Was Jesus A Hippie? (Preaching Love and Counter-Revolution)

Maybe you saw the movie Jesus Revolution, where Lonnie Frisbee is a charismatic hippie changing the world with his preaching. Meets Chuck Smith, a more conservative Christian of a dying church. Together, Chuck’s faith and church are transformed.

Leaving you wonder if Lonnie’s hippie life and preaching are so compelling.

Is it possible that Jesus was a hippie?

Jesus was a hippie in that he shared the value of communal living striving to change the social mores of his society with non-violent ethics while in conflict with government authorities.

But he was both different and similar to the hippie movement.

Beyond not going to Woodstock and hitchhiking across America.  

To save you from reading an entire book, let’s narrow our discussion to 4 characteristics of the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s.

See how Jesus was similar or different, and then draw our conclusion if Jesus was a hippie.

Fingers Made Into a Peace Symbol

What is a Hippie?

Essential the Hippie movement and being a hippie was a social movement of the 60s and 70s of young people in America and spreading throughout the Western world.

With Jesus living almost 2 millennia before, there is no way he could be a hippie. But if we consider his values and teaching compared to core hippie practices, that is a much different conversation.

Allowing us to understand Jesus as a person better and answer what if?

If Jesus was alive in the 60s and 70s, would he have been a hippie, part of the counterculture revolution sweeping America?

As a populace movement without any formal leadership, this can be hard to nail down.

Some of the main tenets of hippies are.

  • Rejects the mores of established society
  • Communal living
  • Nonviolent Ethics in Opposition to the Government
  • Drug use for recreation or spiritual enlightenment

Of course, there are many more little things that may define a “hippie.”

Simple things like long hair.

I have no idea how many times I have heard someone called a hippie because their hair was touching the collar. If you know what I mean.

But let’s stick to the core lifestyle of hippies and see how much Jesus was a hippie.

Jesus Living Like a Hippie

With these core practices in mind, let’s turn to Jesus’ life. See where he acted like a hippie and where he 100% did not.

Then, we can figure out if Jesus was a hippie.

Jesus Rejecting the Mores of Established Society?

First clarification.

This may just be me but I got this one wrong at first.

Morals and Mores are not the same thing.

They are close but different.

Morality is a right and wrong issue. To kill or not to kill.

Mores are practises and behaviours related to culture and society. Often closely related to moral decisions but more the finer details of life.

Rejecting Social Estqablished Mores

It’s not a sin to not shake someone’s hands when you meet them. But it is often considered the correct way to introduce yourself in Western culture. We may say it is about showing warmth and care to someone, which is a moral belief. But so could bowing. It all depends on the mores or cultural practices of one’s culture.

To properly answer this, one would have to immerse themselves in first-century Judaism. The time and culture of Jesus.

But we will take a few high-level examples.

Mark 7 is a good example of Jesus’ disciples not following the mores of society and Jesus sticking up for them.

The disciples were eating food with unwashed hands. Not so much dirty, but the Pharisees had a particular procedure of hand washing to be ritual pure before eating.

But Jesus would have none of it. Calling out the hypocrisy in the Pharisees.  

Another example is with the calling of Levi (Mk. 2:13-17). Jesus goes to his and enjoys a meal with him and his friends. A social no, no.

As it was not socially acceptable to eat with such people as “sinners and tax collectors.”

Again, Jesus doesn’t seem to care. He actually replies that such people are exactly who he needs to eat with.

Touching lepers was also considered inappropriate for obvious health reasons but also cultural.

Jesus healed a leper by touching him (Matt.8:2-4, Mk 1:40-42).  

Not as clear cut, but Jesus’ interaction with his family went against his culture’s mores.

In first century, Judaism care and respect for one’s family was of primary importance. So it’s a shocker when Jesus’ brothers and mother come to see him, and he ignores them (Matt.12:46-50, Mk.3:31-35).

This does fit with his teaching when he told a would-be disciple not to worry himself or be involved with the burial of his father. But come follow him today (Matt.8:21,22, Lk.9:59-60). In his time, the burial of one’s father was of utmost importance.

These are just a few highlighted examples of Jesus not conforming to social norms. That being said, it is much easier to see when he doesn’t than when he did.

There is no reason why someone would record when someone did the acceptable norm. We only record when they don’t.

Communal Living

Yes, hippie communes.

The idea of living together in peace and mutual support and care.

