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A Catholic Tells Mel “No”

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I told you the NY Times is not digging Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Today they have a Catholic writer, Mary Gordon, voicing her displeasure with the movie:

    I can look at “The Passion of the Christ” only as a woman who defines herself as Catholic, who also defines herself as someone for whom the creation of story has been a crucial locus of self-understanding, and as someone for whom the Gospels have been crucial texts. So I respond to it as a person formed by my history, as Mel Gibson has been formed by his.

    I’m older than Mel, but not by much, and we were both brought up by Catholics who would define themselves as conservative. And yet our visions of both the nature of history, the role of story and the experience of Jesus are miles apart.

    So, no, I didn’t like the movie. But I didn’t like Mr. Gibson’s “Braveheart,” either. I don’t do spectacle. I don’t do graphic violence. I didn’t lose any sleep, though, about not liking “Braveheart.” I didn’t care about “Braveheart”; I didn’t care who liked it because nothing important was at stake. I didn’t imagine that “Braveheart” could do any damage in the larger world. The story of “Braveheart” wasn’t precious to me. But “The Passion” has been, for me, a cause of deep distress.

    My distress has two sources. The first is my anxiety that it will have the effect of fanning the flames of a growing worldwide anti-Semitism. I accept Mr. Gibson’s assertion that he didn’t mean to make an anti-Semitic film, but he has to be aware of the Passion story’s role in the history of the persecution of the Jews, a story whose very power to move the human spirit has been a vehicle for both transcendence and murder. To be a Christian is to face the responsibility for one’s own most treasured sacred texts being used to justify the deaths of innocents.

    ….Mr. Gibson’s defense is that he tells it like it is. Or like it was. But that is not precisely the case: the film’s screenwriter, Benedict Fitzgerald, has added extra-Scriptural details: the character of Claudia, Pilate’s wife, is much amplified from the Gospel hint; Pilate is given a sympathetic psychological complexity that is nowhere found in the Gospels; details of Jesus’ childhood have been invented for dramatic purposes. Caiphas, the high priest, is a cipher in the Scripture; in the film he is, compared with Pilate, a one-dimensional monster, a shrewd rabble-rouser who rejoices in the shedding of his enemy’s blood.

    It is true that the Roman flagellators are portrayed as viciously sadistic, but there are two good Romans, Pilate and Claudia, to add a counterweight to our understanding of Romanness. There is no counterweight to the portrayal of the Jews.

    ….The second cause of my distress is that Mr. Gibson’s portrayal of the Passion story seems to me a perversion of the meaning of the event and its context. When I spoke to Mr. Fitzgerald, he told me that for him and for Mr. Gibson, the Passion was the most important part of the Gospel and that that was why they had focused on the last hours of Jesus’ life, giving short shrift to his ministry and his ideas. But if, as Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Gibson have done, you take the Passion out of its context, you are left with a Jesus who is much more body than spirit; you are presented not with the author of the Beatitudes or the man who healed the sick but with a carcass to be flayed.

    ….Theologically, the meaning of Jesus’ death comes with the triumph of the Resurrection, arguably the weakest scene in the film, in which Mr. Caviezel looks not victorious but stoned. Yet St. Paul says, “If Christ has not risen, then vain is your faith.” Psychologically, the power of the Passion is that it acknowledges the place of suffering, particularly unjust suffering, in human life. It is a vessel for our grief. If you listen to Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” there is very little violence in the music; the overwhelming tone is one of mournfulness and a kind of crushed sorrow. In the film, to be sure, there are shots of women weeping along the Via Dolorosa, but the dominant tone in the film is one of rage-inducing voyeurism.

    I understand that people of good faith might be moved by the film. I was in Boston the day of the premiere, Ash Wednesday. A woman interviewed on local television said that she thought the movie was not about violence but about love, that when she saw Jesus’ struggle with his cross, she saw her own. A minute later, though, a woman with ashes on her forehead looked into the camera and said, “At least we know who really killed Jesus, and I don’t have to say who.”

