American Jesus

American Jesus
Stephen Prothero

The ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes put it that if horses could draw then they would draw pictures of gods like horses. The more familiar point, for us, being that man creates gods, or God, in his (that is, man’s) image and not the other way around.

Stephen Prothero’s book American Jesus is an excellent guide to the history of this fashioning as it relates to the figure of Jesus in American culture. From humble beginnings (at the time of the Revolution America was not a particularly religious nation, and Christianity was more grounded in the Old Testament), Jesus became a figure “as multiform as Proteus” and a national icon. In large part due to the demands of consumer culture and the needs of the “sovereign audience,” Jesus was truly all things to all men, and women: “When Americans demanded a feminized hero, he became sweet and submissive. When they demanded a manly warrior, he muscled up and charged into battle. As feminism and the civil rights movement gained momentum and baby boomers tuned into the New Age, he became a black androgyne as comfortable with his yin as he was with his yang.” Not to mention the syncretistic way Jesus became (even more) Jewish, fusing his identity as liberator with that of Moses, before also being adopted by Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.

Through all of this Jesus became not the saviour or religious leader that we needed or that we deserved but only the one we wanted at the time. Or, when we didn’t want him, he was made to disappear. It’s a process of transformation that was already underway in the first century CE, as described by Paula Fredriksen in her book From Jesus to Christ. And no doubt the evolution of the divine will continue into the age of Artificial Intelligence. It’s part of being a living God.

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