Repulsed by Jesus

Ugly Jesus

Thanks to:

I was raised Lutheran, had thoughts of being a pastor at 12 years-old, was confirmed at 14 years-old, became an atheist at 15 years-old, re-convert, born-again and spirit-filled at 17 years-old but fell away again about 6 or 7 years later.  With all that exposure to Christianity both culturally and as a grateful believer, you’d think there would be big parts of me still drawn to Jesus or Christianity in some way — especially since I did not leave angry, bitter or hurt.  But I read about Atheists who consider themselves Cultural Christians or Atheist Christians –who, different from me, and are still drawn to something about Jesus or the stories or the rituals of Christianity.  But I find Jesus repulsive.

The stories do nothing for me.  In fact I find the stories a bit irritating.  Neither the symbols nor the themes of Christianity resonate with me in the least.   And it is not because I am angry at Christianity for deceiving me or manipulating me.  I went in as willing adult and Jesus (and his Church) helped me to grow.  These narratives use to mean something to me.  And indeed I support many of the virtues cultured by Christians (well, of my favorite type of Christians, that is).  So why do I find Christianity so unattractive?

Not Jesus' Fault


Well, my repulsion is not simply because I find all religions repulsive — I don’t.  I find myself aesthetically drawn to contemplative religions.  And it is not some naive idealistic Western view of mysticism that draws me — for I lived there and known their weaknesses.  So, sort of like my Atheist Christians and Cultural Christian friends, I still value (in certain ways) these traditions in spite of being an Atheist.   It seems I have Yuan with Buddhism and other meditative traditions.  But I seriously don’t know why.

I have nothing personal against Jesus-tales (in spite of this post’s catchy title) — I just naturally find nothing attractive about his stories or the cultures generated by his believers.  Yet for some reason I still enjoy reading the Buddha’s stories and the stories of others in similar contemplative traditions.

As I have blogged and studied about Christianity a bit deeper, this aesthetic-emotional preference of mine has become more clear to me.  All I do know is that the preference is not intellectual, it comes from a deeper level.  I can describe it as nothing more than Yuan — unless my readers have better suggestions.  What do you have Yuan with?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

27 responses to “Repulsed by Jesus

  1. Ever read any St John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila? You don’t see many if any contemplative Christians these days, but they are around.

  2. Indeed, Mike!
    On my way out of Christianity, Thomas Merton and Meister Ekhart (to mention 2) were my favorite reads — they almost kept me in the fold. But I remember saying to myself back then, “They are still too Christian”. Their Christianity almost seem superfluous.

  3. Yeah, I know what you mean. I have a theologian friend who really knows his stuff. He’s liberal and we’ll be having a really cool discussion and then he’ll somehow bring it back to orthodox Christianity which makes no sense to me and he’ll totally lose me. He jokes with me telling me I’m still a Christian because I try to act with compassion, and I joke in return that he is still an atheist. Of course Buddha was a proponent of compassion 500 years before Jesus, but he doesn’t joke that I’m a Buddhist.😉

  4. I have ‘yuan’ with the Christian ideals, which to me actually take a more Eastern flavor than a Western tradition looking one. In fact, when studying Buddhism I found that a lot of the contemplative ways I was using Christianity were also right within the Buddhist tradition and theological mindset (which struck me as weird).

    I am also a huge proponent of social change, peaceful movements, cultures, and tolerance. I feel quite drawn to the idea of a larger social community of people that function like a society outside of what the powers that be say we can and cannot do.

  5. Shane

    Hi Sabio, great post! Ian has probably correctly characterised me as a Cultural Christian, rather than a Christian Atheist, but a lot of this post resonates with me, although there is much of Christianity I do like, aesthetically. But what repulses me most is the Christian dehumanisation of Jesus. In so many ways he was just another fallible human, vain, power hungry, racist – to me that’s part of his appeal. He *was* Brian!

  6. Blessed are the cheese makers?

  7. @ societyvs :
    As always, your flavor of attachment to Christianity is unique.

    @ Shane :
    Ian is brilliant in dissecting things. I loved how you both dialogued about the Historical Jesus in his post. Also I am enjoying your blog: “Answer in Genes” Thanks for stopping in.

  8. In Matthew 25:40-45, Christ explicitly identifies himself with the members of society we instinctively want to exclude ourselves from. The people we want to forget about; the repulsive. He explicitly wants you to see His face in the “last, the lost, and the least”. Lepers, homeless, etc.

    It’s the only time Christ ever makes such a self-identification, so it’s significant. He doesn’t say, “whatsoever you have done to those who are pleasant on the eye or pleasing to the touch”. I find it pretty ironic when certain religious authorities claim to be following Christ’s admonition to “help the least”, but coincidentally only surround themselves with people they find physically attractive — whether vulnerable young women, young boys of a certain age and type, or whatever. Seems like they got it exactly backwards.