    …. In the Beatitudes, Jesus blesses those who hunger and thirst after justice. I can’t imagine that Mr. Gibson’s vision or his film will add to the balance of this world’s justice. But as he has told us, that’s not the part of the Gospel that interests him.

This version of the film – Gordon’s – puts more emphasis on anti-Semitism than most of the others I have read. I do not assume that the woman who said, “At least we know who really killed Jesus, and I don’t have to say who,” got her worldview from the film, but the film also did nothing to dissuade that view.

At this point – and no I haven’t seen it and can’t imagine seeing it for a very long time – my deeper problem is with the film’s view of what is most important about the life and death of Christ, and I agree exactly with Gordon when she writes, “Theologically, the meaning of Jesus’ death comes with the triumph of the Resurrection.” I can even buy the theoretical need to show the “reality” of Christ’s torture and execution, but what of the need to show the “reality” of the Resurrection, and to give this joyous, redemptive yang to the murderous yin of the Passion?

What seems to be desperately missing is balance: while the peace, love and Resurrection part of the story might be incomplete without the blood and guts, surely the reverse is even more incomplete. At least one Catholic agrees.

And I did like Braveheart.

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About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.
  • mike

    This is because, according to the wingnuts, The New York Times is controlled by a “media elite” that hates far right Christians. Hmmmm, I wonder what that could be a code for? The same people who were equating anti-Israeli views with anti-Semitism a few months ago seem to be singing a different tune now.

    That sound you hear is the GOP kissing the Jewish vote goodbye. Meanwhile, some of the creepiest members of the Republican coalition are crawling out of the woodwork.

  • Laurie K.

    Since when has a movie had the power the film’s detractors ascribe to “The Passion of the Christ.” Holy smokes people, it’s just a movie. The astounding success of the film thus far shows who really has the power: the press. They took a modestly budgeted art-house flick and turned it into a blockbuster. Damn fine film, by the way. The violence is contextualized in a meaningful manner and does not seem gratuitous, despite of the hand wringing of critics (who suddenly seem really, really concerned about violence in film — go figure!), and I’ve yet to experience the slightest urge to slaughter Jews. The Romans came off pretty badly, though. But strangely, I don’t feel like killing Italians either. Silly me. Bravo, Mel. I hope you continue laugh at the critics and the naysayers all the way to the bank.

    Laurie K.

  • NC

    What seems to be desperately missing is balance: while the peace, love and Resurrection part of the story might be incomplete without the blood and guts, surely the reverse is even more incomplete.

    Perhaps. So what? Since when do we fault filmmakers for focusing on only one aspect of a story? Braveheart ended with Wallace’s execution, not with Scottish independence, but I don’t recall hearing too many complaints about it being “incomplete.” Likewise, I dare say if Mel was a Lutheran and had made a film that began with the resurrection, there wouldn’t be any tsk-tsking going on over here about his lack of “balance.” But then, as Richard Corliss has pointed out, double standards seem to be par for the course with this movie.

    As for the deeper theological point about whether the crucifixion is more significant than the resurrection, reasonable people may (and do) disagree. I hasten to add, though, that I detect in your post the same faulty assumption about the Catholic view that I’ve detected in my conversations with Dawn: namely, the idea that Catholics focus on Christ’s death to the exclusion of everything else. Not so. Or at least, not so for the 99% of Catholics who practice their religion in accordance with Vatican II. (Which Mel Gibson, notably but unimportantly, does not.) As I’ve tried to explain to Dawn (with limited success), I think it’s fair to say that Catholics regard the crucifixion as the central event of the faith, but it’s not because we get off on the bloodshed or “glorify” the violence done to him, as Dawn so memorably put it. Nor is it because we’re into “realism,” nor, needless to say, is it because we’re all Jew-haters. What I think most Catholics find so meaningful about the violence of Christ’s death is that it drives home in the most primal way the enormity of the sacrifice he made. Imagine a parent who takes a second job so that their child can live a little better; imagine how gratifying it is to the child to know that their parent loves them enough to suffer for them like that. Now multiply that a million times. That, I think, is a pretty good thumbnail description of how Catholics feel about the Passion.

