Suggestion That Jesus Was Married Sends the Christian Right into a Tizzy
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At their commitment ceremonies, nuns take vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, but the vow of chastity can also be thought of as a vow of fidelity. In times past, some mystics were more explicit than they are today in comparing union with Christ to the peaks of carnal pleasure. The famous vision of Saint Teresa of Avila offers a graphic example:
I would see beside me, on my left hand, an angel in bodily form ... He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire ... In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by the intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God.
Jesus Loves Me. Given the precedent set in past centuries, it should be no surprise that modern Evangelicals are doing everything they can to channel America’s sex obsession into religious devotion. The phrase, “falling in love with Jesus” brings up pages of search engine hits. I am not the first to point out that Christian rock can be almost indistinguishable from the kinds of songs humans croon about and to the objects of their fleshly desire. Grammy winning band, Jars of Clay, wrote a song entitled, “ Love Song for a Savior,” which is exactly that. The theme of romance with Jesus is so prevalent that a blog called Jesus in Love has pages littered with found art that falls at the intersection of iconography and erotica. In her monologue, Letting Go of God, Julia Sweeney confesses discovering the pleasures of her own body under the sensitive gaze of the Jesus hanging on the wall beside her bed.
But even setting aside the sublimated (or not so sublimated) sexual energy in the personal savior relationship, Jesus being married just doesn’t work with modern pop theology. In born again lingo, Jesus loves me wholly, completely, and utterly which means that my love for him in return should be all consuming. Yes, he loves other people in the same way. He is God, and he can do that. But he’s not allowed to love someone else in a different way, a special sexual way that includes desire and physical intimacy and exclusivity-- and leaves me out. That breaks the trance.
Furthermore, since Christians believe in individual immortality, if Jesus had a wife that means she still exists, and it means he likely has kids. When we think about this, our neural networks activate concepts and memories related to typical nuclear family relationships. The pattern includes the fact that spousal intimacy is unique. Also no matter what parents may say, deep down they love their own kids better than anyone else’s.
The dilemma is both psychological and theological. In times past there may have been variants of Christianity which taught that Jesus was married. Their other teachings would have been compatible with this notion. But if so, those versions of Christianity are largely extinct, and the Jesus-concepts that have won out aren’t optimized around a married savior. They are optimized around one who is eternally single–able to make the unconditional, euphoric bond that we yearn for with a perfect lover. In fact, the kinds of Christianity that are growing—evangelical, Pentecostal, “emerging”- - tend to be less cerebral than average and more about this rapturous union. The availability of Jesus may be one key to Christianity’s viral success.