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What it’s like Dealing with White Jesus in the South

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This incredibly perfect photo comes from VitalikRadko on Deposit Photos

This is part of our Blue Woman in a Red State column


One of the first things that people ask you when you first move to Chatanooga is, “What church do you belong to?” Have you found one yet? They assume, you’re a “God-Fearing American,” not like that mackerel-snapping Catholic President Joe Biden (just another flavor of Christian, but hush).

I am told that in the 1970’s, Eastern Tennessee was considered the heart of The Bible Belt. But since then it has shifted into a U shape, from Eastern Tennessee down through Mississippi, Arkansas to Texas to Oklahoma. As it still stands, you still can’t swing a dead cat without hitting some kind of church or place of worship.

They’re a big fans of Jesus here, and honestly, the idea of Jesus is great! Jesus was the ultimate socialist; he wanted everyone to have food, poor people to be clothed and housed. He wanted us to treat each other with compassion and not be greedy. That’s where that phrase What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) came from. But somehow, Jesus gets caught up in protecting people’s guns, and their taxes, and their football teams and of course, he spoke English like all the “best” Americans. Seems as though most people out here don’t realize Jesus was a brown Jew, not Tim Tebow with a beard, although Hobby Lobby wants you to think that. Hell, I am not even sure if Jesus had a beard. My own ideas of what Jesus looks like are being misconstrued as we speak.

My life’s journey and education has taught me that religion is ruined by churches and the people in them. They manipulate sacred texts to help their own personal and political beliefs and try to pass it on as doctrine.

From what I have been told by an old-timer I chat with regularly at the Piggly Wiggly, traditionally, in the South your church defines you and how great of a life you lead. True, there are many people moving towards a more secular life, and have no problem separating church and state, but there is a long way to go.

Despite what Christian Conservatives say, Jesus was a brown socialist Jew. Facial reconstruction by Richard Neave

My question is, how did this vision of Jesus become so misconstrued? Also, how do the actual edicts of Jesus become so convoluted? Real Jesus, was a man, most religions believe this. I don’t think anyone, has disputed his actual existence – but he is definitely around in the psyche of humanity, even if he isn’t in the form of Jesus. The Muslims thought he was cool although he isn’t the focus. But there are churches that just lose that Jesus-y feeling entirely. They rag on gay people, they don’t believe in WIC, or welfare or food stamps. Basically, anything where someone gets a “handout.” They get angry when women get abortions, but vote against programs that take care of the poor, which usually comes from a taxing of resources.

Through some random chat, a neighbor’s friend believes that dragons were real because St Jerome is fabled to have slain a dragon. Genuinely, looked in her eyes, and she believed dragons had once been real. Jesus, or God, created dragons and the world. A SAINT had actually slain one, so that must mean, they were animals that God created. But dinosaurs, as I came to find out, were a non-starter -nor was evolution, or science. Dragons yes, T-rex? No.

Here we are, 2022, and there are people burning books like Harry Potter because it talks about witchcraft, and weird elected officials trying to pass bills that don’t allow teachers in public schools to say things that would negate the Bible. Things, like science, or evolution would not be allowed to be talked about in state-run schools; public schools. They are trying to raise a new generation of flat-earthers. Separating Church and State is huge, and every day these things are slowly eating away at that ideal.

Which version of the Bible, I am not quite sure who would decide that.

They’re not ALL that bad, not all Christians tell you how to live your life, approach you at Target with that huge phony smile, and make you wonder what their angle is. Not all Christians tell you when you can and can’t eat good chicken sandwiches. For the most part, people leave you alone here, and they flinch a little if you declare a non-Christian lifestyle. I am sure, in more rural places in the South, they may chalk it up to witchcraft of sorts.

Most of the time, Christian and conservative go hand in hand. There are extremes to the spectrum, and I know I often really generalize in these pieces, but I am not sure how to get my world view across by saying “sometimes” just know, that it is always a “sometimes.” What really gets me is how being super Jesus turns into vitriol and exclusionary real-quick. I mean, right now, I am making sweeping generalizations about Christians, and not even backing up any evidence. But hey, this is an opinion piece and not a brilliant piece of investigative journalism.