    The larger point, however, is that the crucifixion is merely the central event, and to have a “center” you also need a beginning and an end. Catholicism doesn’t begin with the nails going in Jesus’s hands and end with the spear being pulled from his side. I assure you, we’re well aware of Christ’s life and his teachings; we wouldn’t care about his death if we weren’t. We’re also on board with the resurrection; for all our grief over his suffering, we wouldn’t be worshipping the guy if he hadn’t come back from the dead. That being so, why should Mel Gibson be criticized for making a movie about what happens to be the most important, though not the only important, part of his faith? I think most people would agree that the Civil War is the central event in American history, but I don’t have a problem with films like Glory because they don’t end with the Supreme Court handing down the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Let me also add, on a personal note, that one of the reasons I’ve drifted away from religion in my adulthood is because the story of Christ’s life and resurrection became too familiar and seemed too much like a fairy tale to be taken seriously. A movie about the resurrection would do nothing to change that for me: It’s the most glorious moment of the narrative but, critically, it’s also the one that’s hardest to believe and to relate to. The crucifixion isn’t hard to believe. Pain isn’t hard to relate to. In fact, it sounds as though the film accomplishes something I didn’t think possible at this point: It defamiliarizes the greatest story ever told. In all candor, I’m a little reluctant to see it because I’m afraid it just might get to me.

    Anyway, I hope I’ve managed to explain the Catholic view of the Passion and to convince you that, while very much different from the Lutheran view, it isn’t so unreasonable. The comments I’ve seen from you and Dawn over the past few days–“glorified violence,” “blood and guts”–have a whiff of real horror about them, as though the Catholic view were tantamount to ritual sacrifice or blood-letting or something. There’s no need for that kind of demonization, just as there was no need for your oh-so-casual “I wonder if the Catholic view of the Passion makes priests want to fuck little boys?” comment in this post the other day. Not one of Blogcritics’ finer moments. It would be like me saying, “I wonder if Lutherans’ rejection of the Pope’s authority makes them more likely to suck cock?” Half-assed psychosexual conjecture that reduces an entire religion’s belief system to a NAMBLA brochure makes baby Jesus cry!

  • mike

    Mel Gibson is Christ’s bitch.

  • Mary Gordon is one of the people who inspired me to become a writer. Her qualifications as both a liberal and a Catholic are beyond question. If she found “The Passion” offensive, I believe there must indeed be ugly aspects to it. I mentioned to Dawn on another thread that there is a Catholic progressive movement, though it has been and continues to be small. Mary Gordon is as fine a representative of that movement as one will find.

    One of the albums I listened to on my iPod while running around today was Al Green’s “Greatest Hits.” A song I tend to replay a lot is the last one, Belle. It is the Reverend Green’s love note to his Jesus on that compilation. The context is needing to choose between a woman he cares for and Jesus. He speaks of Jesus as always being there, not caring who a person who seeks him out is, as someone who fulfills a need to be understood . . . as the ultimate friend. I am not religious, but if I were, that is the kind of Jesus I would be able to identify with. Mel Gibson’s Jesus, a victim who is supposed to incite the ‘righteous’ to anger (and revenge?) leaves me cold.

  • As for NC’s claim that Mel Gibson being in CTM and associated with Opus Dei not mattering, no way, Jose. “The Passion” would not be the movie it is apparently is without those influences. That unwillingness to let go of the ‘traditional’ is what reactionary Catholicism is all about. It sounds like the movie reflects precisely the same flaw.

  • ddf

    Yes, let’s water down the Word so that it may be palatable for all. Jesus does not belong to Mel or Belle. The same Jesus of the gospels who preached meekness also whipped the tax collectors out of the temple. The same Jesus who preached love also passed judgement on Chorazin and Bethsaida. The same Jesus who preached about heaven had to die on the cross for our transgressions and will come again on high to pass judgement on all mankind.

    Mat 11:15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

  • NC

    Mel Gibson’s Jesus, a victim who is supposed to incite the ‘righteous’ to anger (and revenge?)

