The Thinker

Anthropomorphosizing Jesus

If clocking more page views were my sole goal in blogging, I would spend this evening writing another entry about pornography. However, I simply cannot find anything else to say on the subject. Perhaps I should try harder. Despite being published more than two years ago, my entry Sharon Mitchell: Porn Saint often brings in a dozen or more Googlers every day.

Writing about sleazy sex is another way to push up my page views. While I will not give away too much about my personal life, I can say that I do not have a whole lot of experience in the sleazy sex department. This is probably a good thing. It markedly improves the odds that I will survive to be an old man. That is not to say that I would not necessarily want to imbibe in some good sleazy (but harmless) sex now and then. In real life though, imagination typically has to suffice. Therefore, I have pontificated as if I really know something about it the world of sleazy sex. Such was the case last January when after spending a few hours browsing through the Craigslist Washington D.C. Casual Encounters site, this entry popped out of my brain. This one entry alone now often overtakes Sharon Mitchell as the biggest reason strangers will connect with my blog.

Another way to bring in readers is to write controversial entries about religion. For many, religion is such a focus of our lives that writing anything that contradicts or even gently lampoons our personal beliefs is likely to draw notice and maybe even some ire. So perhaps tonight, while I poke a little fun at Jesus, my page views will go up. The devil made me do it.

This entry was inspired by my annual visit to the Jesus of the Week web site. For many devoted Christians, Jesus is sacrosanct. To them, he is certainly not a subject of parody. In a way, I agree. Jesus, or at least as he is portrayed in his buffed up form in the Bible, does deserve respect, if not downright admiration. While I have a few problems with Jesus’ portrayal in the Bible (for example, it is inconsistent of Jesus to say, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” and elsewhere call the Pharisees hypocrites), mainly he comes across as a wise and learned teacher. However, I am often fascinated by how we anthropomorphosize Jesus.

If you are feeling a bit irreverent toward Jesus, or just assume that Jesus is big enough to have a sense of humor, then the Jesus of the Week web site is for you. The site owner pokes gentle fun at the many otherwise excellent (and not so excellent) artistic Christians out there who get perhaps a wee bit carried away imagining Jesus. This is hardly a new phenomenon. As I mentioned when my family and I toured the Louvre last summer, the paintings of Jesus typically portrayed him as a flaxen haired Anglophile. You would be hard pressed to find any visual depiction of Jesus in most mainstream churches in this country as anything other than a longhaired Caucasian. This is probably a good thing. Since Jews were Semites and Semites are hardly a flaxen haired, fair-skinned race, it would be hard to get Junior to identify with a man with dark skin and long, kinky hair. Who knows? Maybe Jesus wore dreadlocks. African Christians of course typically portray Jesus as a black man, which was likely much closer to the truth. Christians in the Far East see him as Oriental. Since no one knows what he looked like, your guess is as good as mine is. However, the odds are he looked more like Yassir Arafat than Sting.

At Jesus of the Week we web surfers get to psychoanalyze the devoutly Christian artist. The results are frequently hilarious. Admittedly, the site owner may skew results to match his audience, which likely consists of mostly disgruntled former Christians, i.e. the damned like me. These artists keep creating depictions of Jesus that, like an excellent bad movie, are hilarious to the dispassionate observer, but which appear devoutly inspired to the believer. Along with each depiction of Jesus comes a short tongue in cheek essay on the picture of the week, yet written in such a way as it is almost never denigrating.

Other web sites out there are less subtle at poking fun of modern Christianity. Perhaps the best known of them is the Landover Baptist Church site and their related sister sites like Betty Bowers and their White House parody site. Arguably, Landover Baptist is such an over the top and rude parody of the bizarre right wing of Christianity, that regular readers may develop something like sympathy toward the Jerry Falwells of the world. That these folks have kept it up for so many years attests to something: probably that they got way more weird religion shoved down their throats during their formative years than they could possibly process and are determined to spend their adult lives getting even.

I have made my own attempt to understand the historic Jesus. It may be that I am as guilty of anthropomorphosizing Jesus as everyone else is. For most of us, whether we choose to or not, we simply must frame Jesus in a modern context. We do this because we live in the present, not two millennium in the past. Only academics like those involved in The Jesus Seminar can come close to fully grasping the historic Jesus and the times in which he lived. Lacking their scholarship and patience, the rest of us are left with the New Testament, which we know has been translated and retranslated and likely does not portray very well its original intent. Most of the original texts have long ago returned to dust. We also know that early Christians ruthlessly suppressed the Gnostic gospels. It is not surprising then our minds fill in the gap between the gospels and the present.

Consequently, the Jesus that emerges depends very much on our personal imagination of him. In many ways, although these depictions of Jesus on Jesus of the Week are often hilarious, they are also comforting. For myself, I find that I want Jesus to be the friendly father type so lovingly depicted by his contemporary followers. I like my image of Jesus as a man surrounded by children whom he gathers in his big arms, or Jesus walking through a meadow full of flowers carrying a lamb under the crock of one arm. I like Jesus as a hunk rather than Jesus as a balding, nearsighted man with dirty feet, a tattered robe and with dirty, unwashed hair. If Jesus were alive today, he would smell so bad you would not want to get within a dozen feet of him. So by all means, give us an idealized image of Jesus. I will smile, I may laugh, and I may even smirk. Occasionally, I may feel touched. At least these Jesuses are typically idealized as loving and harmless.

These depictions of Jesus likely say more about us than of Jesus. It suggests we are still naïve and sappy creatures. These are not necessarily bad traits for us human ancestors some two thousand years later. It means we have a blind side to us, but at least it is a softer and less cynical side.

 

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