Why Jesus Christ is not your typical macho man. And why that matters.STEUN RO
We are living in the strongmen era, so we are told. Rulers like Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán, Vladimir Putin and, of course, Donald Trump dominate the daily news. All of them, in their own way, emphasize the importance of typically masculine values like strength, pride and boldness. At the same time, they tend to present themselves as the saviors or ultimate representatives of Christian culture.
As we live through the Holy Week, this makes one wonder. To what extent is the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, with his humiliating death on Good Friday, compatible with the philosophy of strongmen?
In order to explore this topic, let’s have a look at the great prophet of modern day’s angry young men. I am talking, of course, about Jordan Peterson, the psychiatrist who (willingly or not) became the guru of revived masculinity. In his bestselling book 12 Rules For Life, he writes a good deal about order and chaos, the male and the female… and Jesus Christ.
This is what Peterson says about the crucifixion:
“That is the archetypical story of the man who gives his all for the sake of the better (…) That is the model for the honourable man.”
Two sentences, twice the word man. We get it, Jesus is a man alright. An honourable man, mind you. And a hero.
“Christ’s archetypal death exists as an example of how to accept finitude, betrayal and tyranny heroically — (…) and not as a directive to victimize ourselves in the service of others.”
What we perceive here is a subtle change of perspective on Jesus Christ. Jordan Peterson portrays the Jesus we all know, but adds a little heroism to the man, whilst taking the edge off of Jesus’ victimhood and suffering. Jesus is not the teacher of meekness, but the Braveheart of courageous self-sacrifice. He’s the ultimate man.
This is a Jesus president Donald Trump could relate to. His favorite Bible verse is, famously, an eye for an eye. Why? Because, says Trump:
“We have to be firm and we have to be very strong”
The problem with this Bible verse is: it’s one of the very few holy texts that Jesus himself specifically repudiated. Because he liked mercy better than vengeance.
Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump are not the only ones who like to view Jesus as a hero more than as a victim. Just one look at Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ confirms that Jesus’ bravery is a well known and loved feature in Western cinematic renditions of the gospel.
Tomáš Halík, Czech priest, professor and Templeton Prize winner, went to see the movie and was horrified to see Jesus being reduced to a bloody piece of steak. This was his reaction:
“Our Lord’s act of salvation is presented as a heroic human deed. Jesus is portrayed in true American style as a champion, excelling in his endurance of pain, one who, in his bout with the devil, is knocked out a thousand times but gets back on his feet again — and at the end worthily mounts the victor’s podium.”
This, of course, may be an attractive way to celebrate Good Friday. It makes Jesus a hero worthy of following without even a hint of shame. The only problem is: it’s not the vision the writers of the gospels would want us to follow. Jesus is not the ultra-masculine heroic demigod, not our most courageous champion. For those kinds of people, we have tons of Hollywood movies, including Mel Gibson’s very own Braveheart.
Jesus is of a different kind, entirely.
But how? How to speak about the crucifixion, then, if gazing at Christ’s masculine heroism is not the way? The keyword is: dependence. ‘Into Your Hands I Commend My Spirit’, are Christ’s final words. That’s not his audacious decision to fearlessly descend into Hell and beat the crap out of it — it’s his statement of faith that he would be raised from the dead. A crucial nuance.
Hanging on his cross, he comforted a convicted criminal who was hanging next to him. He took care of his mother and his friend who were mourning him, standing by the murderous scene. He asked for forgiveness for his executioners instead of longing for revenge. If anything, it’s the power of vulnerability and love that wins on Good Friday.
Good Friday is not the day of the great, divine, daring deed of the Son of God. The miracle of the Resurrection was not forged by the strongman’s willpower. Christ was not the distant, marvelous superman shouting ‘FREEDOM!’ while being tortured and saving his people.
Jesus did not know more agony, nor did he suffer it in a better way, than the people in Auschwitz or Joan of Arc in her last days. Jesus feared his death so much he was sweating blood. He asked God to take this cup away from him. He asked his friends to stay awake and abide with him in the moments before he was captured. Hanging on the cross, he screamed from the top of his lungs, feeling completely abandoned. He did not treat us with some fabulous final speech, like Socrates — he just asked for something to drink.
There is no tremendous physical or psychological boldness here. Instead, Jesus became the ultimate Victim (a word so hated in alt-right circles). By becoming a victim, he became one with all the victims in world history — and they are many. God chose their side right there on Calgary, so Christians believe.
Now what about the masculine values of his followers? To begin with, his most loyal disciples were the women who stood at a distance, weeping over his crucifixion. The first ones to spread the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection were a group of women. The famous image of the pietà immortalizes the Son of Man, lying in the lap of his mother.
To conclude: whereas it is true that the Holy Week is a religious festival of many faces, some have to be disappointed. The reverence of (toxic) masculinity is certainly not one of them.
About the author:
Alain Verheij (1989) is a Dutch theologian and author.
I mostly write in Dutch, but am planning to translate some of my work into English. If you happen to be a publisher, please consider contacting me to translate and publish my prize winning book ‘God en ik’ (‘God and me’).
Should you want to sponsor me, here’s my tip jar: https://www.paypal.me/alainverheij
The picture above the text was made by Jorge Villar.