    Well now, that’s quite a grenade you’ve thrown there. “Supposed to” according to who? Mel? I haven’t heard him say anything of the sort. Mel’s dad? I wouldn’t put it past him, what with him being a Jew-hating nutjob and all, but I frankly give less than a shit what Mel’s dad thinks about Christ.

    More to the point, I give less than a shit what Mel thinks, too. That’s what I mean when I say his ties to Opus Dei don’t matter. I’m sure they matter to him, i.e., I’m sure Opus Dei’s teachings informed his thinking about the Passion. But they don’t inform mine. Nor do they inform the thinking of most of the people in Mel’s audience. To the extent that you’re worried that the film is playing to some kind of fanatic, hardcore Catholic niche, allow me to quote Richard Corliss: “That must explain the movie’s $23 million opening day. Pretty big niche.”

    To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what it is about the Opus Dei view of the Passion that you think is so different from the modern Catholic view. I assume you mean the supposed anti-Semitism in the film. All I can say to that is, while Mel may be a fine filmmaker, he’s not my spiritual guru. When it comes to attitudes about who’s to blame for Christ’s death, I value his opinion a little less than, say, this guy’s. Beyond that, I’d like to know how his movie is supposed to erase from my mind the knowledge that (a) Christ himself was a Jew, (b) the sin of an unorthodox thinker being persecuted by his own people is hardly unique to Jews or to Christ’s era (see, e.g., Socrates), and (c) if we’re going to punish the entire Jewish race for deeds committed by a small number of their ancestors 2,000 years ago, we’d sure better rethink our relationship with Germans born after 1945, don’t you agree?

    In any case, while I understand people being a little concerned about Catholic attitudes when it comes to Jews, I think you should have a little, er, faith. No one’s walking out of this movie a Jew-hater who wasn’t already a Jew-hater walking in. I wouldn’t worry unduly, then, about anger and revenge: At the very least, it’s hard for me to imagine sitting through two hours of seeing a guy flayed alive and nailed to a piece of wood, and then coming out of theater like, “You know what I could really go for right now? More violence.

  • Eric Olsen

    NC, As I commented on the priest pedophile post, I do not mean to tar individual Catholics for the sins of their leaders, especially when one of their greatest sins has been excluding lay members from the structural workings of the Church – the inclusion of prominent lay Catholics is supposed to be why the just released report is such a breakthrough.

    I think I also made it pretty clear that my speculation regarding the connection between Gibson’s movie and the release of the two reports was purely idle, and that I couldn’t imagine what the connection might be other than coicidence. As usual, I mean no offense to individual Catholics, nor do I question the validity of their faith and theology – I just see it differently. But how could I not see things theologically differently? I’m not Catholic.

    Mel is free to portray what is more or less a “Catholic” view of Christ’s life, and we are all free to say that view is skewed, or that that view is powerful, meaningful and worthwhile. We have certainly seen both views – and others from non-Christians – in passionate abundance.

    Regarding the pedophile matter: I do not believe the Catholic emphasis on physical suffering and the letting of blood has any direct bearing on the statistically aberrant gathering of pederasts under the Catholic cloth, although the emphasis on physicality over trancendent spirituality found in other denominations could have some bearing on priests having more than their share of physically-oriented issues.

    But I find it much more likely that the requirement of celibacy, the prohibition on marriage and the resultant prohibition on having children of their own, has created a culture where this sort of thing has been allowed to propagate itself in conjunction with a bureaucratic protective shield.

    Regardless of the cause, somewhat like terrorism, the important thing is to root it out and crush it.

