"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

American Jesus -- Becoming All Things to All People?

"The Conformist"


So I'm still reading American Jesus by Stephen Prothero and learning quite a lot concerning the United States' journey in becoming "a Jesus nation."  I've already discussed the Jefferson phase of the "Enlightened Sage" and mentioned the "Sweet Savior" era as well.  Jesus went through a feminizing process where his mercy, compassion and kindness were emphasized.  Still later some people masculinized (we'll pretend that's a word if it's not) him because they were tired of the pictures of him looking weak and effeminate.  He was their "Manly Redeemer"!   Still later Jesus became a "Superstar" with megachurches abounding, Christian music and selling Jesus paraphernalia (e.g., books, bookmarks, bumper stickers) becoming quite a widespread, lucrative business.  Oh and yes, the movies and plays and such things too!


The Manly Superstar


The book discusses reincarnations of Jesus. The Mormon church's "Elder Brother," the Jews' "Rabbi", the black church's "Black Moses" and finally the Hindus' "Oriental Christ."  The author noted while the Jews emphasized the Jesus part, the Hindus had no problem with the Christ part.  To the latter he was one of many divine people who came to earth to show us how to get in touch with our latent goodness of which we were ignorant.

Here is one excerpt from the "Oriental Christ" chapter:


In an effort to define what they called "the Christ-Ideal," Vivekananda, Paramananda, and Akhilananda all called down stereotypes of East and West, linking Jesus with the Orient rather than the Occident.  The three conjured those categories differently, but all portrayed the East as the land of the spirit par excellence, and the West as the land of political, economic, and technological achievement.  "The voice of Asia has been the voice of religion," wrote Vivekananda. "The voice of Europe is the voice of politics."  Paramananda wrote that "the Eastern heart yearns primarily for spirituality," while, in Akhilananda's words, Western civilization "emphasized the path of pleasure as the solution to the problems of men." ... "In the West, the preacher who talks the best is the greatest preacher," wrote Vivekananda. But in the East, the true holy man is the one who practices what he preaches."  (pg. 274-5)
"Jesus of the People"

QUESTIONS:

What do you think of these Oriental and Occidental stereotypes by these three men?  Do you agree that the West emphasizes pleasure as the solution to men's problems?  Does the East yearn primarily for spirituality?   How important is a preacher's speaking ability to you? What makes a good preacher?  Do you agree that a true holy man practices what he preaches? Based on your knowledge of Jesus, did he do this for the most part?  If you had to coin a phrase to describe what Jesus means to you, what would you say?  Would you choose one from above or come up with one of your own? Explain your answer.

What are your thoughts on the photos? Do they attract you to Jesus or do you find them distasteful? Why? These were all used in the book and I found them and an article about the book on this page.

10 comments:

sanil said...

I like the third picture. :) The second makes me laugh and the first is just sorta meh.

Prothero!!!!!!!!! I have such a geekcrush on his work right now and I haven't even actually read it, just heard him talk about it. I had God is Not One on hold at the library but was out of town when it was finally available and now I have to wait again. *sigh* Is the book you're reading good? It seems good, just from what you wrote here. I'll have to add that to the list, too.

I really like the comments on Eastern culture/religion and the difference between religious leaders in the East and West. It's obviously a generalization and not true in all cases, but I think there is something to the statement that the West tends towards putting the message out there in an entertaining way and the East tends towards living it out quietly. I think part of the reason for that is simply an emphasis on being outgoing and expressing ourselves in the West - we've placed a lot of importance on talking and explaining ourselves. And once you start talking a lot and having to spell it all out, you wind up with long-winded sermons and therefore need to dress them up to keep people focused.

When the emphasis isn't so much on self-expression but on living according to what is seen as normative/right, there's not so much need for the long speeches and no need to become entertainment-focused. I think that's also a reason that "Eastern religion" (whether it's misappropriated or not) is becoming popular in the West - it's easier and less showy. I think people who are disenchanted with religion as they've seen it in their own lives might find that more authentic and be drawn to it. (And there might be a little autobiographical theorizing there. :D)

Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to find this book.

Lat said...

I find all the pics attractive and funny but it's all men can do,to symbolize what Jesus could mean to them.

"The three conjured those categories differently, but all portrayed the East as the land of the spirit par excellence, and the West as the land of political, economic, and technological achievement.."

I think this is what most think too as evidenced by the numerous religious structures and practices found in the East.

Susanne said...

Sanil, always nice hearing from you! Yes, the Black Jesus is pretty neat-looking. I guess I'm so used to the long-haired, white guy we see in movies that this one is different enough to give me pause to consider what Jesus actually did look like! That was a good chapter hearing how the black people preached that Jesus was a black man and the arguments they gave in support of their position. Really I wonder what some Americans would think if they could see what all those Bible heroes truly looked like. Would they be so quick to look down on other races?

Yes, the book is quite interesting really. It's broad enough that it doesn't delve too technically into things so it's interesting and informative at the same time. I didn't realize the development of Jesus in our country so I'm glad I chose to read it. He even addresses the time when stressing relationship with Jesus came into play moreso and there are many times I've been like "hmmm, I didn't realize that."

Ha....I love what you said about expressing ourselves in the West and how our long-winded sermons need to be dressed up in order to hold attention. (Speaking of which, I need to get ready for church now if I am going to make it by 9 for the early service.)

Really appreciate and enjoyed your comment! Thank you so much for taking time to share your thoughts!



Lat, always good to read your feedback as well. I'm glad you found the pictures amusing and interesting! :) Good point about East/West. I always find this sort of thing of great interest for some reason! :)

lit said...

I read bible as well but i am not christian. But believe in god.

lit said...

I read bible as well but i am not christian. But believe in god.

Susanne said...

Lit, welcome and thank you for sharing that information about you. What are your thoughts of Jesus? Do you identify with any of the ones mentioned in this post?

Amber said...

I have been traumatised by those first two pictures! Freaky and weird. The third is nice though.

Susanne said...

Ha! Oops...sorry to traumatize you first thing on a Monday morning! :)

Becky said...

Hmmmm, I can't really figure out if I find the pictures distasteful or interesting, as ways to symbolize how differently we see Jesus.

I do think the West tend to emphasize pleasure, well more so materialism, as the solution, whilst the East does tend to emphasize spirituality (which I'm personally more drawn to). I read an excerpt of an article earlier today, about some Republican (I think) who said that we shouldn't worry about natural resources running out, because God would replenish them... yes, seriously. This is the way I often see Western people "sell" the message of the church and the message of Jesus - accept Jesus as your saviour and live a life of abundance!

I think a preachers speaking ability is very important. A preacher has to be able to catch your attention and make his message relevant to each individual person and encourage you to ACT upon the message. I do think a truly holy man should do his best to live according to his message, I don't expect perfection, but definitely real dedication - and humility. I think Jesus fully embodied his message, he didn't just talk, but he put his words into action.

To me, Jesus is love, compassion and humility.

ractices what he preaches? Based on your knowledge of Jesus, did he do this for the most part? If you had to coin a phrase to describe what Jesus means to you, what would you say? Would you choose one from above or come up with one of your own? Explain your answer.

Susanne said...

Becky, thanks for your thorough, well-expressed answer! I really enjoyed it!