In modern times, since the end of the Second World War I’d say, this notion of the ideal human being someone like Jesus and Buddha has become quite popular. We’re supposed to be kind, compassionate, loving and pacifistic like them. Jesus is depicted as a loving, non-judgemental hippie who hardly ever acts aggressively, yet things simply go his way because he spiritually rises above petty human concerns. Quite frankly that’s a harmful archetype that has caused a lot of damage in the last few decades.
I am not criticizing the mythological or historical, whichever way you perceive these characters, account of Jesus or Buddha. They may or may not have had many more varied qualities in the scriptures describing their deeds. I am addressing the archetypal image fairly prevalent in modern times where the ideal person is only about love, compassion and acceptance. All of the nasty stuff simply seems to be deflected off from the aura of benevolence around them. Jesus doesn’t have worry about being mugged in a dark alleyway. Buddha doesn’t need to address how to prevent mass rapes perpetrated by sick criminals. When we are considering such holy notions as love and compassion, these brutal facts simply seem to slip out of our minds.
This mindset is dangerous and harmful, because it basically makes us hate reality as it is. Regardless of whether people are religious, atheist or whatever, many people seem have bought into, as I have in the past, that the ideal we should strive for is this sinless paragon of virtue. We should never be hateful, angry, judgemental or selfish, yet the world sort of forces us to do that sometimes. We have to fight for our place in the world, we have to fight to get what we want or deserve. We understand there are nasty, criminal people in the world, yet we are not equipped to handle it with mere love and compassion. Still we try to reconcile these two mutually exclusive beliefs; the ideal of being meek and non-judgemental, and the unfortunate fact that the world is often unfair and dangerous. This often makes us resent reality for the nastiness inherent in it, when in fact we should resent the childishly idealistic notion of morality. It’s not the world’s fault that it contains a lot nasty and dangerous stuff, in addition to the awesome stuff in it. We can be equipped to deal with if we face it head on in a realistic manner. But if we try to hold onto this inorganic ideology that we should be somehow morally infallible, or even inhuman, we will fail.
Jesus is not a good role model. He is simplistic. He has an everpresent dictator, God, watching over him, conspiring so that things go his way. In this narrative the deck is stacked in his favour. Yours isn’t. So don’t resent the world that it doesn’t allow the archetypal Jesus to exist. He is not real.
The Religious Right is not like this. They’re not all forgiving. They’re quite judgemental on many issues. I may not agree with them on many things, but I’m getting more sympathetic with their overall attitude.
Let’s take a look at other mythological heroes that are better role models.
The 12 labours of Hercules from Greek myth is quite famous. He got shit done, instead of just sitting on his ass being all holy. He killed a shapeshifting lion, and the hydra. Those required both bravery and strength. He was given various tasks to capture a bunch of other animals too. Hercules was forced to clean the Aegean stables with 30 years worth dung in them. He did it by rerouting two rivers to wash the stables. This required intelligence and industriousness. One task was morally questionable, since he has to steal some horses, the Mares of Diomedes. Not part of 12 Labours is the manliest task ever, he impregnated 49 virgins in one night.
Yamato Takeru is apparenly based on a historical person, but has become a part of Japanese mythology. He was a bad ass prince, a son of the emperor, who bravely killed lots of enemies, crushed rebellions and so on. In one quest he was supposed to kill two brothers, so he dressed up as a woman to gain entrance to their palace to kill them. (Possibly the game Final Fantasy VII was inspired by Yamato Takeru, since in one part the main character dresses up as a woman to gain entrance to the palace of a mafia boss.)
Yamato Takeru also killed his brother, either as accident ormaybe he was just an asshole. He also angered a god who cursed him. He got a mystical sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi, which was found in the body of a 8-headed and 8-tailed dragon (sort of like the hydra?), although he didn’t kill it.
Cuchulainn is a Celtic hero who was a tough fighter, romanced many women and killed an enormous hound. Not everything in his life was nice heroic stuff, since he killed his son mistaking him for someone else, and was grief stricken.
Cuchulainn deserves a longer description, as do the Hercules and Yamato Takeru, and I’d like to mention many other mythological heroes here, but quite frankly I’m getting sleepy. I think you get my point nonetheless. These other mythological archetypes are men who did stuff, they affected the world, fought battles, romanced maidens, and also had flaws and did morally dubious or reprehensible things. They’re the kinds of stories that should inspire us. No-one is perfect, we all make mistakes, but despite that we can arise beyond the limitations of our humanity and do something worthwhile. It’s better than aspiring to be a hippie, since they didn’t accomplish much. They didn’t stop the Vietnam war, and the military industrial complex is still going strong today.
And no, I’m not saying you should literally emulate these heroes and go kill people. Don’t be an asshole.
Labours of Hercules: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labours_of_Hercules
Yamato Takeru: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamato_Takeru
8-headed dragon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamata_no_Orochi
The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology by Arhur Cotterell and Rachel Storm