  • Doug

    Your comments seem to indicate that you think Catholics have a monopoly on pederasts. Let me start by saying that I in no way shape or form am defending the deviants who committed crimes, or the Church heirarchy that covered up those crimes. The Catholic Church MUST change, and I’m pretty much behind the sentiments CW posted in your other thread. My one beef is that the Catholic Church is being painted as being the only organized religon with child molestors in positions of authority. I base that on your use of the phrase “…statistically aberrrant gathering of pederasts under the Catholic cloth…”. If that’s not your intent, then I apologize in advance. From my personal experience as a member of Sex Addicts Anonymous I can tell you that I personally know of 2 Baptist youth ministers, 1 Lutheran minister, and 2 evangelical Pastors who are pedophiles and admit it in our meetings. You can do the math for yourself…these are people in a small city who ADMIT to being child molesters. How many are out there who are doing it but haven’t been caught. Again I’m NOT defending the Catholic Church, what I’m saying is it’s not ONLY the Catholic Church…it’s prevalent in EVERY Christian church…and, if you read the papers, in our schools also. Let’s not just sit back and say “Great, we caught those child molesting Priests!”, let’s look everywhere in our society and try and root those sick people out. Personally I suspect that child molestors, being addicts, are drawn to the extremism of some religons (Catholicism being one of those extremes). I know I’m rambling, I hope I got my point across…whether I did or didn’t I’m sure the rest of BC will let me know.

  • NC

    As I commented on the priest pedophile post, I do not mean to tar individual Catholics for the sins of their leaders. . . I think I also made it pretty clear that my speculation regarding the connection between Gibson’s movie and the release of the two reports was purely idle, and that I couldn’t imagine what the connection might be other than coicidence.

    You certainly did. Its idleness was what offended me. I wouldn’t have objected to a theory linking the Catholic view of the Passion with the Church’s pedophilia scandal provided that some thought had gone into it–that there was, you know, an actual theory there–for the simple reason that I don’t think religious sensitivities should obstruct the pursuit of truth. But to drop a bomb like that and then defend it on the grounds of “Hey, I was just thinking out loud” is rather callous. I also understand and appreciate that you didn’t mean to tar the Catholic laity with the sins of the clergy, but I think that’s what your theory implies when taken to its logical conclusion. Consider: If it’s the Catholic view of the Passion (or the emphasis on “physicality”) rather than something particular to the Catholic priesthood that’s contributing to all this boy-fucking, then we should feel safe in assuming that the laity also has a pedophilia problem (since, after all, the laity and the clergy subscribe to the same “physical” vision of the Passion). I’ve never seen anything suggesting that there is.

    With respect to your criticism that the Catholic view of the Passion is “skewed” from the Lutheran perspective (and vice versa), I understand that different faiths will see things differently. I’m not sure why that’s a valid criticism of the film, however. Why not deal with it on its own terms? Filmmakers have been making movies of Bible stories since the medium was invented, but very few (if any) of them have been criticized for stopping where they did. Mel Gibson chose to dramatize one episode from Christ’s life–an episode which, needless to say, plays an extremely important role in all Christian denominations. Why isn’t that “complete” enough? Why hold his focus on one part of a larger narrative against him when other filmmakers do the same thing all the time? I understand the theological disagreement but why does that have to bleed into the artistic merits?

    Since I so rarely get to vent about Catholic-bashing, let me add (and I want to make clear that I’m not accusing you of this) that few things irritate me more than people who rip the Church every which way but then are quick to say how super keen they think individual Catholics are. As though one has nothing to do with the other. In twelve years of Catholic schooling, through all sorts of interactions with priests and nuns and assorted laity, I can’t recall a single one of them being anything but very kind and positive. In fact, it may amuse/enlighten you to know that the image of Jesus that was sold to us was much more the “Up With People” Lutheran version than the traditional blood-spattered Catholic version. As I told Dawn, I distinctly remember one of the parish priests coming in to talk to us one day and telling us that we should imagine Jesus in whatever way will help us to feel closer to him–and if that means imagining him in a pair of high-tops, so much the better. I think that was the first time I ever thought, “Wow. Jesus is really fucking lame.” Had we had a little more blood and guts, I might still take religion seriously today.

  • Eric Olsen

    Doug, it’s an important point – thanks. while I don’t have any statistics to back it up, my impression is that the Catholics have a larger problem than other denominations. If I am wrong, please tell me. I do not htink, not did I mean to imply that the problem is limited to the Roman Catholic Church. It is my guess that the requirement of celibacy and prohibition against marriage would play a key role in this. Perhaps it is time the Church acknowledge that priests are human and have human needs that are not being acceptably met under the current circumstances.

