Monday, March 08, 2004

"The Passion" Provides Opportunities for Hand-Wringing

Many churches are sponsoring guided discussions of "The Passion of The Christ", to help people understand the meaning of the movie and what Jesus did. This is a good thing.

Some churches and synagogues are sponsoring interfaith "dialogues" about the movie, to bring Christians and Jews together to help each other understand the different reactions they may have to the film, and the religious beliefs and assumptions underlying those reactions. This too can be a good thing, as long as the fundamental beliefs of each "side" are expressed honestly and respected.

But, based on what I have read, all too many of these "dialogues" turn out, like this one at a suburban Chicago synagogue, to be exercises in collective handwringing over how "anti-semitic" the movie is, or how it is "too violent", etc, ad nauseam.

The more I read about these things, and the statements made by those professed Christians who dislike the film and trot out the two canards I just mentioned, the more I am convinced that such people simply subscribe to a different religion than I do.

Now, if a Jew dislikes the movie because he objects to the Christian message within it, I don't have a problem with that (except insofar as I'd like him to become a Christian). After all, if he accepted the Christian claim, he'd be a Christian.

But if a Jewish person fundamentally misunderstands the Christian message, or uses the "anti-semitic" charge as a club with which to pummell Gibson or those Christians who have found the movie inspiring, I do have a problem with that.

One participant in the "dialogue", Alison Kinard, realized what was going on, and said:
"It saddens my heart that you're missing the whole essence of the movie," she said. "It's the message that Jesus came and he did what he did for us."

She said she did not leave the theater blaming Jews. "If anything, I left saying, `Woe is me,'" she said.

Richard Liebman, 54, a member of B'nai Torah, said he appreciated Kinard's comments, but the issue of anti-Semitism is too personal. "If everyone saw the movie through your eyes, we wouldn't have a problem," he told her afterward.

Apart from being patronizing, Liebman's remarks are also insulting to Christians. The overwhelming evidence is that Christians who have seen the movie react in much the same way as Kinard: with a feeling of personal responsibility for Christ's sufferings, and a conviction of the weight of their own sins. I have yet to meet or hear of a Christian who has emerged from this movie motivated to do violence to Jews. But Liebman nonetheless says "If everyone saw the movie through your eyes, we wouldn't have a problem".

What exactly is " the problem", Mr. Liebman? Where are the hordes of Christians coming forth from the movie to attack Jews or mount a pogrom? The fact is that there is no "problem". But the absence of any actual anti-Jewish response resulting from the movie does not faze the Liebmans, Foxmans, or Krauthammers of the world. That is the power of Ideology. Ideology enables one to sustain a position in spite of its manifest contradiction to the actual state of reality. The real problem is that such people are Ideologues.

And when self-professed Christians seem to miss the entire point of the movie, and distort its content, I have to wonder what went awry in their catechesis. The Rev. Mark Lund's bizarre reaction to the conclusion of the movie illustrates my point:
Rev. Mark Lund of Zion Lutheran Church in Deerfield, [IL] another panelist, criticized the film's origins, faithfulness to Scripture and anti-Semitic overtones...

Lund especially criticized the movie's final resurrection scene, which he said was accompanied by a cadence resembling a battle march.

"With a new hardness not seen before, Jesus jumps up to seek revenge on those who killed him," Lund said. "In Gibson's version, that can only be one group of people. The [first] two hours and five minutes of the film make it clear just who is going to be in trouble now."

Talk about reading into something! Lund's reaction provides an interesting glimpse into his own psyche, but little else. I suppose the Rev. Lund imagines that after Jesus rose from the dead, he went and apologized to the Sanhedrin for causing so much trouble.

Here are two "litmus-test" questions I suggest we propose to all the objectors to the movie's "violence" or "anti-semitism", especially the self-proclaimed Christians:

Do you believe that Jesus, according to the will of the Father and his own will as the Son and Second Person of the Trinity, offered Himself up for all mankind for the forgiveness of sins? Do you believe that Jesus' death on the cross was in some way expiatory for your sins and the sins of the whole world?

The answers to those questions will tell you where people are really coming from.