Tuesday, March 16, 2004
A year or so ago, a young man visiting my Wednesday night Bible study class relayed his encounter with a non-Christian who questioned how Christianity could be a monotheistic faith yet have a God who describes himself as three beings: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. "He explained to me that 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, not 1," said the young man. "I had to admit that he was both clever and correct, but then shared with him that 1 x 1 x 1 = 1."
That rather simplistic approach to a complex issue sums up the intricate yet basic nature of Christianity. The story is simple: Come to redeem humankind from our sinfulness, Jesus Christ lived and taught among man, was later tortured and crucified by those same men, but then rose from the dead. Demonstrating how these pieces fit together to reveal the final testament of the Christian faith is the aim of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
A bloody tale of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ, "The Passion" is a powerful film in both art and testimony. Even before its release, the movie received much criticism as being anti-Semitic and potentially divisive. The violence of the torture and crucifixion scenes was said to be excessively graphic. Then, of course, there is the question of historical accuracy versus artistic vision. Ironically, this triad of attacks has swelled out of control serving only to increase curiosity and ultimately spur more and more people to see the movie. In some ways, each of these accusations is true yet unavoidable if Gibson and company were to be faithful to the original story.
Every religion is anti-something. The beliefs of Muslims fly in the face of Hindus. The Bahá'í World Faith contradicts the ideals of Buddhism. And Jewish law refutes the basic tenets of Christianity. That does not mean, however, that those differences are designed to promote hatred or incite violence. Of course, Gibson's "Who gives a s***?" attitude doesn't help matters and has certainly inflamed folks like Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. The organization's Web site (http://www.adl.org) has a decade worth of documented quotes from Gibson sharing his views on the Holocaust, Catholicism and "The Passion." In order to appreciate the film, though, we don't have to buy into Gibson's often extreme and rather conservative views of Catholicism. From my personal study, the film does accurately depict the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus as told in the Bible. Therefore, I can embrace it as a new artistic interpretation of an old story to Christians and non-Christians alike as well as an affirmation of the spiritual truth held by believers. Though his film may represent a central belief of Christians, Gibson himself does not represent all Christians.
And, yes, "The Passion" is drenched in blood. From the time Jim Caviezel's Jesus is first taken into custody until the very end of the movie, his blood flows in nearly every scene. In the Christian faith, the extraordinary violence and persecution Jesus endures from both the Romans and Jews embodies the punishment for sin for the entire race of mankind. Gibson is obviously trying to impress on us the enormity and monstrosity of this reality as we see Jesus battle both his own fleshly desire to flee and the awesome power of his responsibility to God and mankind. Originally produced without subtitles, the movie could easily have conveyed the same message with its strong imagery and stylish cinematography alone.
Speaking of the artistic features of the movie, viewers must remember that this is, in fact, only a film. Gibson admits to taking some artistic license in flashback sequences. Most films based on true stories do. He does adhere to the text of the Gospels in the main segments of the movie. Nevertheless, we cannot expect "The Passion" to shoulder the burden of defining a religion 2,000-plus years in the making. Just as "Schindler's List" couldn't fully convey the horrors of the Holocaust or "Saving Private Ryan" the ravages of war, "The Passion of the Christ" can never be a comprehensive barometer of the Christian faith. It is one movie from one man's perspective. What it can do is bring people together by spurring dialogue about our differing belief systems. It can provide a venue for affirming similarities and contrasting differences—even among Christian denominations.
Movies depict many controversial issues from sexuality and drug use to murder and pornography. With nearly 2 billion followers worldwide, Christianity was bound to have its turn in theaters. As of this writing, "The Passion" is the No. 1 movie in the nation. One movie by one man about one God has the entire nation talking. The power of the exponent is definitely at work.
Jennifer Spann is a frequent columnist for the Jackson Free Press.
Just read on CNN that a french film line will not show this movie because it is "fascist." The word fascist sure is thrown around alot. I feel left out. No one has ever called me a fascist. What am I doing wrong? I mean, everyone is a fascist to someone, right? The left calls the right the F-bomb and the right says political correctness is a form of the "Big F". How do i tap into my fascist roots? I am going to start making shirts that say "Fascist" and try to market them. Hopefully I can sell them to the klan, skinheads, uberconservatives, militant minorities, hard core feminist, and nazi homosexuals. Who would have thunk that fascism could unite so many?
Jimjam, just make the trains run on time, and shoot anybody who's late. That should give you a start. Me, I love that the french aren't showing the film (though the fascism line is absurd). I'd heard that before, and it increased my love for the french quite a bit. I love that they will shun a major movie just out of sheer contrariness (and a bunch of other fully valid reasons, but, at heart, I think it's just contrariness).
Ahhh... The sweet umbrella that is facism! I've actually heard many Christians complain about this movie lacking "gospel" and necessary historical information regarding Jesus and his tribe. Many suggested if you knew nothing of Jesus and the history of the New Testament, you'd be lost in this movie. A few went even suggested Christians would boycott the brutal violence if the movie was not about Jesus. jimjam, do you have a link for the article? I'm an uber-lazy, nazi homosexual that digs facism; so, I don't have the time to do my own research. ;-)