*The following is a guest post by my good friend, Jesse Turri. He has his own blog which you should you go check out here. Thanks for the excellent post!
Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary I’ve had a few back and forth duels on facebook about gun control, mostly sparked over a few things that I posted. I didn’t necessarily mean for these posts to be inflammatory or controversial, it was just my own little way of coping with a horrific trauma. Upon hearing news of people suggesting that teachers be armed at school, I felt that I had to speak out against the lie of redemptive violence, even if no one was listening out in that desolate digital void.
During these online, disembodied and impersonal–yet very personal–facebook discourses however, I did manage to gain a bit of sacred clarity, some insight into my own psyche. I have actually uncovered another reason why I like Jesus so much–he is perhaps the ultimate anti-hero.
Superman and Spin Kicks
I have always been into heros. But not just any heros mind you, they had to be exceptional in some way. For example, my favorite comic book character was Superman, arguably the ultimate expression of super heroics. I mean come on, the dude is basically invisible, plus he can fly. Why even bother with other superheros? It doesn’t get much better than that.
I also liked Bruce Lee…a lot. Like most 8-9 year olds, I would have those pragmatic moments where I felt Superman was just a bit too unrealistic (he can fly around the Earth and turn back time too?!? DOUBT IT!), so a guy who could wield some mean nunchucks and spin kick somebody’s face was the next best thing to flying.
The problem with these two examples was that If being a hero meant that I had to be the invincible Man of Steel, or a disciplined seventh degree black belt, then that pretty much ruled me out. Scrawny, thoughtful, yielding and quiet kids need not apply.
This lead to my growing interest in the “anti-hero.” Tim Burton’s Batman movie helped me see for the first time how formidable Superman’s dark and troubled colleague really was. I loved that Batman could be a hero and still have deeply imperfect human characteristics like confusion, self-hatred and helplessness. Definitely stuff that I was familiar with.
Fast forward to today, two of my favorite historical figures–Jesus and Socrates–are people who, although many would say are heros, strictly defy typical heroic mold. Here are some examples of how Jesus deviates from those traditional heroic definitions:
Non-Violence (Lethal Force)
Jesus, unlike many heros, does not advocate for lethal force, and specifically speaks against redemptive violence.
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matt 5:39)
This would really put a damper on Bruce Lee and Rambo. Let’s be honest, If they followed Jesus’ example, those movies would totally suck. An hour and a half of Sylvester Stallone turning the other cheek and getting pistol whipped? Two thumbs way down!
But seriously, you get my point. A hero is someone who dies in the heat of battle fighting for their nation or some ideology they believe in–I’ve seen the roadside memorials. A hero doesn’t surrender to the enemy and allow himself to be hung on a cross next to two slimeball thieves. A hero is someone who is faster at drawing his six shooter then the bad guy, someone who kicks ass and asks questions later, not someone who disarms his compadre after the sweet move of slicing off the bad guys ear, right?
Even anti-heroes like Batman still use redemptive violence to get the job done. To be fair, Batman does have a moral code where he vows not to kill and not to use a gun, but he does often break this code. Further, Pete Rollins does a great job of pointing out that Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis by operating the greedy capitalist enterprise Wayne Industries, but that’s another discussion.
In summation, heroes–and antiheroes alike–seem to be OK with killing people. Jesus simply is not. Jesus’ life demonstrates that it takes more courage and more faith to live a radical life of nonviolence and peaceful reconciliation than it does to walk around packing heat, or a batarang. Jesus’ way is not for everyone, but as he says, those who choose to walk it will find true life.
Blurring of In/Out Groups (Good Guys and Bad Guys)
Perhaps the characteristic that most closely ties Jesus in with being an anti hero is that he doesn’t really fit the description of a “good guy” so well. Now I’m well aware that this point is contentious given that Christianity is one of the largest religions in the world and Jesus is revered as God by millions of people. A closer look at history, however, reveals that Jesus was not so popular in first century occupied Israel. He was crucified as an insurrectionist afterall. Not only that, but he was kicked out of his hometown, and despised by all the popular syndicates of his day including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots, not to mention the Romans. To these groups, Jesus was not such a “good guy.”
