorts of unconventional places,” and interpreted such phenomena as miraculous. While traditionally understood as fleeting, unpredictable, and beyond human control, this year for only $31.95 one can have the image of Jesus seared upon one’s morning toast each and every day. In what can only be described as a thoroughly surreal advertisement (featuring, for instance, the figure of George W. Bush rapping out the spiritual benefits of “Yeah toast, Jesus toast!”), at Burnt Impressions.com we are encouraged to “slap on some butter and put ’em in the holes, press down the level and save a couple souls.”
That simulacra of divine manifestations nonetheless capable of producing real spiritual benefit are bound up in a mechanical device, itself a commodity, brings to mind Wouter J. Hanegraaf’s intriguing essay, “The Study of Western Esotericism,” in Peter Antes, Armin W. Geertz, Randi Warne’s edited series, New Approaches to the Study of Religion (2004). Prior to the 17th century, Hanegraaf explains, esoteric practices (at least in Western European cultures) were “grounded in an ‘enchanted’ worldview where all parts of the universe were linked by invisible networks of non-causal ‘correspondences’ and a divine power of life was considered to permeate the whole of nature.” In this premodern context, whether a given esoteric practice evoked its hoped for effects depended as much upon the capricious responses of the many powers and spirits involved as the skills of the practitioner. In the 17th century, however, universal and impersonal laws of cause-and-effect gradually came into greater prominence. The older Renaissance imaginary “compromise[d] in various ways with the ‘mechanical’ and ‘disenchanted’ world-models that achieved cultural dominance under the impact of scientific materialism….” As this cultural shift ensued, esoteric practices and ways of thinking also came to reflect notions of an impersonal, mechanical universe that is transparent to human reason and manipulation. (497)
With the advent of the the Jesus Toaster, one need not wait patiently upon the inscrutable divine will for an apparition. One need only “press down the lever” to reliably re-produce the divine image and unleash salvific powers.