What could be better?

Jesus also experiences a sort of communal living between him and the 12. Extending to 70 and even thousands at times.

Jesus’ ministry was a life of community. He and the 12 ate, slept and walked together 24/7. Sharing everything from long journeys together, meals and even money. With Judas the Iscariot being the manager of their group finances (Jn.12:6).

In Luke 8 we are told of a group of women who provide financially for Jesus and his disciples.

Sharing a meal was the norm shown in the Last Supper but could extend to include thousands. Jesus has them share what they have while he blesses it to feed 5 000 and 4 000.

Shared Meal Among Friends

The interesting thing this was largely temporary with Jesus and his community. With no set location but just as Jesus travelled the countryside healing and teaching.

But Jesus did often call for people to share what they had with others. The rich young ruler comes to mind (Matt.19).

But these also could be the exception, not the norm.

Nonviolent Ethics in Opposition to the Government

Jesus never led a violent protest or armed revolt against the authorities.

Not necessarily because Jesus was a pacifist, but “his kingdom was not of this world” (Jn.18:23).

He did, though, encourage his followers to “turn the other cheek” (Lk: 6:27-31) and lived a life of incredible self-control. He did not resort to violence in his conflicts with the authorities except possibly in his temple incident. But many read this more as a symbolic act than an actual attempt to violently overthrow the authorities.

He did start his public ministry proclaiming the coming of the “kingdom of God” (Mk.1:15). A clear anti-government statement. But despite this, he never associated with groups actively opposing the government.

No sit in his past.

Protest Signs

Even when asked about Taxes (Matt.22:15-22), he takes a nuanced stance, left wide open to interpretation. He could have easily called for people to weaken the government’s power by withholding taxes.

It was not that he did not expect opposition to his actions and teaching from the government. Warning the 12 that their actions will result in them being arrested (Matt.9:17-19).

Interestingly, this warning is not included in the same story in Mark 6 and Luke 9, but that is a question for another day.

He had his own struggles with Herod, which in one incident calling him a “fox” (Lk.13:32). And even in his own life, many of the ruling factions opposed him.

But in the end, he was executed alone. Showing a lack of violent opposition by his followers towards the government.

With only small similarities with the hippie government protests of the 1960s and 70s.

Drug use for recreation or spiritual enlightenment

Modern writers often try to play this aspect of the hippie movement down.

Because really, with all our discovery of the negative side effects of drug use, who wants to be associated with it?

Except maybe the recreational use of weed or other “lighter” drug use.

Smoking a Joint

We often forget that there were strong elements of the hippie movement that drug use was more than escapism but for spiritual enlightenment.

Jesus was a spiritual guru of his time.

But it is strangely missing in all our sources.

Even among the gnostic writings, which, if it were to be found, would be.

I do admit that I have not studied them intensively, but what I have, I do not recall any mention of drug use to connect with God.

So unless we suddenly discover some early “lost gospel,” I think it’s safe to conclude that Jesus did not use drugs for spiritual enlightenment or even to take the edge off with friends.  

Conclusion of Whether Jesus Was a Hippie

Unfortunately, this is not going to be a satisfying conclusion about whether Jesus was a hippie. Similar to the question of, was Jesus a Baptist.

First, the hippie movement came much later in history than Jesus lived. Time prevents Jesus from being a hippie.

Secondly, even if we say that rejection of established social mores, communal living, nonviolent ethics in opposition to the government and drug use for recreation or spiritual enlightenment encompasses the hippie movement.  

These transcend time.

That all who practise them can be called a hippie.

The greatness of the difference between Jesus’ life and society.

This puts us in an awkward situation similar to what Albert Schweitzer accused the liberal scholars of his day of doing.

Making Jesus into our own image.

There is a struggle whenever we seek to compare Jesus to another.

But even so, more with a social movement from a different time and era than Jesus.

If I want to see Jesus as a hippie, as a flip through the gospels.

I can see his push against the authorities, his communal life with his disciples, and his contrasting teaching and life to his society, transforming the norms of society.

But if I honestly look.

Jesus was not concerned with the Vietnam War while attempting to transform society from a rigid life of tradition, causing the war to a society of love.

But yes, he was trying to transform his society and avoid the coming war with the Romans by transforming the lives of those he touched and changing their accepted mores.

It just wasn’t the same lifestyle or goal of the hippie movement in America.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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