Michael Jackson’s Most Pelagian Moments (Plus)

Our MJ-tribute soldiers on! This time with a little theology thrown in… We drop the […]

David Zahl / 7.16.09

Our MJ-tribute soldiers on! This time with a little theology thrown in… We drop the word “Pelagian” pretty often on this blog, as well as its more devious cousin “Semi-Pelagian”, but I’m not sure we’ve ever posted a definition. According to Wikipedia (and yes, I can’t believe I’m quoting them as an authority either) Pelagianism is:

A theological [heresy] named after Pelagius (ad. 354 – ad. 420/440). It is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine Aid. Thus, Adam’s sin was “to set a bad example” for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus as “setting a good example” for the rest of humanity as well as providing an atonement for our sins. In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for obeying the Gospel in addition to full responsibility for every sin.

He may not have been aware of it, but no one embraced this frankly rather destructive way of thinking with more ambition or style than Michael Jackson. He was a man of extremes and nowhere was this more apparent than his global-themed hits. The three most egregious examples being:

1. You guessed it…


A few observations: Steve Perry hits it out of the park, while Cyndi Lauper really makes her line count (probably the artistic highpoint) and Huey Lewis proves once again that he could never be accused of subtlety. Also, when did God “turn stone into bread”?! The undeniable highpoint for me (besides Michael’s step-aside moment in the bridge) is the combination of Lindsey Buckingham’s high-fade and Dan Akroyd’s members-only/saftely glasses outfit (he looks like he just stepped out of a Williamsburg subway stop!). Dylan on the other hand sounds like an alien beaming in from outer space and Springsteen really overdoes it…

2. Heal The World. Michael ups the Pelagian ante a few years later with a children’s choir and an absurd number of key changes.

3. HIStory. The title track of my favorite MJ record takes the whole enterprise as far as it can possbily go – “Every day create your history/Every path you take you’re leaving your legacy” – including sound bites of Robert Kennedy, Neil Armstrong and of course MLK. GNR mined the same territory in 2001 with their majestic “Madagascar”, albeit with a much more angst and self-righteousness.

4. What More Can I Give? This one-size-fits-all charity single was never actually released. Originally intended for the Kosovar refugees but then repurposed post-9/11, it sadly became a pawn in Jackson’s struggle with his label. Probably for the best though, it definitely lacks the buy-in of its precursor, and some of us non-celebrities might have found the lyrics a bit too rich.

Bonus: Michael’s Least Self-Aggrandizing Moment

Many of us were children when “The Simpsons Sing The Blues” came out. I remember buying the cassette single of “Do The Bartman” and playing it until it warped. The Brad Bird-directed video was a big deal at the time too, debuting on prime-time (a la Black Or White). Looking back, I think we can all agree that his work here really paved the way for what was to come with The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. It was recently revealed that the writer of “Do The Bartman” was none other than MJ himself!! Take a listen and you can tell. Apparently Michael was a big fan of the show, even adding his voice to an early episode, but refusing credit in both cases. Enjoy:
Bart Simpson – Do The Bartman by ernsthemingway


11 responses to “Michael Jackson’s Most Pelagian Moments (Plus)”

  1. Choi says:

    What about "Man in the Mirror"?

  2. John Zahl says:

    Wait, am I confused, or are you telling me that Michael Jackson wrote "Do the Bartman"?!

  3. DZ says:

    That is EXACTLY what I'm saying.


  4. David Browder says:

    Great post, Dave. Very creative and powerful.

  5. David Browder says:

    By the way, Springsteen WAY overdoes it. I remember in 5th grade, we all thought he was suffering from a hernia.

  6. Michael says:

    The funerals of Pelagians are always well attended, as are the crucifixions of non-Pelagians.

  7. DZ says:

    (Marc) Choi-
    Good catch! Certainly #4 would be "Man In The Mirror". I guess i like the other three songs better, musically (which is a slightly embarrassing thing to say). That said, the version of Man in the Mirror that he did at the Grammy's in 1988 with the full gospel choir still ranks as one of his greatest performances:


  8. DZ says:

    I say we stage a similar performance to raise money for Mockingbird. As long as Browder agrees to sing the Kenny Rodgers part, I'm in.

  9. David Browder says:

    I'll have to get my hair fixed first.

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