Another unique characteristic of Jesus was not only that he himself was ambiguous and notoriously hard to categorize (thus he’s claimed by homophobic fundamentalists and social justice advocates alike), but he also had a remarkable ability to blur the lines of good and evil in regard to the labels attached to other people. For instance, a typical hero has absolutely no problem recognizing a bad guy, clear distinctive lines are painted for them:
Someone named Lex Luthor has hijacked a pair of nuclear missiles and plans to use them to wipe-out the California coastline? BAD GUY!
A crazy clown named the Joker is terrorizing citizens of Gotham city? BAD GUY!
Russian Terrorists are landing on the Florida coast and planning to unleash a reign of terror on the U.S.A.? BAD GUYS! (In case you don’t know this one, it’s the plot of Invasion U.S.A. with Chuck Norris. Amazing flick.)
My point is that, for heros, it’s always obvious who the bad guy is. For Jesus it’s not quite so clean cut. Jesus did prophetically preach that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand and he did call for people to go about their lives and “sin no more,” but yet his posse consisted of hated tax collectors, violent Zealots and morally loose prostitutes (to name a few). That’s the relational equivalent of Batman getting drinks with some of Joker’s henchman after work. It seems counter productive, right? Maybe Jesus is just not interested in simple parochial declarations between good and bad or right and wrong. I think, perhaps, Jesus understands that labeling something, or someone, as “good” or “bad” is the part of the problem.
The apostle Paul seems to understand this as well, which is why he declares that our fight is not against “flesh and blood” but against the principalities and powers. For Paul, and Jesus, the problem of stopping evil in the world cannot be solved by simply labeling a person–or a group of people–as “bad guys.” In order to understand how to stop evil in the world, perhaps Jesus’ way is the only way. Perhaps we should be getting drinks with the Joker’s henchmen after work.
Nothing Gets Accomplished (But What a Big Nothing It Is!)
The last differentiating characteristic between Jesus and typical heros is that Jesus doesn’t really accomplish anything. Let’s be completely honest, a hero usually has a pretty defined agenda. Namely, to save the day, to perform some type of heroic act, thus making them “heros.”
If there are innocent lives in danger, a hero saves them. If an evil villain is threatening to take over the world, the hero stops that evil villain. If a terrorist organization is threatening our nation’s way of life, a hero fights to the death to protect that way of life. Pretty straightward stuff.
Jesus’ agenda is not so straightforward. The Hebrew scriptures predicted the coming of the Messiah who, being physically descended from the Davidic line, would come and rule the united tribes of Israel and herald the Messianic Age of global peace known as the “World to Come.” If this was Jesus’ mission, he did not put in the best effort. I mean, most people in Jesus’ day thought the messiah would look a lot more like Rambo and less like…well, Jesus.
So what was Jesus’ goal? He basically sums up his mission in Luke chapter 4 by confirming that he is in fact the long awaited Messiah and recites a verse from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 14:16-21)
OK, so this sounds like a good mission, but Jesus goes about this mission much differently than most hero’s would:
Instead of flying into Jerusalem faster than a speeding bullet, Jesus rides a donkey. Lame.
Instead of challenging the religious leaders to debates or kung-fu battles, he walks around healing people, asking them to not say anything, and telling open-ended, relativistic narrative stories. Weird.
Instead of kicking Caesar’s butt out of Israel with force by raising up a raucous army, Jesus sacrifices himself and willingly dies like a loser on a cross. Pathetic.
My point here is that Jesus calls his followers into a completely counter-intuitive, irrational and upside down way of living.
Unnerving? Maybe. Difficult? Most definitely. But that’s why it’s so beautiful. That’s why it’s so compelling to millions of people. Deep down we know that evil cannot be conquered by more evil, and that two wrongs do not make a right.
Jesus is the ultimate anti-hero. In a radical, unprecedented move, Jesus accomplishes the Messianic goal by essentially doing what most heros would never do, surrender. Jesus demonstrates that in order to defeat the principalities and powers that govern us, we all must become anti heroes. What a novel idea. Jesus asks us to refute the status quo, and instead envision and live in a world where loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and forgiving without counting is our reality.