Monday, March 01, 2004

what I won't see

I've decided that I will not be seeing Gibson's movie, The Passion of Christ. Lot of random thoughts here:

1) The conversation around the movie, for the most part, has been quite interesting, and frankly, I appreciate the fact that as Holy Week approaches that folk are having conversations about Jesus.

2) Perhaps part of it is my Baptist upbringing. I've heard plenty of preachers re-create the Passion in sermons, and certainly Baptist hymns did the same. While protestant worship has often been devoid of art and sculpture, particularly connected to the Jesus of the cross, the Passion has had a special role in Catholic worship and mysticism. As an Episcopalian, I know we fall in-between, but the bloody Jesus on the cross hanging over the altar is one of those expressions that fall outside my own practice of worship.

3) There was a quote in the NY Times last week from Reinhold Niehbur that American Christianity was bloodless, and that is particularly true of our worship spaces.

4) During Holy Week, the one service that I sometimes miss is Good Friday, usually because of work, but I admit that I am not fond of the terror of the day. I don't skip reading the scriptures of Christ's passion, or thinking about it, or reflecting on it. You cannot celebrate Easter without it. Yes, of course. But I am reminded of a description written by St. Paul: ... who for the joy that was set before him, endured the suffering and shame.

Jesus did what he did because of obedience to the Father, but he did it also for his vision or faith in what would follow. Part of that vision is us, the church, God's people. Hence, the empty cross, the empty tomb.

5) At some point last week, I read a part of Leon Wieseltier's essay in the The New Republic. It's the meditation on violence, I think, that pushed me to the decision to not see the movie. A couple of quote:

For The Passion of the Christ is intoxicated by blood, by its beauty and its sanctity. The bloodthirstiness of Gibson's film is startling, and quickly sickening. The fluid is everywhere. It drips, it runs, it spatters, it jumps. It trickles down the post at which Jesus is flagellated and down the cross upon which he is crucified, and the camera only reluctantly tears itself away from the scarlet scenery. The flagellation scene and the crucifixion scene are frenzies of blood. When Jesus is nailed to the wood, the drops of blood that spring from his wound are filmed in slow-motion, with a twisted tenderness.


The only cinematic achievement of The Passion of the Christ is that it breaks new ground in the verisimilitude of filmed violence. The notion that there is something spiritually exalting about the viewing of it is quite horrifying. The viewing of The Passion of the Christ is a profoundly brutalizing experience. Children must be protected from it. (If I were a Christian, I would not raise a Christian child on this.) Torture has been depicted in film many times before, but almost always in a spirit of protest. This film makes no quarrel with the pain that it excitedly inflicts. It is a repulsive masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film, and it leaves you with the feeling that the man who made it hates life.

6) I don't watch Tarentino films. Even in something like Lord of the Rings, I turn my head. I rarely can watch someone shot on screen. Maureen O'Dowd in the Times last week said that after seeing Gibson's movie, she wasn't left with feeling a need to celebrate God's love, but to go out and kick some Roman butt, sort of the effect one has after seeing Braveheart, for example.

7) The most interesting part of the conversation, for me, relates to non-Christians, particularly to Jews (since Romans aren't around as such) and how they are reacting to the movie. I read a comment by one Jewish fellow who reminded readers that lots of Jews died on Roman crosses, a point often not recognized. How blithely we Christians overlook their sensitivity to past Christian hatred and violence toward them. Since I am not seeing the movie, I won't comment on whether or not it will be used to hurt Jews or other other non-Christians. I hope it will not.

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