Here is Jesus H. Christ, walking around modern America, right now.
Can you imagine him? Here is, in other words, a dark-skinned, bearded, unkempt Middle Eastern Jew, acting all kinds of suspicious, ranting on street corners and hanging around with prostitutes and fanatics, rejecting money, violence and the ruling class, seen by Muslims as the divine precursor to their prophet as he lures the innocent and the seditious into his lawless cult of pacifism and peace.
Jesus in America, today? Almost certainly to be shunned, feared, derided. Depending where he wandered, also likely harassed, spit upon, even beaten – that is, if he was allowed into the country at all.
Looks quite like a Muslim, you see. Might be an ISIS sympathizer. Definitely radicalized. Got a Facebook feed full of strange proclamations, rapturous interventions, cryptic references to how you’re to seek the divine within, silly. Who knows what he might be up to?
Do you doubt it? Of course you can’t. I mean, just look at him.
No, not that one – not the soft-focus, pale hippie Jesus of timid Christian fantasy. This one: the “real” Jesus, by way of this (now-famous) reconstruction, circa 2002, by Richard Neave, a professional (retired) medical artist from the University of Manchester, using all his available skill, forensic technology and, well, common sense.
Fun holiday game! Pull up this now-classic image (it seems to reappear in the news every year or two, as awesome reminder) at the dinner table, show it to your favorite evangelical, Islamophobic friends and relatives. Say it’s a friend of yours. Don’t tell them who it is!
Watch as they squirm and fume when you reveal the truth. Watch the table erupt as you can’t help but point out that historical Jesus’ appearance was quite the antithesis of modern Christianity’s fuzzy romance novel/Hallmark-card hunk, that ‘70s Allman Brothers roadie with the soft blue eyes and artificial glow.
It’s a little cruel, I realize. After all, jokes abound about what Jesus “would have wanted” or “would do” regarding everything from gun control to warmongering, sexism to the Catholic church’s billions, with most sad punchlines centering around the fact that there’s almost nothing about modern Christianity that Jesus would have ever abided.
Put simply, the church, politicians, corporate marketing, et al have warped Jesus and his humble teachings well beyond recognition. It’s not exactly news.
So does it matter what he really looked like? Probably not much. Willful ignorance is strong in America. Trump’s zealous throngs and even moderate Christians alike share the common, saccharine Jesus fantasy, and it’s not hard to see why: The gentle, anodyne myth always outweighs the fierce historical reality (unless you’re Mel Gibson, in which case gruesome sadomasochism is the only lie worth fomenting).
Do not misunderstand. This is not to say many Christians don’t realize, deep down, that “real” Jesus wasn’t at all like the church-sanctioned fairytale. They just don’t care much. The fantasy is better. And easier. And far less challenging to their beliefs.
This is the new millennium. Suspicion and exceptionalism rule the day. America’s not about to get close to the real, well,anything, much less Jesus. Put it this way: you’re not about to see a dark-skinned Middle Eastern Jewish baby lying in any front-yard nativity scene in Texas this year, you know? It’s simply not done.
And would you look at those nativity scenes? Baby Jesus, for most, means rosy-cheeked, light-skinned and, uh, blond. Animals hover about in calm revelry. “Kings” kneel about, offering gifts. And there’s Mary, all devout and submissive, like a good virgin should be. Lovely.
Of course it’s all a carefully recomposed lie. In America, fear and make-believe regularly dethrone truth. Furiously clenched myths (patriarchy, military might, institutions, corporations, god) are working harder than ever to stifle reality. It’s not at all unusual.
But the sad truth is, the real, dark-skinned, pacifist prophet, the hippie mystic Jesus of yore, preaching peace, loving thy enemy, inner divine wisdom? He wouldn’t come anywhere near America today.
Too many guns, you see. He wouldn’t have a prayer.