If you drive, you’ve probably seen it: the fundamentalist Christian bumpersticker proclaiming in bold letters that a vehicle’s occupant(s) believe that “Real Men Love Jesus.”
By the standard implicit in that slogan, I’m not a “real man,” since I don’t love Jesus. Neither do I believe that Jesus was divine. I consider him just another human being, one who left his mark on the world about 2,000 years ago. He did this as a great ethical teacher who challenged the establishment of his day and wanted to improve the lives of the oppressed and the dispossessed. (This is also what Karl Marx, Malcolm X, Che Guevara and others tried to do.)
I’m not a mental health professional, either. However, if these people really do love Jesus, someone they’ve never met, the same way they love a parent, a sibling, a significant other, a close friend, or even a pet, I think they could be deranged. Or there might be another explanation for what they mean by “love.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, includes the following definitions of “love”: “É 6. Theology. a. God’s benevolence and mercy toward man. b. Man’s devotion to or adoration of God. c. The benevolence, kindness, or brotherhood that man should rightfully feel toward others.”
It seems clear that “devotion” and “adoration” of Jesus, not literal “love,” is what the fundies advocate. The problem is that “adoration” and “devotion” are too long to fit neatly onto a bumpersticker, plus they just don’t have the emotional impact of “love.” So the fundamentalists willingly debase the language in order to make a point. (This is an example of what’s wrong with the bumpersticker mentality. It stunts intellectual discourse by oversimplifying complex thoughts, which is why bumpersticker slogans merit deconstruction.)
“Real Men Love Jesus” neatly embodies the simplistic, us vs. them, black-and-white, “right-and-wrong” worldview of fundamentalist Christianity. This slogan, in my opinion, has nothing to do with benevolence, mercy, devotion to or adoration of God, kindness, brotherhood, love or any other positive qualities that Jesus’ teachings might exemplify. Rather, it’s another attempt by the fundies to bludgeon us over the head with their values. If you don’t feel exactly as they do about Jesus, if you’re a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Sikh, an atheist, or whatever, the implication is that you’re not a “real” man and, by extension, of questionable and perhaps disreputable moral character. What an un-Christ-like example of arrogance, self-righteousness and fanaticism that is.
It doesn’t bode well for our supposedly pluralistic democracy when members of a faith apparently have no compunctions about insulting those who believe differently from them. This attitude erodes the tolerance and respect necessary so that all of us, including them, can continue to enjoy freedom of religion and, equally important, freedom from religion. The irony is that no matter how offensive and pernicious we find their view, for our own sake, we should still respect their First Amendment right to express it.
So what makes one a “real” Jesus-loving man as defined by the Religious Right? Based upon my knowledge of their thinking, it means this “real” man is suffering from a bad case of fear: of sex, erotica, gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and women, among other things. This fear leads to attempts to criminalize sexual activity, abortion and birth control; take away the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and women, and return them to a second-class status; and gut the First Amendment to stamp out erotica and religious freedom. It also leads to attempts to rigidly define manhood in terms of one’s metaphysical beliefs.
Lest I be accused of stereotyping, let me state that I realize that not all Christian fundamentalists whose vehicles sport “Real Men Love Jesus” bumperstickers may be sexphobic, erotiphobic, homophobic or misogynistic. But given their rhetoric and behavior, I think the burden is on the ones who don’t share those reprehensible characteristics to step forward and prove it.
“Real Men Love Jesus” stickers are often seen alongside ones denouncing the Clintons and Democrats/liberals and extolling the Republican Party. This is a contradiction, given what the GOP advocates. Where Christ-like virtues include love and tolerance of others, even if they act and think differently from you, the Republicans offered the anti-gay “Defense of Marriage Act,” with the help of Clinton and the Democrats. In place of charity and compassion for the poor, the GOP joined with the Democrats in pulling the safety net out from under millions of children in the name of welfare “reform.” Instead of working for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, the last Republican president attacked Panama and Iraq. And, of course, the Republicans (and the Democrats, too) have repeatedly put the interests of the wealthy few ahead of we, the people. (If I’m wrong and Jesus was the son of God, I hope the parties’ corporate and multi-millionaire donors have to stand before the gates of heaven and watch a camel glide through the eye of a needle.)
So how then should we define “real” manhood or, better yet, “real” personhood, regardless of gender? To my way of thinking, a “real” person is one who believes in and practices the values of Jesus and other great ethical teachers (as opposed to the values of the Religious Right). These include tolerance, compassion, charity, peacefulness and non-violence (though I don’t think this precludes legitimate self-defense), love (goodwill, kindness and brotherhood) toward humanity and eschewal of hatred, bigotry, anger, greed, revenge, arrogance and the idea that people who don’t think exactly like you are morally inferior.
Now that you know this, maybe you’ll buy my bumpersticker: “Real Humans Don’t Put Stupid Slogans on Their Vehicles.”
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