Not Quite Christian Art: Hindu Jesus

Jesus in India

An image of Jesus in India by an unknown artist.

Whatever its artistic merits I can’t help thinking that art like this is too syncretistic to properly be called Christian.

It is one thing to depict Christian stories in Hindu style. It is another to depict Hindu stories in Christian style. This strikes me as more typical of the latter than the former.

For if you changed the face, what of Christian substance would be left?

7 thoughts on “Not Quite Christian Art: Hindu Jesus

  1. Don’t know that I’d agree. Artists have portrayed Christ, God and various saints in the style of their times, and of their location in the world throughout Christian history. It seems to me this is merely showing Christ in a pose that’s typical of a holy person in the Indian understanding. When you consider that there are plenty of American paintings of Jesus in which he’s depicted as a white person rather than a Jew, then how is this different?

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  2. I have no problem with Christ being depicted as an Indian. as I agree, it is no different from him being depicted as a white man, which is common enough in western Christian art. I am open to some artistic licence in the name of cultural contextualisation.
    But it is more problematic that he is depicted in the pose of a Hindu guru without any link back to the Gospel narrative or any hint of his subversive mission. This is akin to Christ, not only being depicted as a white man, but also as an upholder of the Western status quo.
    Consider, by way of contrast, the following Christian image which is also by an Indian artist. In this example Jesus is depicted in the style of a deity, which could be even more controversial, except that it is a depiction of Jesus and the woman at the well, which offers a clear link back to the Gospel. The imagination of the artist is here in harmony with testimony, not running nat cross purposes to it.
    http://mattstone.blogs.com/photos/asian_icons/woman_at_the_well__frank_wesley__india-1.html
    If instead the artist had pictured Jesus in meditation pose, say, praying on the night before his betrayal, then I could be much more affiming of it. But as it stands this is a deChristianized Christ.

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  3. Matt, I can’t imagine that you find the sitting posture offensive. Your use of the s-word here makes me think that someone has hacked your account and is posting in your name.
    This isn’t even a “meditation” pose per se. In the contexts in which I work, this is very often just the way we sit. Please, don’t stoop to syncretism-slinging, the missiology’s most overused 10-letter 4-letter word does nothing to promote healthy conversation.

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  4. For whatever reason, I cannot read all of your comment above. The right margin is cut off on my display. But what I understand is that you have a problem of there being a lack of reference to biblical narrative. If one ignores the possibility that the artist is seeking to depict The Lord in prayer (which he does very often in the gospels and it is good for us to be reminded of it), I suppose that this could be true. However that doesn’t make it anymore problematic that any other “profile pic” of Jesus that has ever been painted.
    To be honest, I find this painting to be far too Western in style to be of much use in my circles. But, if one is to try to portray the image of The Lord “often withdrawing to lonely places to pray” , what would it look like. Kneeling with folded hands certainly reflects a Westerner’s image of prayer.

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  5. But what if Jesus (who was always and only a Jew) was a Spiritual Master who taught and demonstrated a way that did require significant amounts of daily meditation practice – just like all Spiritual Masters in all times and places.
    The lotus pose, including the placement of the hands, being the optimal asana for establishing the necessary base of physical equanimity for entering into any kind of depth level meditative experience.
    http://www.dabase.org/up-5-3.htm

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  6. I would make a few comments John. Firstly, I think you are overgeneralising to say all spiritual masters required daily meditation practice. Consider the Rinzai Zen masters for instance. They went off on a completely different tangent, challenging the necessity of sitting meditation for achievement of enlightenment and offering a whole host of Ways as alternatives. They say the quality of mind as the important thing, whatever activity you are engaged in. I think this attitude squares well with Jesus. Secondly, the particular asana pose you mention may be considered optimal within your tradition but your tradition is not universally accepted, nor is the optimality of that hand placement universally recognized. Even when recommending meditation, different masters recommend different placements of hands. Thirdly, what I consider problematic here is not that Jesus is in a meditation posture, but that he is being abstracted from all historical context. If the artist had pictured him in meditative prayer, say, in the garden of Gethsemene or some other Jewish context with the apostles, this would not have been so problematic. Your first point, that Jesus was and is a Jew is the crux of my complaint. The image rips him out of his Jewish context with not even a trail to lead us back to it. This is not cultural contextualization, it is decontextualization.

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  7. Cody, it may not surprise you then that I criticise “profile pics” of Jesus in general, whatever their cultural origin. We do not know him by his facial features, we only know him by the stories told about him. So any image where he is only identifiable by facial features is suspect to my way of seeing things. On the basis there is quite a lot of Western Christian art I would critique even more strongly.

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