  • Eric Olsen

    The laity DO bear some responsibility for not confronting the clergy eariler on this, but I also understand a couple-thousand years of brainwashing regarding the infallibility of the Church.

    Saying that the perspective of a film is skewed is just as valid a criticism as anything else – why not?

    I’m glad your relationships with the Church were all positive, that’s only to the good.

    I DO think it is possible that the traditional Catholic emphasis on the flesh has some bearing on the pedophilia problem, as I mentioned above. If one dwells on the physicality of the flesh and one has no legitimate outlet for the expression of one’s own fleshy relaity, it is not unlikely that some would turn to the most easy victims for that expression.

    So no, that wouldn’t have any bearing on the laity.

  • BB

    Eric, sorry to disagree with you but Mel’s movie does not depict merely a “Catholic” view. It is not a denominational thing. The vast majority of evangelical/protestants support this movie.

    The bone of contention seems to boil down to the extent of the violence and the blame game. The violence aspect I can see some people being put off, but the blaming (albeit I understand the sensitivity) in the grand scheme of things is ludicrous because it does follow the account of the gospels fairly well.

    The Romans were the sick sadists in the movie and I haven’t heard any complaining from the Italian community or wanting to hurt them. Have you?

  • Dawn
      In any case, while I understand people being a little concerned about Catholic attitudes when it comes to Jews, I think you should have a little, er, faith. No one’s walking out of this movie a Jew-hater who wasn’t already a Jew-hater walking in.

    I think you are absolutely right here, and I also agree about the fact that Catholic priests haven’t cornered the market on being filthy pederasts, there are plenty of those from all sorts of faiths.

    I think what makes it stand out more is that the priest/parish relationship is designed to be infallible and it’s just not possible with humans – as we are flawed from creation.

  • Doug

    Eric and Dawn,
    The Priest/parish relationship is not designed to be infallible. Every Catholic Priest that I have ever known (and having lived in 4 states and Spain that’s quite a few)has made it a point to tell the parishoners that they (Priests) are just people, no better than any parishoner. The only difference being that they have been ordained and can therefore (if properly reconciled…ie been forgiven for their sins) celebrate the Eucharist. The days of the infallible Priest ended sometime in the 60s…although there are still some Priests and Bishops who would like us to think otherwise. The only person, according to Catholic doctrine who is supposed to be infallible is the Pope. Again I don’t think you will find a whole lot of Catholics who will agree with that point.

    Regarding the whole child molestation issue, I don’t think anyone has any valid statistics…and that’s part of the problem. I don’t think the celibacy/prohibition against marriage is that big a part of the problem…there are many Catholic Priests who are married, and there are many celibate Priests who are not child molesters. I think it is the nature of the beast so to speak. In other words I think extreme personalities and addicts are drawn to extreme religosity (if that’s even a word). Some of the greatest hypocrites have been the most Outwardly devout “Christians”. Witness the philandering Billy Gram, Jim Baker, (insert favorite evangelist name here). That’s one of the reasons I would NEVER describe myself as a “born again Christian” even though I have come back to my faith after a long absence. I think this issue (abuse of parishoners both young, and young adult of both sexes)needs to be brought out in the open in EVERY Christian congregation. There, I think I’m done now.

  • NC

    I also understand a couple-thousand years of brainwashing regarding the infallibility of the Church.

    Yeah. It’s almost like a cult, wouldn’t you say? I like to think of Pope John Paul as our own little David Koresh. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there’s no Catholic teaching that says “the Church” is infallible. Nor is there anything infallible (as Dawn suggests) about one’s local parish priest. Only the Pope is considered infallible and only when he speaks ex cathedra, which is rarely. And needless to say, there’s nothing whatsoever in Church doctrine that authorizes or excuses child molestation, particularly on grounds of “infallibility.”

