Dragon Ball Jesus

Vox Nova is pleased to welcome a guest post from Francisco Cruz-Uribe.

There are a fair number of paintings that I have noticed recently while faffing about online. They all share a few common features; features similar to those displayed by characters on the show Dragon Ball. For those few lucky enough to have never heard of Dragon Ball, here is a very brief recap. Dragon Ball is a Japanese cartoon featuring over-muscled men fighting in intergalactic battles. The storyline is complex and over-the-top, but all of the characters share the same features. They are all absurdly strong, they can shoot energy beams out of their hands, they all have really wild hair, and they always have an energy aura about them. I have included some example images, for comparison later.

Untitled1

 

Untitled2

Anyway, after seeing a certain painting (see below), and then noticing a large number of paintings similar to it, I have sarcastically dubbed them “Dragon Ball Jesus,” since they feature Jesus sporting ludicrous features shared by the characters in Dragon Ball. Sometimes, they are deliberately ironic or for the sake of comedy, like this one here:

Untitled3

Other times they are oh so serious, yet come across as hilarious. Dragon Ball Jesus paintings all have one or more of the following features in common. They either have Jesus surrounded in some glowing aura, as though he were about to explode with radiation:

Untitled4Fool! This isn’t even my final form!

An aside to explain the inside joke: In the show, one of the villains they fight, Freeza, would constantly transform, each time exploding in a burst of light, and with each new form would grow in power. His most famous line in the show was “this isn’t even my final form!”

Note the comedic similarity of this image and the image from Dragon Ball above. Other features of Dragon Ball Jesus include him holding light in his hands, as though he is about to throw a massive energy beam at the viewer.

Untitled5Behold my ultimate attack! Jesus Beam!!!

This is the picture that started it all.  Imagine seeing this projected 2o feet high during a religious education program at my church:

Untitled6

I mean, just look at it, and tell me it doesn’t resemble this:

Untitled7

 I have sarcastically dubbed this odd genre of paintings Dragon Ball Jesus simply because it is hilarious to do so. However, I began to ponder why I find them so funny. Other people (whom I am sure shall present themselves in responses to this) take these paintings very seriously. They admire these images in a way I cannot fathom. So why do I find it uproarious to compare these paintings to a cheesy cartoon?

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that these images so colossally miss the point of Jesus.    I find it amusing to compare them to Dragon Ball in order to point out that they have as much to do with Jesus as a silly TV show. The fact that these are taken so seriously despite them not being very accurate makes it funny to draw comparisons to something equally ludicrous.

These paintings were made with the correct intent in mind, certainly, but came out wrong in representing Jesus. Here, I will only use the last painting as an example; otherwise individually judging all the paintings I found would take too long. I am also going to extrapolate as to the motive of the artists. It seems that the artist was trying to capture Jesus, but was not quite clear on how to do so. They compiled what they knew on Jesus, and threw that into a painting. They know he is omnipotent, so they put him in space and made him look big! He is good, so make him holding light! He is the Son of  God, so make him looking directly into the audience! However, these paintings don’t really capture any of the actual meaning behind these concepts, or anything that Jesus actually did. They merely show abstractly the ideals and bare bones models of what Jesus should be, rather that what he actually was. These come from a vague understanding of Jesus, without any elaboration. It is not specifically Catholic, or even Christian:  it is only vaguely deistic. Jesus existed, but they don’t have the spiritual vocabulary to articulate the details of his existence, merely that he is good and stuff. This is a literal and heavy-handed interpretation of  Jesus and I think it deserves to be mocked.

                                                                           

Francisco Cruz-Uribe is an amateur philosopher and avid anime fan.  His father David bears no responsibility for the contents of this post.

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  • Mark VA

    Francisco:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. I too think that the artists in this “Dragon Ball Jesus” genre may have meant well, yet somehow they missed Who He really is. The way I see it, they mixed the image of Jesus with conventional symbols of earthly power, such as powerful beams of light. By doing this, they neglected to show the hidden power of His love, humility and meekness, which outshine any laser beam that was, is, or ever will be.

    My favorite art is music, especially that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so please allow me to quote some depictions of Christ’s love, humility, and meekness in this art form, by this composer. By the way, I think that every young Catholic should know this music, since this too is part of our religious patrimony (of the highest caliber):

    The first is “Ave Verum Corpus” (KV. 618) – you can skip the ad if it pops up:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KUDs8KJc_c

    The next is en excerpt from his Great Mass in C-Minor (KV. 427), “Et Incarnatus Est”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsYHAS36pC8

    The below is the second movement from his 17th piano concerto (KV. 453) – it’s in a free, three part form – see if you can spot the theme of “Et Incarnatus Est”, as it weaves its way thru this ineffable music:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou3cxtvc3Hg

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Mark,

      thanks for these: I will pass them on to Francisco and solicit his feedback. (Currently he is at an anime convention in Boston.)

      For my part, I think you have put your finger on the key problem: an inability to represent the real power of Jesus, which lies in sacrificial self-giving. This leads to an interesting question: what does this art (and its popular reception—as Francisco said, we saw this used in a religious ed program) tell us about popular ideas about Christology?

      • Mark VA

        Mr. Cruz-Uribe:

        I think this is one of our constant weaknesses – craving displays of power. Didn’t Christ chide us: “Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not” ?

        Meekness, humility, and love may seem naive and powerless, and visible power so tangible and invincible. Yet twentieth century is littered with the wreaks of “Thousand Year Reichs”, and “Scientific Socialisms”. Nevertheless, even today, we could ask of what benefit is it to gain a peninsula, but lose the friendship of entire nations…?

        Thus, I think Francesco pointed his comments in the right direction. This “art” promotes dubious associations (often in subtle ways), and fails to connect with the essential elements of Christ’s message, that is, practicing love, meekness, and humility – where true power resides.

    • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

      I love Mozart, and that rendition of Ave Vernum Corpus is truly divine.

      • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

        Oops, I mean, Verum.

  • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

    These pictures remind me of a brief moment when I was five and I thought Jesus was my favorite super hero. Sure, he couldn’t fly, but he could walk on water and calm storms, which seemed even better!

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, if I had to choose a super power, turning water into wine would be much higher on my list than spider senses or the ability to leap tall buildings.

      • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

        I’m more inclined to agree with you now than I would have been when I was five.

  • Pingback: A Lenten Exercise on the Creed, Part I | Vox Nova()

  • https://www.facebook.com/sam.rodgers.5477 Sam Rodgers

    The juxtaposition here of DBZ / Jesus is HILARIOUS, and I agree, the portraits of Jesus shown here seem childish/unsophisticated.

    That being said, I have two responses. First is that these portraits are not so much different from other, more highly regarded images: St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy (not that she painted it, as I remember, but the common image of the two beams of light streaming from his heart is derived from her account of a vision), and more magisterially, the Transfiguration. In the latter, “uncreated” light was the way Peter, James and John perceived the transfigured Christ. In fact, it’s not significantly different than the first portrait in this piece. Who, I might ask Francisco, does he think has the “spiritual vocabulary” to describe Jesus is his majesty or his power better than Matthew, Mark or Luke?

    On the other hand, these images are bare of symbols, which we have rightly come to expect, and I think that contributes to our sense that these images are immature.

    Secondly, David, I’m not sure that images of Jesus need to be limited to depictions of “meekness, humility, and love,” and that we miss the point to depict Jesus as powerful. The great power of the Incarnation is that God humbled himself to become Man. Why can’t some artwork glorify the majesty of God (e.g. the Resurrection, Creation, the End-Times, the Last Supper), while other artwork show Jesus at his most didactic, when healing or comforting or exhorting? The Crucifixion is powerful because it shows not only a man hung on a cross, but also God on his throne. I’m just counseling towards balance, so that we don’t accidentally collapse the mystery.

    • Mark VA

      Sam:

      If I may chime in: I think your points are entirely valid, there is also a need for art to describe God’s majesty. The rub is, however, in how to do it without unintentionally mixing it with the idolatry of earthly power. That, in my opinion, is work for mature, spiritually well formed artists, operating at genius level.

      In the inspired image of Divine Mercy ( http://thedivinemercy.org/message/devotions/image.php ) the two streams of light (white and red) are gentle and diffuse, and they do not overwhelm. The pale ray symbolizes water (righteousness), and the red, blood (life). Combined, they point to Christ’s mercy.

      For myself, while I humbly acknowledge God’s majesty, yet, I feel more drawn by His love, meekness, and humility. Along these lines, I also feel more drawn to depictions of great joy that these three attributes bring, than to depictions of majesty:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TcQJPnpSwk

      • http://emmasrandomthoughts.wordpress.com emmasrandomthoughts

        I love Kiri Te Kanawa’s version of Exsultante Jubilate. Truly an amazing interpretation of an amazing work. :)

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Sam,

      Francisco was unsure of how to respond. He may get back to you later. (He had never seen the Divine Mercy painting: not a devotion my family is partial to.)

      With regards to your comment addressed to me: I agree completely with

      “The great power of the Incarnation is that God humbled himself to become Man.”

      I really feel that these and other images of Jesus fail completely to capture this humility/kenosis. I think Mark VA is on to something when he says many images confuse divine power with earthly power.

  • Ronald King

    Francisco, I like your insight into the infinite mystery of Jesus. Your post triggers thoughts about us being created in “the image and likeness of God” and the possibility that somehow this “spark” of divinity within all of us becomes an expression of our longing to be someone special or heroic but always consciously or unconsciously knowing that we always fall short of that desire. This results in billions of individual reactions for each soul created in this life.

    Regarding the light, I remember when my daughter was around 12 and we had just returned home from an Easter service, not Mass, since my wife and I had left the Catholic church after our marriage in 1975. Anyway, our daughter told me that while in church she had seen different colors surrounding all of the people in church and had wondered what that meant and if I had seen it. She does not now have that memory. I did not see the light she observed. However, I did see a luminous white light which filled the ceiling of my bedroom around Christmas of 2004 and at the same time I heard a voice, which I could not identify as neither male nor female tell me, “I love you.” For a brief instant I felt the “power” of that love and the effect was tears of joy and a sense of overwhelming relief upon coming home after a long hard journey of being lost. I returned to the Catholic faith Easter of 2005 after 40 years away due to the influence of that “Light”. So rather than mocking that light depicted in the images you’ve displayed, I find it interesting to explore what the light may represent for each of us. I must confess that I did a lot of mocking of the practitioners of Catholicism and Christianity for the 40 years while I was gone. I haven’t seen that Light nor have I felt that Love since 2004 and I really miss It.

    • Mark VA

      Ronald: thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. May I offer a couple of observations:

      (a) Your extraordinary experience of personal Love, parallels the “NDEs”
      ( http://www.horizonresearch.org/main_nav_pages.php?cat_id=10 ) being analyzed by a growing body of multidisciplinary scientists. I think this new field of study is a happy, fruitful, and unexpected twist for many sciences;

      (b) I find a remarkable parallel between the last sentence of your post, and the last entry in Sister Faustina’s diary ( http://liturgicalyear.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/divine-mercy-in-my-soul.pdf ):

      Yours: “I haven’t seen that Light nor have I felt that Love since 2004 and I really miss It.”

      Sister Faustina’s: ” I am trying my best for interior silence in order to be able to hear His voice…..”