American Christians prefer a fake Jesus congenial to our values in place of the real deal.
Are you an American Christian who claims to love Jesus? Do you pray, “Jesus I trust in you”? Okay. Tell me about this Jesus in whom you love and trust.
Forgive my suspicion of your claims. You see, as an American like you, I am also culturally programmed to refuse any Jesus who isn’t either just like me or someone I desire to be. Without awareness of this and herculean effort, I will reject all other Jesuses including the real-deal Jesus. By that I mean Jesus as he is, the Middle Eastern North-African Jesus.
We American Christians claim to love Jesus and profess him as Lord, but what’s the worth of that when we reject the Galilean peasant artisan and day-laborer turned folk healer?
Beware a culturally congenial Jesus…
American Jesus VS Reality
We Americans can’t seem to tolerate a Jesus unlike us. This presents a colossal problem for us, because Jesus historically isn’t American. Jesus is Middle Eastern. Screaming about the Incarnation doesn’t change that, and you don’t really believe in the Incarnation if you refuse to take the prefix “in” seriously.
Into what did God the Word carnate? Into the Mediterranean social world. In other words, Jesus is a collectivistic personality who needed other people in his ingroup-personality and ingroup conscience to inform him as to who he is. Don’t like that? Well, take that up with our Lord and Savior. Sorry, but he’s not American!
But right from the start, our catechists and parish worship indoctrinate our Catholic youth with mistaken notions about Jesus. The wrong imagery and ideas cement, enveloped in layers of nostalgia and feels, soaked by Christmas memories. Later on, victims of this pooled ignorance experience significant pain whenever culturally-plausible alternative views on Jesus are presented.
Reject the Real, American Catholics!
As Americans, we prefer a congenial Jesus. We reject the real deal, ugly by our ethnocentric standards. Who wants Jesus the master of insults who called his enemies, the elites, snake bastards? We don’t want the genuine Jesus whose gospel and mission were ethnocentrically-particular to ancient Israel, whose message was tailored for and given to ancient Israelites.
Americans instead want a familiar Jesus, one constructed to buy our values. Or, if Jesus is to be something other than American, at least make him into something familiar. So we reject the Jesus who knew neither bar mitzvahs nor the Talmud, whose synagogues were Israelite male political-hangouts instead of worship centers. We don’t want to know a Jesus to whom “rabbi” simply meant great one and nothing Jewish or clerical. Who cares for the authentic Mediterranean Jesus who was focused on honor and who knew neither chutzpah nor psychological guilt?
And who among us can tolerate the political-religious Jesus who was all about Israelite theocracy? Don’t we prefer nice-guy Jesus? Or the Intellectual Sage Jesus confirming that our Americanized brand of Christianity is the best? Or the Great One Jesus, who just like us, rules imperially by cruel, coercive force.
Individualists See Individualism Everywhere
Whether conservative, progressive, or whatever, American “winners” know who they are. I am talking about self-consciousness and self-understanding. Loaded up with ethnocentric bias, we Westerners wrongly think (and demand!) that Jesus thought of himself in the same way we think of ourselves. Just like all people do in whatever time or culture.
Except all people don’t think of self in the same way. We Westerners may act out of an individualistic identity, one of our own choosing, but did Jesus? While we Westerners may be conscious of our private agendas apart from any group’s, did Jesus have private agendas? Just as our self-understanding defines our mission in the world, so too Jesus’ self-understanding define his. American Christians assume Jesus had a definite view of self, and that his self-understanding was as psychological and introspective as that of Americans.
But culture constructs the “self.” And different cultures construct “self” differently. Do you think every culture imagines “self” in the same way as we 21st-century individualists do? If so, think again!
And if you claim that somehow being Divine made Jesus impervious to cultural influence, you are not proclaiming his divinity. Instead what you are doing is turning the American individualist into a false god. Yes, ethnocentrism can be idolatry.
American Christians are individualists. For us, the self is to be understood psychologically. In other words, “self” means a bounded and unique center of consciousness, more or less a cognitive and motivational universe. In extreme contrast, for MENA personalities like Jesus, “self” remains fundamentally collective. If you, like Jesus, live in a culture where the person is so embedded into the group where individual and group become largely coextensive, guaranteed “self” will be understood in radically different ways than for Americans.
Americans overlook this fact all the time. We prefer a Jesus like us, not the real deal. Few really believe in the incarnation because few of us Westerners take seriously the prefix “in.” But even the atheists who believe themselves fans of the historical Jesus reject the real deal for an ethnocentric Jesus, an idealized autobiography! The idea of “self” being embedded into a group-self with a group-consciousness is repugnant to us.
Even the American mystics commit identity theft on Jesus by way of our ethnocentric biases and demands. Invariably, these well-meaning people seasoned by Carl Jung turn Jesus into a first-century psychotherapist. Thus, demoniacs in the Gospels become addicts, and their demons become their addiction of choice.
But that cannot be what it was for Jesus and his anti-introspective peers. Just the same, we Westerners almost always cannot tolerate hearing this. It’s because we need a Jesus just like us!
“I love you Jesus!”
“I believe in you, Jesus!”
“Jesus, I trust in you!”
Swell. But who is this Jesus you love, believe in, and trust? Tell me about him. What was his cultural background really like? Where did he fit socio-economically? What was his project really about? How did he impact people? What is the relevance of his death? Do you even care about these questions? If not, what does that do to the quality of your claims of loving, believing, and trusting in Jesus?
Almost invariably, the “Lord” we proclaim isn’t Jesus, but really a culturally congenial Jesus. In other words, we love, believe, and trust in a counterfeit. How do we wake up from our idolatry?