Intellectual Sage Jesus is yet another culturally congenial identity theft American Christians.
Last time we explored how Americans crave a Jesus just like them or just like how they desire to be. Like all Westerners, even atheist Richard Dawkins! He thinks the “brilliant” Jesus was just too smart not to have been an atheist! Dawkins, too, you see, is a devotee of Jesus the Intellectual Sage.
Why do we see Jesus as the Intellectual Sage? It’s because we need a Jesus just like us, the same way a crack addict needs his fix. And whenever someone serves up something unfamiliar to what they expect and demand? Watch out! It’s going to get ugly!
Here is video on Jesus, the Intellectual Sage…
Addiction for the Intellectual Sage
We demand a culturally congenial Jesus, an American counterfeit Jesus, a Jesus who buys our cultural values. One of the most popular congenial Jesuses (i.e., fake Jesus = idols) is the Intellectual Sage. Versions of this fake Jesus are idolized by so many Americans, from some diehard atheists to many seminary professors.
Culturally, we Americans dig cleverness. We like smart guys. We enjoy someone quick and intelligent—check out Tony Stark, Mr. Spock, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. House, and a host of other heroes. These fictional characters and our fascination with them speak a lot about how Americans tick. It shouldn’t be any wonder then why we dismiss the real Jesus in favor of this identity theft. We prefer the Intellectual Sage bearing his same name (and nothing else from him).
You can find this congenial American Jesus everywhere. Just listen to fundamentalists talk about Jesus, and there he will be. But you will also get versions of the Intellectual Sage Jesus among scholarly Christian exegetes and theologians. Sure, American liberals and conservatives may not get along too well these days. Still, if they claim to admire Jesus, they will almost always agree that he was a great teacher or intellectual sage.
Even Opposites See Jesus as the Intellectual Sage
Fundamentalists and the Jesus Seminar do agree on one thing at least—Jesus was a teacher. Christian fundamentalists, however, use “Jesus the Teacher” (i.e., the Intellectual Sage) to drive home their quasi-Docetic views about Jesus (“He knows everything!”).
Except that Jesus was not viewed by his peers or even his followers as a Teacher. It turns out that Jesus was not an Intellectual Sage. Jesus was a Galilean peasant village artisan turned folk healer. (Note, the Third Wave Jesus Groups, with their literate evangelists, did depict Jesus as a teacher, but not Paul and the Second Wave!).
But who wants an uneducated Jesus? Such a Jesus ranks as a loser by our Amer-I-Can standards. Worse, such a Middle Eastern Jesus is ranked as subhuman by our racism. So we refuse to see reality and instead choose to worship a more congenial idol.
From U.S. Bishops to Robert Funk
Evil, fat bishops relish this identity theft of Jesus. Jesus, the Teacher, benefits their power structure because it exaggerates their magisterial role. Just as every disciple should be docile and obedient to Jesus, so too must Catholic laypeople be to these greedy fops in silk. Who can out-teach Jesus or them, as they enjoy liquor lunches and gala dinners, posh chanceries, and sleep safely in mansions? Dare we dissent from these, our lords and masters? Heaven forbid!
I find it fascinating that the identity theft of “Jesus the Intellectual Sage” serves different extremes. Not only do Catholic fundamentalists delight in this idol, but so also do members of the Jesus Seminar! Robert Funk and his friends also adored this false Jesus.
The Jesus Seminar gave us yet another version of “Jesus the Intellectual Sage.” This one is a bit of a wiseass, sure. He’s an itinerant sage cynic going around the Galilean countryside trading pithy wisdom. Is this the true Jesus of history? Hardly. It’s just a mirror of the Western, Euro-American males filling the Seminar. International scholars wisely won’t buy it.
Funny or tragic, if Funk and friends had begun with the actions of Jesus rather than traditions about his sayings, then they would have arrived at a completely different Jesus. The Jesus Seminar’s version of the “Intellectual Sage” is just one more idol, another identity theft committed against Jesus.
We Dig the Intellectual Sage Idol
But don’t be smug about that, American Catholic so-called “apologist!” Chances are, you’ve got another version of this crime in your imaginings as well. How often do you call Jesus “the Truth” as in “logical truth”? Western Christians love the Intellectual Sage! This is not the Lord! Instead, it is just an idealized autobiography, a gross idol revealing who we wish ourselves to be.
And who is that? Someone supremely clever and quick-witted, with all the answers. Someone in control over everything, indeed an extraordinarily white male answering every question and controlling all situations.
Keep in mind that Paul doesn’t care about the saying of Jesus. He barely ever quotes Jesus. Do you think Paul thought of Jesus, the Cosmic Lord and Messiah, as a teacher? Think again! Paul cares about Jesus the Risen One, soon to return to inaugurate Theocracy in the land of Israel.
Americans are no different than any other people in that we readily produce culturally congenial Jesuses. Nigerians produce Nigerian Jesuses, Germans produce German Jesuses, and Russians make Russian Jesuses. So too do Americans. Almost none of us can tolerate a Jesus who isn’t buying our cultural values.
But given our American reach globally, our American idols can be especially dangerous.