Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: The Whitewashing of Christianity

So this is kind of sort of a Christmas post, but before you say that Christmas was several weeks ago, technically Christmas lasts until the Baptism of Christ. That’s today, so that makes this post in January acceptable.

Not too long before Christmas this past year, Fox News once again stirred up some controversy about race in a debate of whether or not Santa was white. This eventually led to a comment that Jesus was also white.

Pictured: What Jesus most likely actually looked like.

Pictured: What Jesus most likely actually looked like.

As someone who studies theology for a living, both comments are utterly laughable to me. But it’s also pretty par for the course when it comes to Christianity. Many figures from Christianity, especially early Christianity, were not white, but as Europe became more Christian, the myth of a white Christ started to predominate. Now, there is nothing wrong with white people having pictures of Jesus, Saint Nicholas, or any other saints/religious figures that look like them. In the same way that people should be able to see themselves in pop culture, people should be able to see themselves in religion. This is why, if you look hard enough, you can find religious iconography of Jesus portrayed as almost every nationality. As religious scholar Reza Aslan says, though, there is a difference between a personal Christ and the real-life historical figure, Jesus. Jesus was a poor Aramaic-speaking Middle-Eastern Jew, not the blonde haired, blue-eyed white guy you see in most Jesus movies.

In order to save some time, I’ll let Jon Stewart and Jessica Williams explain why this is so ridiculous.

Jessica Williams makes a great point that whitewashing and cultural appropriation happen all the time, not just with religion. If you want a more secular example, Nicki Minaj has been twerking almost since she hit it big in music—but when Miley Cyrus twerks, well, then it’s news.

Now you are probably wondering what this has to do with geek culture and religion at all. A long time ago when we first started doing these religion posts, I did a post on Christ figures in geek culture. I listed most of the major Christ figures in geek culture: Superman, Harry Potter, Aslan, and the Lord of the Rings’s trinity of Frodo, Aragorn, and Gandalf. With the exception of Aslan, who is a lion, what do they all have in common? Yep, that’s right, they’re all white guys.

White guys.

White guys.

The myth that Christianity is mostly white has invaded every part of our society, from religion to pop culture. And as with all things, if we really want this white Christian myth to change, then that needs to be reflected in our pop culture. Whether it’s how we portray Santa or the how we portray the fictional characters that are stand-ins for religious figures, we need to always consider how these images will affect people. If Jesus is always and only portrayed as white, and that image is seen as the “correct portrayal”, then it suggests that one race has a divine and universal right to have power over the others. And if you know anything about Christianity, then you should know that is the exact opposite of Christ’s message to humanity.