There’s no middle way in‘Passion’
Nothing unites people like a common belief, but nothing is more divisive either.
That is the lesson that I learned as I sat in a movie theater Wednesday night, watching Mel Gibson's new movie, "The Passion of the Christ."
The film has great acting and moving scenes. However, its ultimate failure lies not in its portrayal of the final hours of Jesus' life but in its narrow-minded and intolerant vision of the world that sometimes borders on cluelessness.
The cacophony reached a crescendo just as the film was released in movie theaters this week, prompting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of moviegoers across the country to go see it. Whole theaters were bought out by churches, with the film shown to parishioners flooding in to see it.
But the movie did not live up to its hype, portraying instead a dark and violent end to one of the most important figures in world history.
First, I want to clarify that in my opinion the film is not anti-Semitic in its nature. The blame for Christ's death is not unambiguously laid at the feet of the Jewish high priests. Indeed, it is very hard to discern who had a greater share of blame in the movie: the Jewish priests, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his teacher, the crowd that demanded the crucifixion, or procurator Pontius Pilate, who had the final word on Jesus' sentence.
But "The Passion" as conceived by Gibson has a deeper and darker division, one that overshadows Jesus' message of love and peace in the film. This division between believers and unbelievers threatens to spread the hatred throughout all strata of society.
To recycle an oft-used metaphor, the movie is just like a double-sided coin. It's either heads or tails. There can be no other outcome. In the movie, all the characters are either with Jesus or they are against him. There can be no third way.
In fact, it is hard not to believe that Gibson intended the movie to play that way. As David Elcott, U.S. director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, recounted in his essay, Gibson told members of an Illinois congregation, which included Elcott, who pre-screened the film that the world is divided between those who believe and those who deny. In the same speech, Gibson said that all opponents of Jesus were dupes of Satan.
The black-and-white paradigm of the world, as espoused by Gibson, holds many problems. Chief among those is that its proponents, no matter their religion, automatically think of the people disagreeing with them as subhuman, just like the Roman soldiers who administered the beating in "The Passion," were portrayed as sadistic and ravenous beasts, hungry for blood.
That disdain for others gradually grows into hate and then into intolerance, culminating in acts of violence against those who are not perceived to be "the true believers." We have seen plenty of examples of that in all religions the past couple of decades, whether it be the events of 9/11, a deranged Jewish settler in the West Bank shooting up a mosque or a Hindu mob destroying a mosque in Ayodhya that stood on an alleged holy site. No faith is immune to it.
"The Passion" does not advocate violence, but it leaves the door wide open for narrow-minded people to claim that the death of Jesus needs to be avenged - whatever or whoever their target might be.
The movie's message is going to be amplified by its large venue. It opened in more than 3,000 movie theaters across the country. The official Web site for the movie can be viewed in 17 languages in addition to English. Obviously, the movie's creators and promoters have big plans for the movie's release overseas.
And just as obvious is the fact that many people, both here and abroad, who are unfamiliar with the Gospel before seeing the movie will take the powerful visual imagery in its most literal sense. They will come out of the theater thinking about the powerful imagery of violence against Jesus and wanting to avenge it in some way.
I have no doubt that most of the people who will see "The Passion" will take with them the lessons of love and tolerance that Jesus taught. But the movie could spark violent incidents that do not befit the United States, an open and tolerant society.
It is high time that all the people in the world, Gibson included, see the many sides the film has, and heed the message of tolerance that Jesus preached.
Boris Melnikov's column "Literature in a Hurry" runs on Friday. To comment on this article, call (213) 740-5665 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jesus said, " I have not come to bring peace but a sword." Jesus was not tolerant. Virtually all the verses regarding the reigning religious bureaucrats are negative and meant to incite a reaction.
Who killed Christ? The religious bureaucrats. The same Hindu personalities that tried to kill Buddha. The same pagan religionists who tried to kill Mohammed. The same Christian religionists who killed Joseph Smith.
Religion is intolerant of any other religious belief. And religious bureaucrats are vicious in their persecution of heretics who thwart the future of the religious bureaucracy.
Remember, Jesus went into the Temple court yard and made a whip and drove out all the vendors. This was about money. This was about shutting off the money to the religious bureaucrats.
Jesus was a dangerous man. He intended to call attention to the gross hypocrisy of priests and rabbis and so on.
Who killed Jesus? The Jewish religious bureaucrats. Not because they were Jews but because they were bureaucrats whose primary mandate is to preserve the bureaucracy first and spread the message second. A few weeks ago an Episcopal bishop said, "heresy is better than schism."
The masses are ignorant. Secular politicians are interested in order. The religious bureaucrats allegedly acting in the name of God are the real enemies of peace in society regardless of their religious stripe. They manipulate the ignorant in the name of their true gods (money and power).
We need to get rid of religion and embrace spirituality and God. Then we will have a chance at WorldPeace. But unfortunately the ignorant need the rites and rituals that the religious bureaucrats provide.
How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?
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