Finding the real Jesus means dropping old mental idols and getting informed by the social sciences.
Recently, this blog has exposed several popular American idols. These culturally congenial Jesuses are American inventions and devotional distortions—identity thefts all. The fakes include “the Intellectual Sage,” “the Great One,” “the Alien Lifeform from Planet Kitsch,” and Jesus as “the Progressive Liberator and Rebel.” Today we go about finding the real deal Jesus.
Someone commented to me, “Stop telling us who Jesus isn’t, and start affirming who He is!” Okay. Let’s do that. But finding the real Jesus isn’t possible without getting rid of these precious idols that block our sight and honesty. Only by emptying our heads of them can we build fresh.
Here’s a video on finding the real Jesus:
Finding Out What “Fully Human” Means
Let’s talk about Jesus’ humanity. Jesus is fully human, no? We Catholics believe so! Precisely because he is the Eternal Son, Jesus is totally human. Indeed, Jesus is more human than all of us in the sense that we are humans becoming.
In contrast, he is the human being precisely because he is God. Jesus and we are different by degree, not kind, by the way. Jesus is the human fully alive.
What does it mean to be human? O, so many things! Finding that out can be shocking. To be human means, among many other things, to be socialized and enculturated. This happens always in a specific social system. And it always happens at a particular time in a particular place. If Jesus is human, and we confess he is, then this must apply to Jesus!
Finding Closet Docetism & Verbally Orthodox Parrots
Humans are impacted by socialization and enculturation, inescapably so. Socialization and enculturation cause human beings to share meanings within their social group. In language, gesture, artifacts, and other cultural realities, humans express their meanings from being socialized and enculturated. All that is derived from and expresses the social system of a particular time and place. If Jesus is human, this must apply to him also.
To be human is to have a culturally specific perception. If you are human, you will perceive reality according to specific social presuppositions. And whatever event you perceive or take part in, guaranteed, you will bring this cultural baggage to the table every time. Saying Jesus is human means that Jesus did this too. Feel the truth of this, and don’t escape into Docetism.
So far, what I have said would agree with any social science text. However, while verbal orthodoxy can make truthful parrots of us all, it doesn’t necessarily bring understanding. You have to soak in it, grapple with it, and become transformed by it. While it’s one thing to say, “Jesus is truly human.” It is quite another thing to accept what that demands, to critically reflect on its ramifications. For if Jesus is fully human, and we Catholics confess that he is, all of this must apply to him as well.
And finding this out brings devastating consequences to our cultural congenial counterfeit Jesuses.
Jesus the Ancient Mediterranean
Now let us ask: what society socialized and enculturated Jesus? Indeed not 21st-century America. Wasn’t it an ancient Mediterranean society in a cultural continent mostly unchanged along cultural value lines for four thousand years? Yep.
Did this society know any globalism? Nope. Consequently, neither did Jesus.
Did this society accept or understand universalism? Nope. Therefore stop making Jesus into a universalist with a universalist bent. He was ethnocentrically particular to first-century Israel. So was Paul.
Did Jesus’ society know science or scientism? Nope. So that means you won’t find any in Jesus. Or the Bible. You won’t because you can’t. It’s just not there. Stop putting it there, fundamentalists. And you more sophisticated types, cease and desist the silliness of allegorizing days in Genesis 1 with stages of evolution following the Big Bang.
Finding Ethnocentric Anachronism
Did Jesus’ society know anything like our modern Western cities? Nope. Then rethink Jerusalem and all other New Testament urban centers. We shouldn’t call these places cities.
Wasn’t Jesus’ society way before the industrial revolution and therefore had none of the effects of that watershed event? Without doubt. Consequently, we must cease giving Jesus post-industrial qualities, like individualism, sexual orientation, and Western psychology. Stop making Jesus into an introspective individualist. Famous U.S. mystics, stop psychologizing and psychoanalyzing Jesus. Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram cannot apply to him.
Did his society feature nation-states, or have our modern concepts of “people” and “races”? Not at all. Therefore neither did Jesus. Our idea of people is barely two centuries old. The idea of “race” and a “supreme race” is of recent vintage, linked inexorably with racism (also contemporary). So how could Jesus have been either racist or against racism? Stop being stupid and unfair to Jesus and the ancients. Get critical with your so-called critical theories.
If Jesus’ society did not know the Enlightenment, international law, the Renaissance, Arab-European scholasticism, Justinian’s Code of ethics, how could the prepaschal Jesus? If you respond, “because he was God!” you may just be a closet Docetist. Allow me to help you come out of the closet. Or maybe just ignorance. We all are honestly ignorant about many things. Let’s help each other.
Suppose Jesus’ society did not know Constantine’s Christendom and existed centuries before it. How could Jesus be either Christian or the founder of Christianity? He couldn’t be. And if the Talmudic Jewish religion wasn’t around until five centuries after Jesus, how could he be Jewish? “But I read ‘Jews’ in my English Bible translation! Can’t you read?” I can read just fine. Can’t you understand that translators also have baggage and make mistakes?
Tired of churning out American counterfeit Jesuses? Interested in finding the real deal Jesus? Well, let us begin to take the prefix “In” of Incarnation seriously. Learning how Jesus was socialized and enculturated in Hellenized Israelite peasant society matters. Let’s learn together.