It is not uncommon to hear Evangelicals say that Jesus was a “real” man; that Jesus understood while on the earth, and in Heaven today, what it means to be a “real” man. Evangelical churches and parachurch groups frequently have services and conferences where the manly Jesus is worshiped. In this world, Jesus scratched his balls, farted and laughed, watched football, hunted deer, fished, and loved MMA. You know, all the things “real,” red-blooded, bark-at-the-moon-crazy American Evangelical men do. Feminists and unsubmissive, bossy wives are blamed for turning Evangelical men into pansies — limp-wristed men who cower in fear. Feminists live disobedient lives, choosing careers over marriage and family. Complementarianism is God’s standard, “real” men say. “Time for Evangelical women to return to their homes and start cleaning, cooking, spreading their legs on demand, and having lots of babies.” “Let “real” men do all the hard thinking and lifting.” Let “real” men run things.” “We’re here to love and protect you, ladies.”
For “real” men, macho masculinity is the gold standard. Dare to deviate from this standard as a man and your masculinity will be called into question. Worse, behind your back these “real” men will wonder if you are gay — the unpardonable sin. The cure for effeminate behavior, macho men say, is for light-in-the-loafers men to follow after Jesus — a “real” man. Makes sense, right? If there was ever a “real” man, it was Jesus. Or so Evangelicals believe, anyway.
Think for a moment about the life of Jesus. Ask yourself, “was Jesus a “real” man — as defined by modern Evangelical ball-scratching finger sniffers”? Consider:
- Jesus had long hair — effeminate, sinful hair according to the social standards of many Evangelical sects
- Jesus wore women’s clothing — women wore long dresses, men wore shorter dresses, a violation of the Law of God
- Jesus spent three years traveling the countryside with a group of mostly single men. (Do that today and your heterosexual manliness will be called into question.)
- Jesus spent three years sleeping with men
- Jesus never had a girlfriend
- Jesus never masturbated
- Jesus never had sex
- Jesus never had a boner
- Jesus never romantically kissed a woman
- Jesus never attended a sporting event
Shall I go on? You see, Jesus was nothing like the “real” Evangelical men of today. We don’t even know for sure if Jesus ever urinated or defecated. The Bible, in fact, tells us very little about Jesus’ humanity. We know Jesus had a mother, father, siblings, and likely grew up in a poor home. We also know Jesus drank wine. We know Jesus’ father was a carpenter, but we don’t know if Jesus had any physical skills. The Bible records all sorts of miraculous things Jesus purportedly did, yet after three years he had less than 200 followers. His own family didn’t follow him, and even went so far as to ask him to take his magic show away from their town. “Jesus, you are embarrassing Mom and Dad,” his brother James allegedly said. “Please go to somewhere else and heal the sick!”
I am sure that “real” men will be incensed upon reading this post. How dare I besmirch the “manliness” of the Son of God. “Look at all that Jesus suffered on the cross,” “real” men say. “Look at his pain and suffering!” I dealt with this violent porn fantasy in a post titled I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend:
The narrative [Kirsten] Ryken [a writer for the Fundamentalist website The Gospel Coalition] spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.
Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is, assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell and hung out with its inhabitants, and then he resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third degree burns over most their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?
Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.
I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? . . .” Why me, indeed.
According to the man standard set by “real” Evangelical men, Jesus was not a “real” man. In fact, one could argue that Jesus might have been gay. Can you imagine what would happen to the heads of “real” men if Jesus was, indeed, queer? Why, they would explode like those of the Martians in Mars Attacks! You see, “real” men have molded and shaped Jesus into their own images. And it’s not just “real” men Evangelicals. All followers of the Son of God follow a Jesus that looks, thinks, and acts just like them. This is why there are millions and millions of Jesuses (and Christianities). Throw in buffet-style readings and interpretations of the Bible, and what we end up with are Jesuses that seem an awful lot like us. Jesus is the ultimate chameleon, able to fit every sect, church, and Christian’s view of the world. This is why many Christians believe God hates LGBTQ people, Muslims, and liberals, yet other Christians believe Jesus loves LGBT people, Muslims, and liberals. And between these two worldviews are countless points of difference. Jesus, then, is like a paint-by-number portrait where each painter chooses what color corresponds with each number. “Jesus was white!” Megyn Kelly famously said. For her paint-by-number portrait of Jesus, she changed the brown/olive Mediterranean skin color to European white.
Theology and social conditioning force “real” Evangelical men to paint a mental and physical picture a certain way. Too bad there weren’t digital cameras back in 30 CE. Too bad a contemporary didn’t sketch Jesus or describe him. Too bad Jesus — who was likely illiterate — didn’t leave behind any writings. All we have are the gospels, none of which were written by Jesus, none of which were written during his lifetime. That’s why modern Christians are forced to make a Jesus in their own image, according to their own beliefs and experiences. And that’s fine, by the way. Thousands and thousands of people “know” Bruce Gerencser. They read this blog, and having never met me, they develop a mental picture of who and what I am. The same goes for the readers of this blog. I have met a few of you face to face, but I will go to the cremation furnace without ever truly “knowing” 99.9 percent of you. I interact with a small number of readers in the comments, on social media, and through text messages. I have made judgements about who and what you are. Now, these impressions of mine might bear a resemblance to the “real” you, but then again, maybe not. The only sure way I can know you (and you me) is for us to meet face to face and for us to spend significant time with each other. And even then, can we really totally and completely know someone?
“Real” men nonsense actually causes great psychological and societal harm. Instead of letting men be themselves, with unique wants, needs, and desires, Evangelical “real” men force other men to play according to their rules. Countless men endure sports because “real” men demand they do so. Countless men are married to women because “real” men love breasts and vaginas. And on and on it goes. And the worst part about all of this is that males who don’t fit the Evangelical “real” man standard suffer in silence, unable to say publicly they wept at the end of The Notebook or love Project Runway.
Life is too short to live in ways that deny who and what we really are. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to have different wants, needs, and desires. Love monster trucks? Super! Love quiet walks in the woods and sunsets? That’s fine too. There’s no need for any of us to conform to a religious or cultural norm. Love others and be true to self. Dare we ask any more of anyone?
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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