    A few things re: your theory of Catholic carnality and priestly pedophilia. First, I’m not sure what you mean when you say that priests “dwell” on the flesh. Our crosses aren’t bare, it’s true; they do show Jesus hanging there, and I’m sure if I looked closely at the stations of the cross inside my parish church I’d see some blood on his hands and feet. But that’s about the extent of it. I don’t recall any instances growing up of any of the nuns or priests trying to impart to us just how awful it must feel to have nails driven through one’s hands (or wrists). So unless they’ve got a statue of Jesus made with real human skin or something stashed away in the rectory, I can’t believe that priests are “dwelling” on the flesh much more than, say, the average protestant minister.

    Also, I think one could make just as good an argument that the Catholic view of the Passion dissuades priests from engaging in pedophilia as that it encourages them. It bears repeating that Catholics don’t “enjoy” Christ’s suffering any more than protestants do; that being the case, imagining his body being whipped and mutilated is as likely (or more likely) to create a sense of revulsion toward the flesh as it is some kind of fetish for it. So even if it were true that the events of the Passion managed to seep into a priest’s sexuality, I’d expect it to turn him into a cold fish before it turned him into a priapic monster. Which is not to say that your point about celibacy perhaps pointing priests in the wrong direction isn’t well taken. I just don’t think that the Passion plays any part in it.

    Anyway, the more I think about it the more I realize that BB has put into words what’s really been bugging me all along. Namely, I don’t quite grasp what your problem is with a movie that shows the bloody ordeal endured by Jesus Christ since, after all, Lutherans believe in it too. I understand that you consider what happened afterwards more important–as does my devoutly Catholic mother, who took exception to my characterizing the crucifixion as Catholicism’s central event when she and I discussed this tonight–but I doubt I’d get much static from the average Lutheran minister if I pulled him aside and suggested (a) that Christ was viciously brutalized in his final hours and (b) that his suffering is very important to the Lutheran faith. When I pull Dawn aside, though, I get this (from her most recent post on the subject):

    I realize now that the Catholic view of the Passion is one of extreme brutality with the emphasis on the excruciating pain and suffering of Jesus. I wish I could open my mind to this view more, but it’s extremely painful to imagine and I feel violated on some level that Mel Gibson would exploit that angle, even if it’s intrinsic to his belief.

    And it’s not intrinsic to Lutheran belief? Lutherans needn’t ever confront the pain of imagining Christ’s suffering? I really can’t believe this is what a minister would tell me if I put the question to him.

    Which brings me back to my point about criticizing the film for being “skewed.” I don’t know how better to explain it than to say that if this had been a movie that began with the resurrection and omitted all reference to the crucifixion, I would almost certainly have no problem with it. I wouldn’t consider it “skewed” because it happened to focus on only one aspect of the Passion, just as I wouldn’t consider a filmed version of the Last Supper to be “skewed.” And that’s because I don’t think that focusing on only one part of the story should be interepreted as a desire to obscure the other parts. That’s really what this is all about, and what I sense from you and Dawn: That deep down, you think this is about discarding the resurrection and its image of a redeemed, loving god. Why do you think that? I dare say there’s not a single person among the gigantic audience for this movie who doesn’t know what (supposedly) happened three days after the events it depicts occurred, just as there wouldn’t be a single person in the audience for my hypothetical resurrection film who wouldn’t know what had (supposedly) transpired three days earlier. I’m also pretty confident that the last thing a devout Catholic like Mel Gibson was shooting for in making this film was some sort of oblique denial of Christ’s divinity or a rejection of the notion that Christ loves his children. So really, what’s the problem? Why is this movie so intolerable? How is it so “skewed” that it makes the “Catholic” vision of a brutalized Christ and the “Lutheran” vision of a smiling, risen Jesus hopelessly irreconcilable? Because I don’t think it does. Not for Catholics, anyway.

    I leave you with my response to Mary Gordon, a.k.a. the Catholic who told Mel “no”: Zev Chafets, a.k.a. the Jew who told Mel “yes.”

  • mike

    As the joke goes, there was a Jewish kid who went to Catholic school. Seth was so unruly and rebellious that he was kicked out of public school, prep school, Jewish day school, until finally, in absolute and complete desperation, his parents sent him to Catholic school.

    He straightened out immediately, behaving himself and getting high grades.

