Now we learn she may have a new cause: Christianity. The Academy Award-winning actress is said to have been driven to faith by her chauffeur. He reportedly began sharing his beliefs with her several years ago.
But when a conservative Christian website called WorldNetDaily.com reported that Fonda had embraced Christianity, nobody rejoiced--neither the conservatives who have been appalled by Fonda all these years, nor her friends on the left. Perhaps people are just being cuatious; we haven't heard from Jane herself and maybe the news accounts are exaggerated or wrong.
But maybe everyone is quiet because no one is yet sure who this new cause is for, or maybe we are uncomfortable with the answer. Because maybe Fonda, at age 62, is finally trying to please herself.
Liberals seem to regard the apparent conversion as a cause for mirth. Fonda's reported refusal to meditate at an environmental rally because it's better to "pray to Jesus Christ" strikes some as funny--a woman in the throes of marital trouble with Turner, going off the deep end.
Meanwhile, the first impulse of some longtime church-goers was hardly one of Christian charity. A fellow conservative sneered to me that a person can "accept Christ" without becoming a Christian. In other words, let's give her a test on dogma, and if she fails, burn her at the stake.
My tart-tongued sister refers to certain enthusiastic evangelicals who smile a lot as "people who call Christ by his first name." And at first, it seemed to me that Fonda was veering dangerously in this direction.
But then I pondered her possible conversion more. And I thought: those of us who call ourselves Christians should be cheering for her. How wonderful if Fonda's long pilgrimage has taken her to the Church door. How much more embarrassing for this child of Hollywood aristocracy than if her quest had delivered her to a more au courant path of spiritual regeneration--say, Buddhism `a la Richard Gere--than Christianity.
"God writes straight with crooked lines," it has been said.
Fonda always seemed to be looking for something she couldn't find. In Hanoi in 1972 she perched atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun and denounced the "imperialism" of the United States. Fonda even had the audacity to visit U.S. POWs held in North Vietnam prisons and try to persuade them that America was wrong and North Vietnam was right. She apologized in 1988 for her "thoughtless and careless" past behavior, but this mea culpa failed to satisfy many people.
And though she turned in winning performances in Klute and China Syndrome, she was forever stuck with the kitsch image of the inter-galactic sex cadet Barbarella who blew out the fuses in a 41st century orgasm machine.
Fonda's marital pilgrimage is no more satisfying: Her marriages to Barbarella director Roger Vadim, a veritable curator of sculpted female bodies, and radical moocher Tom Hayden, ended in divorce. Now her marriage to the cable cowboy is on the rocks. The speculation is that Fonda's newfound faith is partially responsible for her trial separation from Turner, who once remarked that Christianity is a "religion for losers."
Turner and Fonda married in 1991, on her 54th birthday. He was a billionaire, and she was a multimillionaire. They enjoyed multiple residences and everything money could buy. And yet this world and her beauty and her "feel the burn" physical fitness apparently didn't quite do it.
I find moving this saga of a rich and beautiful woman finding the path to Christianity after a life of sampling fads. Her conversion may be exaggerated--"born again" is a term thrown about loosely--and she may be hiding out in Atlanta, mortified about these reports.
Still, since reading about Fonda, I've heard the words of another religious seeker echoing in my mind. He, too, sampled a number of contemporary intellectual fads before embracing Christianity. I refer, of course, to the man from Hippo--St. Augustine.
Augustine had dabbled in all sorts of trendy isms of the day. The father of an illegitimate child, Augustine famously arrived at Carthage "burning, burning" with sexual desire. He asked God to make him good "but not yet."
Finally, God could wait no longer.
"Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee," Augustine wrote in one of his most oft-quoted lines.