What seems to have been happening in the last ten or fifteen years, is that the university towns and better education start to influence ways of life. With this huge influx of people moving to the South from big cities with high speed internet and working from home options, we start to see how different beliefs meld into more forward thinking citizens and continues to push Chattaooga into a better direction.

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M Keith

M Keith

She/Her
Hooman, Asian-American, Nerd, Mother and lover of all things macabre. I am a Californian first, a Philadelphian once and now a Southerner.

5 Comments

  1. Moi
    February 19, 2022 at 5:06 am — Reply

    It is startling that you talk down to people. Why? Because they differ from you. Moreover, you cast quite a wide swath across people who, for good and ill, have a different perspective. And your perspective is, to them, equally confusing.

    So why not bridge the divide and seek a middle ground? That would make more sense than trafficking in stereotypes and brow-beating.

    I suspect that some of those you mock are fairer than you in their dealings with others. Some, of course, are not. But you might want to turn to other cheek . . . no, that would be too easy. And, give what you wrote, too hard as well.

    Empathy is difficult. But it is possible. Try it. You might like it.

    • February 20, 2022 at 11:36 am — Reply

      Speak up, kitten. Your hypocrisy betrays you as you hop from post to post exercising the very condescension you (falsely) claim to be reading in said posts.

  2. Moi
    February 24, 2022 at 3:52 am — Reply

    Purr? Well, Charles, I guess I got your fur ruffled. That’s a reaction, yes?

    No hypocrisy. Opinion. There is a difference.

    No hopping (that would be a rabbit). I comment when compelled. As you do too, I assume? And I do exercise (occasionally). I like to keep my freedom of speech muscles limber (a great thing about this site).

    Condescension? If an opinion is not a fact, it can’t rightly be called false. But if you disagree with me? That’s fine. The only thing is, you should engage in the exchange (as I always try to do), rather than submit your opinion (as against mine) as a fact. I was kinda’ speaking to that issue in my post.

    And I am obviously reading the posts (and the comments). So I am at least meeting you somewhere, Charles. Moreover, I have supported this site (by supporting some of the causes and groups it promotes). Is that boasting? Nope. But it is a way to say: this isn’t just about me posting. But it is about me posting a note of support (which I do) or criticism (which you noticed) and then doing other things that suggest (yet again) I like what this site provides.

    Perhaps we should meet on a place of common ground: I like a good grilled cheese. One more: I like to cook. See? We have things in common. So when I post something with which you disagree, have at it . . . and engage. That’s what (I think) I am doing.

    The only thing I ask (and maybe it is too much)? Don’t write me off because I don’t agree with everything on here. Or because I voice my opinion. That’s reductionist. It is non-productive. Besides, we could probably share a laugh in meat-space.

    Imagine this: you and I co-write an op-ed about learning to understand the other side’s POV? Mind blowing! The dirty secret? You and I actually agree on _some_ things. Damn. That would be empathy-raising. A good thing, no?

    Wishing you well. Heck, wishing Keith well, as well. And, try as you might, don’t turn that into a diss. Because it isn’t. I do wish you well.

  3. Moi
    February 26, 2022 at 3:56 am — Reply

    Charles, I actually tried to engage with you. And that, sometimes, take some time. My apologies for framing my response to you as an actual response.

    Neo-Con? Really? That’s the best you can do after calling my response ‘evidence-free’? And ‘hypocritical’? Again, really? That is the best you can do when I actually met you on your own turf and tried to extend, at least a bit, a hand to you and your opinion? If your evidence is a cartoon, might I suggest you look in the mirror when people with whom you disagree try to talk with you in an honest fashion?

    Charles, you label yourself as the ‘Thinking Man’s Idiot’. And your essays and reviews are far longer than what I wrote to you. Is that hypocritical? You labeled me as something I am not. Does that bold proclamation make you the very thing you call yourself? Perhaps. But I digress.

    I am glad that both of us can use this space to offer our opinions. Respectfully, though, I will quote from Anthrax: “talking to you is like clapping with one hand.” I really had hoped for something better.

    And I still wish you well. Truly.

    PS: Given that you are a writer (among other things) I should add that nothing that I wrote had anything to do with that cartoon. I realize that ‘Non Sequitur’ is the name of the cartoon. But you should really think about that title, no less ‘begging the question’. We writers can help each other out, right?

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