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Andrew Marantz ‘06.5: Jesus was a hippie

Monday, October 24, 2005

“I never met this dude, but I heard he used to walk around in robes, wearing sandals all the time. He had long hair and this crazy beard and everywhere he went it was this huge scene, like people would freak out and cry. He was at the center of this whole sort of fringe commune thing.”

“Like he was in charge?”

“Yeah, but he wasn’t, like, all about the rules. Like, if the rules make things easier, that’s cool, but really all you need is love. He just told people give away all your stuff, turn on, drop out, just walk around with a walking stick and free people’s minds.”


“You said it, man.”

Jesus was a hippie.

Sure, he wasn’t a hippie by our standards. He didn’t put Legend on repeat while he took G-bong rips; he raised the dead but he never saw the Dead; and he washed the feet of the poor more often than most of today’s hippies wash themselves. But by any measure essential to hippiedom, Jesus was a regular Ken Kesey.

Unlike Moses or Muhammad, Jesus was not officially in charge of anyone. Also, early Christianity was a millenialist movement, meaning that people thought the world was going to end soon – as in within their lifetime. (Coincidentally, this belief was also widespread in the ’60s.) This combination allowed Jesus to be socially, economically and politically radical.

He exhibited a nonattachment to, even hostility toward, worldly goods. “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor.” (Matthew 19:21) Try telling your parents this next time they nag you to get a “real job.”

He was constantly at odds with authority, both religious (the Pharisees) and political (the Romans). The theological Jesus may have died for your sins and mine, but the historical one died, like Fred Hampton, for the sin of being a threat to those in power.

Jesus rejected mainstream society outright. He shunned the squares, whom he called “hypocrites”; he preferred to hang with the whores and outcasts, the ad hoc community of freaks who followed him from town to town.

He is famous, of course, for his idealism. He had an undying (some would say naïve) faith that peace and love would win the day. This is part of what made Jesus radical: no one in the ancient world had ever recommending loving everyone. (See PBS for footage of Civil Rights marchers turning the other cheek.)

Like most hippies, Jesus was known for his chronic overuse of farming analogies.

And, of course, he had a deep mystical communion with all things. A shared spiritual experience is common among all hippie movements. At several points in the Gospels, Jesus wanders off alone to hike in the mountains and talk to God.

OK, so Jesus had long hair and dug the salt of the earth. So what? My comparison between Jesus and his Birkenstock-wearing children is lighthearted, but the core idea is no joke.

Scholars can squabble over whether Freud was queer or Homer was a woman or Shakespeare was three people, and in the end, nothing will change except book sales. The debate over Jesus’ crunchiness (to the extent that there is one) is no such scholarly fluff. It really matters.

As we speak, our country is being successfully hijacked by Christian fundamentalists. This is distressing for a number of reasons. But the worst part is, they can’t even do fundamentalism right! Conservatism is now all but conflated with born-again Christianity; but we all know the only thing that scares a neocon more than a deflated military budget is a social welfare program. What would Jesus do, guys?

If Jesus was a hippie, the Bible Belt mentality is way off base. Most evangelical Christians – including those in Washington – claim to use the Bible as their primary ethical guide. As good fundamentalists, they prefer the raw, infallible word of God over complicated interpretation. Yet American fiscal habits clearly have little in common with the Sermon on the Mount, and much in common with the Protestant work ethic (not to mention social Darwinism). The same neocons who promote a “culture of life” at home (Terry Schiavo) are busy creating wars out of thin air (Iraq) and ignoring genocide (Darfur). We are told Bush talks to Jesus before he makes important decisions – but which Jesus is he talking to?

The conservative takeover we are enduring today is a direct backlash against the flower power of the ’60s. Once again, religion has been used as a political wedge, only this time, the flock and the Shepherd have ended up on the opposite sides of the divide. The culture wars have created a bumper crop of Red State evangelicals who would kick Jesus’ ass if they saw him at a tailgate party.

If Jesus had stayed in his grave, he would be spinning in it.

Andrew Marantz ‘06.5 can pass through the eye of a needle.

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