Why is AI Jesus So Fucking Jacked?

Because I grew up Evangelical, my Facebook remains in a culture I have long since left. When I dare to venture into the depths of Facebook, I encounter a world at once foreign and familiar. Prayer requests for families abound. Images from potluck dinners appear. People celebrate a new baby with a Bible verse. This is all beautiful and lovely in a way. What is not beautiful or lovely are the new AI images of Really Jacked Jesus.

Facebook is essentially a social media ghost town only used by old people, so the memes there have long been a morbid interest of mine. The things being shared on Facebook are stranger and more upsetting than we can imagine! Caroline Mimbs Nyce wrote a great article in The Atlantic about the proliferation of AI images of Jesus floating around social media. Jesus, she wrote, “is to AI Facebook spam as water lilies are to Monet, and dancers to Degas. Spend enough time scrolling the AI wastelands of social media, and you will likely encounter him, in all his glory.” Nimbs linked to a viral AI image on Facebook where Jesus is boxing the devil. Please, look at his abs.

Why is “all his glory” so absolutely shredded? Why must the king of kings and lord of lords look more like the king of plates? What is so holy about having a shoulder so jacked it becomes it’s own muscle group?

AI, we know, makes people hotter algorithmically. So that’s part of it, but there’s something cynical about the form of hot that is given to the son of god being one of immense swoleness. There are lots of ways to be hot that are not…so masculine, and yet here we are, with a depiction of Christ looking more like a bodybuilder than a man.

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Because no art was made of Jesus during his lifetime or the lifetimes of people who would have met him (thank you so much to the fear of idolatry for this reality), all depictions of Jesus are just guesses. Initially, he was depicted as the icthys (that fish you see on the back of cars), which is notably not jacked.

There is only one physical description of Jesus in the whole Bible. It is represented in two Gospels (Matthew 14 and Luke 8), where the sick try and touch Jesus to be healed. It is written that he was wearing tzitzits, which are tassels that hang off of a cloak. This is not a hot and sexy thing to wear, it’s definitely not safe to wear around the weight rack. But it is the only description of him!

Despite no descriptions of his physical body, the American obsession with masculinity has found ways to assume Jesus was jacked. One verse I remember men quoting as evidence that Jesus was in fact a swole hottie was Luke 2:40, which in the New International Version reads, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” In the King James’ Version, the verse reads that the child, “waxed strong in spirit,” but that’s not important!

There’s also the argument that Jesus was a carpenter before he began roaming around with his gang of buddies to do miracles and talk about God. Carpenters do need muscles to do their job, but you do not definitionally need to be a smoke-show to make a shelf or build a chair. Plus, Isaiah’s depiction of the coming Messiah paints a much different picture, reading, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

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In modern American society, this is almost unfathomable. The idea that Jesus could be someone that modern Evangelicals would not want to look like is more blasphemous at this point than the depictions of him deadlifting on a t-shirt.

There is good evidence that Jesus—at least until the proliferation of white European Jesus that expanded during colonization—was depicted with the qualities that were valued by the people making the images. The 16th century Ethiopian Jesus look different from 17th century Indian Jesus, who looks different from 11th century Byzantine Jesus. All look very different from Warner Sallman’s 1940 painting of Jesus in a soft light that has permeated American culture. And Sallman’s soft, lovely Jesus certainly looks different than images like the one at the top of this blog, which was created using Dall-E.

The meme Jesus may be jacked, but he’s not exactly sexy. His muscles are too big, too fake, too emphatic in presentation to be admirable. They’re otherworldly, not in a godly sense but in an upsetting way. While I welcome the iconography of religion tending toward beauty (the Greek statues all rule! Everyone is horny for the Belvedere torso!), these AI muscles are neither beautiful nor admirable. The computers are turning even the art of religion into something unsettling. No amount of muscle definition can overcome a lack of reverence, but more upsettingly, the jacked Jesus can’t even tell us anything about ourselves.

The problem with AI is that it generates images using almost infinite information with very little discretion and even less taste. Were these images of Jesus drawn by human hands, we might be able to presume that being infinitely jacked is an inherent value held by Christians in America. Given how AI trawls the available information about humanity, maybe thick-neck Jesus speaks to humanity’s most base impulses found in caches of data around the internet. But because the image is made by a AI, it’s unfair to make that assumption fully. Maybe it’s just based off spending long hours on DeviantArt and weightlifting subreddits. And now that content is being fed to our elders, bombarded by memes of ripped Jesus on Facebook, where these air-brushed, other-worldly images are allowed to permeate their brains for nothing. Given how much other vile shit our parents could be swimming in on Facebook, maybe that’s not so bad. Either way, it’s just visual garbage. Very jacked visual garbage.

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