American Jesus veers into a more prevalent political awareness only hinted at in the previous collection. The poet assumes a voice of dissent at a time when popular opinion considers such a stance to be unpatriotic. Vargas had handed out copies of his poems to strangers on the street, tacked them on community bulletin boards, and launched them into the Internet. Many of the anti-war poems in this book were printed and taped to the windows of his apartment, in plain view for his neighbors and anyone else to read. To Vargas, the majority of these people sat still as they appeared to be manipulated by government lies and deception. Seemingly swayed by corporate-owned media, many of them slapped yellow ribbon magnets on the backsides of their SUVs.
American Jesus is also a response to Laura Bush’s closing the doors to poets (who had been invited to the White House for a celebration of the works of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes) when she realized they would be voicing opposition to President Bush’s "Shock & Awe' war plans. While some poets often refuse to be political in their work (and thus unwittingly end up making a political statement), Vargas asks, "If not now, when?" American Jesus is a plea to look within ourselves and find the strength to break through the walls of fear and ignorance which we have allowed to be built around us.
"If I had not followed Richard’s poetic development over so many years, I would be stunned by the scope of recollection, the maturity of reflection, and the mastery of idiom in these poems. Now, thinking back to how talented he was even at the start, I realize I should not even be surprised at what he has achieved here." --Gerald Locklin, author of The Life Force Poems, The Firebird Poems, and Charles Bukowski: A Sure Bet