    His parents didn’t dare say anything to jinx it, but finally, they couldn’t hold back and asked him what happened.

    “Well,” Seth said, “when I was sitting there on the first day of class, and I saw what those nuns did to that poor guy on the cross, I knew they meant business.”

  • Let’s approach this from another direction. I have said in passing that I don’t expect anti-Jewish riots in Pasadena and Des Moines as a result of “The Passion,” but perhaps I haven’t made it clear why I think the film could be harmful. Art can reflect and exacerbate preexisting social problems in a society.

    Before scoffing at the idea, I recommend considering two films that reflected and exacerbated bigotry toward African-Americans, Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. Obviously, neither movie, nor the books they were based on, can be held responsible for the U.S.’ 400-year-old romance with racism. But, what they did was confirm the notion that slavery, segregation and dehumaniztion of human beings in general are a romance, not an evil. Along with other cultural encouragement, they gave the both the developing bigot and the confirmed bigot confirmation of his beliefs. I believe a movie that revives the myth of the Jews being solely, or mainly, responsible for the death of Christ could have the same impact.

  • NC

    Art can reflect and exacerbate preexisting social problems in a society.

    Maybe so. What now? Should the movie be condemned because some lowlife Jew-hater might try to appropriate it for his own nefarious purposes? Should I worry about people reading “Catcher in the Rye” because it inspired Mark Chapman and John Hinckley to go out and shoot people? I take your point about the film potentially serving as a lightning rod for prejudice (not only anti-Jewish prejudice but, as I’m sensing right now from many quarters, anti-Catholic prejudice) but I personally don’t want my media options limited because a few wackjobs can’t hold their psychological liquor, so to speak.

    As for any fears that the film is going to infect otherwise sane people with the virus of batshit anti-Semitism, I agree with Zev Chafets that “[m]ost Christians are smart enough and reasonable enough to understand the distinction between Caiaphas and Jerry Seinfeld. It is insulting to suggest otherwise.” Not that you’re suggesting otherwise, but just for the record.

  • mike

    “not only anti-Jewish prejudice but, as I’m sensing right now from many quarters, anti-Catholic prejudice.”

    It’s not anti-Catholic prejudice if you were raised a Catholic, as I was. So here goes, based on my personal experience: The Catholic Church is a cult. Priests like to lay their hands on the altar boys. Hypocricy abounds. Catholic school breeds uniform, uncritical thinking. Nuns like to lay their hands on other nuns. The religion is steeped in violent images, and has a centuries long tradition of launching terror campaigns against gays and women.

    On the other hand, the incense smells nice.

  • Doug

    Regarding your “it’s not anti-Catholic prejudice if you were raised Catholic, as I was.” remark. That is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. Okay, that was a lie, I do know where to start. Just keeping it in the realm of religon for now (avoiding the “I was raised a (insert political ideology here) therefore I can’t be guilty of anti (inseert political ideology here) prejudice. Martin Luther was raised Catholic, yet he founded a movement that was extremely critical of Catholicism. Some of the most virulent persecuters in the world have turned against the beliefs in which they were raised. Almost all religons are cults by definition (don’t believe me, look up the definition.

    Your personal experience with the Catholic Church, which apparently has left some deep scars if not open wounds, can not be extrapolated into a general description or categorization of the whole Catholic Church. That’s stereotyping, and it’s wrong no matter who is doing it or how they were raised.

  • Doug

    BTW, Mike, I have found some of your comments to be pretty funny. In particular the one about other religons being for “wusses”.

    You are right about the incense, plus if you breath it in real fast you can get a kind of high.

    Finally, I just want you to know that if you want to come back to the Catholic Church and be forgiven for all of your sins (and heretical humour)that can be arranged…for a small fee the Pope will be happy to arrange an indulgence for you. Can you say “express lane to Heaven”?

  • sheri

    Im a christian of a non catholic faith.Im a baptist.I cant speak for everyone, only for myself, and I know that this movie could never cause anti-semitic feelings in me, because of the teachings of my faith.If anyone does come out hating Jews, I feel they are allready predisposed to think in such ways.