  9. @ JS Allen
    Being a former Christian, I anticipated this response. It is a good response excepts that it assumes that the repulsiveness I speak of is the same repulsiveness you speak of. I will have to put off to other posts exactly why I am not attracted to the Jesus depicted in the New Testament. But thanks for your response.

  10. @Sabio – I wasn’t assuming that the repulsiveness that you speak of is physical. I think these verses are symbolic of the broader thrust of Christ’s depiction in the New Testament. Practically everything He said or did should leave anyone saying, “WTF? I’m supposed to follow this guy?”. People who don’t say “WTF?” are not honest, IMO.

    There is a habit of Christians to depict the crucifixion as if it inspires guilt and sympathy for Christ. But that’s totally unrealistic. The most realistic reaction for a Jewish mother witnessing the crucifixion in those days would’ve been to look at her young son and say, “Look at that moron; that’s what will happen if you follow his advice! Got himself killed preaching wacko religious theories, and had no personal gain whatsoever!” That’s what mothers today would say.

  11. And I assumed that you assumed that I didn’t speak of the physical. I was thinking just like you — again, I use to be a Christian sort of like your perhaps.

    Here is an inkling of my thoughts:

    Jesus was cultish, he was [wrongly] apocalyptic, he was unnecessarily allusive.

    His parables and sayings were simple and not insightful on how to truly change people. And of course I don’t buy into the soteriological stuff. So I have only the teachings to evaluate.

  12. Cool, I look forward to reading your posts on the topic. FWIW, I recently read Luther’s Heidelberg disputation, which deals pretty directly with the issue, and found it to be mind-blowing. I assume you were already exposed to such thinking, but it was new for me, since I was never Lutheran.

  13. @ JS
    It is hard for me to seriously consider Luther considering his wacky personality and hatred of Jews. So tell us exactly what point(s) in the disputation you think addresses the issue this post addresses. I am curious if you understand my point.

  14. @Sabio
    I wouldn’t expect you to be persuaded by the HD even if Luther weren’t such a scandalous person. You and I have very different life experiences (and some very similar), so it’s natural we would arrive at different conclusions. I hope you don’t take my comments as attempts to persuade — just sharing my own personal perspective.

    Regarding the HD, I was recently told that it is by far Luther’s most important work, far more important than his 95 theses. I assumed that was a standard Lutheran perspective, but I’m admittedly ignorant of Lutheranism. In the HD, Luther broadly contrasts the “theologian of the cross” with the “theologian of glory”. He systematically dismantles any attempt to build a theology on anything that seems proper, beautiful, useful, or expedient to the human — all such attempts are condemned as being born of a “theology of glory”. In contrast, the cross is repugnant, repulsive, seen as folly to the theologian of glory.

    I’m not attempting to summarize or defend the HD here, and it would be a crime to attempt to critique HD from what I just wrote. But you asked how I imagined HD to be relevant to your post, and I just wanted to explain my thought process — the entire and only purpose of HD is to contrast theology based on glory/beauty with theology that appears repugnant to man.

  15. Thanks JS,
    But again, this is not the “ugly” I am writing of. It is your theme you are discussing.

  16. I was always attracted to monasteries and to a life of silent semi-seclusion out in the middle of no-where in a castle-like retreat center. I liked the idea of living with a group of people who could be a family to me.

    Even when I rejected evangelical Christianity I wished I could be naive enough to be a Catholic. In fact, I always said that had I been a Catholic, I would’ve been a nun, and I often said also that I wished evangelicals had some mystical denomination of the sort.

    But I’ve come to realize a few things about my psychological make up that may explain my yearning for a quiet community life.

    1) I never had a nice family life, and perhaps idealistically I came to believe that a convent would give me that.

    2) I idealized the life in a convent. I’m sure it isn’t as wonderful as I made it to be. The grass probably isn’t as green as it looks from this side of the fence.

    3) The only times I felt happy in my original family was when we had to be secluded together for war reasons. Those are my best memories. When nobody could go outside the house due to bombings and shootings.

    4) My family life was so convoluted and loud, that I probably crave silence because I hated the way we lived. Particularly, because the screaming was usually related to bullying or fighting.

    In short, I am attracted to monastic life, but not its Jesus or the Scriptures. I find Jesus mean, racist, and all around offensive. His culture clashes with mine, basically.

  17. @ Lorena:
    Great analysis! Understanding one’s own nature is a very difficult task — you seem to be doing it superbly (as it is an unending task). Unlike you, I had a very nice family and very, very secure environment and childhood. People like me can’t even begin to imagine what stress your inner life has had.

    Question: Like me, you were attracted to Jesus or Christianity at one time — it served you well in some capacity (I must assume) — but what did you find attractive then but not now and why?

