by Carl Krieg 29th January 2021 for ProgressiveChristianity.org
In 1841 the German philosopher of religion, Ludwig Feuerbach, wrote that “if birds had a god, it would be the perfect winged creature”. Human beings, like birds, create god after their own image, and the god they create assumes the characteristics of those doing the creating. The modern white Christian church has presented to the world a Savior who is tall, blue-eyed with long brown hair, clean, sporting a long off-white robe, and gazing into the distance. That was certainly the Jesus I grew up with in my childhood church, with the added touch that he was carrying the lost sheep in his arms.
The facts are quite different. Granted that we are speaking in terms of probability, and that Jesus could have been a handsome six-footer with blue eyes, a neat beard and long brown hair, more likely he looked like a typical Jew of his time. This put him at about 110 pounds, 5’1” in height, with a life span of about 40 years. His hair, cut short and reasonably messy, matched a beard of similar description. Forensic experts in 2002, working in conjunction with Popular Mechanics, created what seemed to them to be a likely image of Jesus. He was swarthy, dark-skinned, with hints of Neanderthal lineage and not at all the lithe, fair-skinned, and curly-locked Jesus so prominent in church sanctuaries. Of course, the re-created image was not accepted by all, and continues to create controversy.
Since it is impossible to say with 100% accuracy what the man from Nazareth looked like, we all need to seriously question our own perception. Who is the Jesus we accept, or reject? Are we open to thinking new thoughts, or are we captivated by the past? With the resurgence of white supremacy in the west, it is mandatory that we tear down the false images that command loyalty and instead search for truth. We may not know exactly what Jesus looked like, but we can be reasonably certain what he did not look like.
If we so easily create god in our own image, it is no less true that we have this god do what we would like “him” to do. God is always on our side, here in America at least, because “in god we trust”, and we are “one nation under god”. What holds true on the national scale holds true on the personal as well. We want the god we have created to do what we have created this god to do. Remembering again the Good Shepherd Jesus of my childhood church, it was an image of comfort, a Jesus who would seek out the lost soul and carry him in his arms. But the image of the Good Shepherd also presents a revolutionary God. Referring to the business and governmental leaders as shepherds who have oppressed the flock, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel proclaims that God is against these shepherds and that he, God, will be the good shepherd, and will feed his people in justice. If, in fact, Jesus proclaimed that he was the Good Shepherd, we might wonder what he had in mind inasmuch as the comforting Jesus is also the Jesus of revolution who fights oppression and promises justice.
No group that claims god as their own, be it in terms of image or action, can speak the truth. Such prejudice is pure self-deception, and needs to be called out as such. This is certainly true of white supremacists, who, like the birds of Feuerbach, create god in their own image. The Jesus and the god they claim has been around a long time, but that does not make it any more true, only more difficult to eradicate. People of goodwill, both in the church and out, must take advantage of every opportunity to challenge the self-delusion of white supremacy, including its image of Jesus and god, and project instead an everlasting image of love and justice.
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC, and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith, and The Void and the Vision.
First published in ProgressiveChristianity.com at ProgressiveChristianity.org : Like a Bird: The Self-Delusion of White Supremacists