  18. @Sabio – Sorry, I’ll have to wait and see what you really mean, then. I assumed you meant things like “unnecessarily allusive”, “not insightful on how to truly change people”, etc. That’s the primary theme of HD.

  19. Andrew

    “What do you have Yuan with?”

    Irony in all forms.

    It’s not just some simple tool for comedy. It is a constant found between what has actually been put in sacred texts and what people get out of sacred texts. Jesus is just another prime example.

    It is the perpetual reminder for me of just how difficult this whole communication thing can become. Meanings have as many fluctuations as our own moods and intentions and distractions.

    “It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree.” -Charles Baudelaire

  20. @ Andrew
    That gave me a good laugh — love the quote. Thanx.

  21. interesting post, i get your objections. fair enough. Christianity isn’t for everyone, i wish the evangelicals could get their minds around it.

    Merton, Bonaventure, Ekhert, and the Bloodhearts are my dawgs. big fan of them, as well as the more gentle, contemplative versions of the faith. Luther is strange but he does have some really great things amid his antisemitism. not that it excuses him, i’m just saying he’s interesting. equally repulsive and compelling at once, if that makes any sense.

  22. Kay

    When I’ve tried to be Christian, even very recently, I’ve had to stay away from the Bible because it, and the characters it portrays (often even Jesus) disturb or repulse me.

    Instead I’ve had to surround myself with theologians and thinkers who put a new spin on the scriptures and Jesus. I like their versions, but they do not seem to actually resemble what I read for myself.

  23. Ray

    What is an atheist? In some cases, it seems to be someone who gets tired of all that is called “Christian” and may not be far from the Spirit that Jesus embodied. He was not the “religious” type either. There is more to life than a knee jerk re-action to religion but that takes a lot of pure love. There is no one more tired of what is called, “Christian” than Jesus.

    As for “Ugly Jesus” the art is more of a re-action to the “pretty” or “GQ” versions portrayed in history by religious groups. Ask yourself, “Why did Mel Gibson pick Jim Caveizel to play Jesus?” Why not Woody Allen or someone similar to him in looks? Was it more dramatic for a “pretty boy” to die such a gruesome death? Hollywood, in some instances, is a painted hooker trying to separate you from your money.

    Sure, you can use my Ugly Jesus. You picked one of my favorites🙂

  24. @ Ray:
    Thank you for the permission. I hope a few linked to your site and bought a shirt. I may still myself. If you ever right a post on who you think Jesus really was and what he really said and explain how you came to those conclusions, I’d love to read it. Meanwhile I LOVE your corrective on the Hollywood or Pretty Jesus. Love it !

    @ Kay:
    Wow, well said. Thank you for sharing.

    @ Zero :
    Yeah, it was a personal post. I am just amazed at how unattractive it is to me in spite of how strong my background is.
    As for Luther, I get what your are saying, but I fall on the repulsive side. And it is a human trait to overlook the faults of those on your team — a dangerous fault, I may add.

  25. Ray

    Much much more writing and responses on my blog here on myspace…

    Feel free to respond.

  26. It is wonderful to see you getting this much mileage out of that considerable noggin of yours. Well done. Assisting people in asking questions, in raising issues is true education. However I would agree with Shakespeare in uttering, ” There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in thy philosophy ”
    There is a real mystery in Christian mystical traditions that cannot be explained by ‘imaginary Jesus.’ Try imaging such a friend in the Circus Maximus as you are about to be fed to lions. I dare you to find an imaginary friend you can burn for. Are all imaginary friends of equal stature? Are you saying that a two year old belief in an invisible friend is the same as faith that Jesus called Thomas on? Faith is not based in the imagination> Read Thomas Merton again on faith in ‘No man is an island.’ All of the intellectual razmadaz in the world can not account for a person of true faith in whatever religion or non religion. It is a sheer mystery. where no mind can go. Viva Rumi! Viva Meher Baba! Viva Krishnamurti! Viva Huang Po! But hey, the Lord is in a different class buddy. That is why one third of the planet still believes despite all the horseradish the editors have given us there was a man. I spent ten years dissecting the resurrection. Far greater intellects than mine have done the same. Either he did or he didn’t. If he didn’t dump him straight in the crapper. But if he did…there is no other like him. Amen

  27. FYI Readers: “Abdhul” is an old dear friend.

    @ Abdhul :

    People gladly died for Japanese emperors and I would not give them any special ontological status. People gladly died for Hitler too. People can, in their head, raise people into all sorts of false statures. I imagine you have seem people try and do that with you too, “Abdhul”.

    So, Abdhul, in your later years, have you come to embrace the faith of your ancestors — albeit with a universal mystical twist?

    Fantastic to have you drop in, mate!

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