Copyright © 2005
by the Fellowship of St. James.
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A DEFENSE OF ABC:
In today's Breakpoint column, titled Judas, Charles Colson offers a different view of the ABC movie Judas from that suggested by the quotes from the movie (taken from a report in World magazine) given in ABC Betrays Judas and the words from the producer (taken from Terry Mattingly's column) quoted in A Sympathetic Judas. According to Colson:
ABC is giving viewers the chance to hear what Jesus actually said about who He is and why He had to die. Whether or not they get more chances largely depends on the film’s ratings. Father Desiderio and other Christians are ready to provide the networks with content, if the ratings hold up.
It’s up to Christians, who rightly complain about the state of American television, to prove to Hollywood that there’s a market for films that are born out of a desire to be faithful to Scripture, rather than the desire to twist and distort.
This — that the movie gives "viewers the chance to hear what Jesus actually said" — does not seem likely, given the quotes World's
story gave and Terry Mattingly's interview with the producers. Or else the movie gives some of our Lord's actual words but in a context in which he is portrayed as someone other than who Christians believe him to have been and to be. Judging from the quotes from the movie, it doesn't portray the real Jesus at all, even if it does include some accurate quotations.
We don't watch television, and I would grateful for any readers who do watch, and happen to watch this movie, who would report on it.
An article from last Sunday's Los Angeles Times that I found fascinating: Gnostic Sect in Iraq Lobbies to Protect Its Way of Life by Megan K. Stack. It begins:
Nasiriya, Iraq — The bride and groom emerge from the temple to climb down the slopes of a riverbank fetid with garbage, and pause at the water's edge to pray before wading in.
"Please cleanse my soul of the sins of this material life," they say. Then they crouch down in the river, bow their heads to accept the cold splashes doled out by their cleric and swallow the river water he dribbles into their mouths.
"Water represents life," said Sheik Khalef Abed Rabba, spiritual leader of the Baghdad temple of the Mandaean Sabians. "It should be running water, living water."
For centuries the Mandaean Sabians have clung to the marshes and rivers of Iraq, drawn tight into closed communities while monarchies and tyrannies washed past. The Gnostic sect is so ancient that its roots are lost in the distant blur of the pre-Christian Middle East. Tens of thousands remain today around temples along the trash-strewn banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, facing an uncertain future in a land of upheaval.
THE PASSION'S CRITICS:
Two helpful and funny articles on The Passion and particularly the secularist response to it:
1) The first, "Passion" and Prejudice by Ben Johnson, from Frontpage.com, begins:
The secular Left has derided Mel Gibson’s new film, “The Passion of the Christ,” as an inflammatory polemic designed to subtly goad its sympathetic audience to hate the movie’s antagonists. I must confess, I fear I’ve succumbed. I’m afraid Mel Gibson’s movie left me with a burning hatred . . . for Roman soldiers.
They are the only people the casual viewer of “The Passion” could possibly come to disdain. Far from giving rise to anti-Semitic feelings, the movie leaves its viewers deeply prejudiced against first century Palestinian Gentiles.
2) In The Passion of the Liberal
Ann Coulter sarcastically takes apart the liberal criticism of the movie. As she writes near the beginning:
The most amazing complaint, championed by the [New York] Times and repeated by all the know-nothing secularists on television, is that Gibson insisted on "rubbing our faces in the grisly reality of Jesus' death." The Times was irked that Gibson "relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus' final hours" — at the expense of showing us the Happy Jesus. Yes, Gibson's movie is crying out for a car chase, a sex scene or maybe a wise-cracking orangutan.
The Times ought to send one of its crack investigative reporters to St. Patrick's Cathedral at 3 p.m. on Good Friday before leaping to the conclusion that "The Passion" is Gibson's idiosyncratic take on Christianity. In a standard ritual, Christians routinely eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, aka "the Lamb of God." The really serious Catholics do that blood- and flesh-eating thing every day, the sickos. The Times has just discovered the tip of a 2,000-year-old iceberg.
She goes on to compare the Times'
treatment of the movie with their treatment of Islam after 9/11.
Andy Scott writes in response to "More on Judas" (two items down):
Fr. Raymond Brown, the late scholar of John's gospel, pointed out that John provides his own commentary by using language of light and dark. Thus the plot of John is summed up in 1:5: "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (NIV)
Jenna Young's comment on John 13:30 is in line with Fr. Brown's observation. By noting that "it was night," John was indicating more than the time of day. He was noting the state of Judas' heart - shrouded in darkness, never fully comprehending the light. The admonition of 1 John 2:9-10 (clearly the work of the same pen, according to Fr. Brown) makes clear that "living in the darkness" is the essential trait of unredeemed humanity. Consequently, Judas' betrayal is explained as an act of sinful unbelief, not a tragic personality flaw.
Ken Tanner sent me this link to a site comparing the grosses for The Passion with Return of the King, Spider Man, and The Phantom Menace: Uber-Blockbuster Showdown. After just six days, The Passion is already the 111th biggest grossing movie of all time and its first five days beat ROTR and PM.
Now, not to be too grumpy, but any of you about to write a message telling me that how much money a movie makes is no measure of its value or quality, don't. I know that. I mean, the chart shows that The Phantom Menace beat them all.
MORE ON JUDAS:
Jenna Young writes in response to yesterday's Sympathetic Judas from her meditation upon John 13, the story of the Upper Room:
The Bible translation I use for meditation is the NIV version of The Concordia Study Bible, produced by the publishing arm of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The text notes on v. 26-27 state that Jesus' offering the morsel of bread to Judas after he had dipped it in the dish was a mark of signal honor. The scholar who wrote the note believes that Jesus was also offering Judas a final opportunity to repent.
Of course we know what happened next; verse 30, which is, to me, one of the most chilling in Scripture, sums it up: "So after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night."
My point here is that John hardly depicts Judas as a man bereft of free will. His actions have always seemed to me deliberate, carefully chosen. The NIV text note I cited above adds a further dimension, making them a slap in Jesus' face. (It also brought home to me Jesus' breathtaking mercy and compassion. At this point, His death was certain, but still He freely bestows a chance for forgiveness upon His betrayer.)
Of course, this would all be completely lost upon Judas' director, producer, the network, and the majority of its viewers.
MORE ON THE CALIFORNIA OUTRAGE:
Steve Cavanaugh writes from Massachusetts about the decision of the California Supreme Court mentioned yesterday in An Outrage:
The part of the ruling by the California Supreme Court which I find most troubling is its deciding that it can decide the definition of what is religious behavior. I am a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and I'm sure my fellow members would be quite surprised to find out that feeding the hungry, helping the homeless find shelter and providing clothing and gifts for poor children are not religious acts.
Like Catholic Charities, we provide services to anyone in need, without regard to their background, although we are happy to share the Gospel with those who seem open to it. I suppose it's just a matter of time before our own Supreme Court here in Massachusetts decides we must start toeing whatever lines they draw.
And who will be harmed; the poor, whom the state usually abandons first.
As I and lots of others have written, with many and possibly most people of liberal views, when forced to choose between sexual freedom (as they define it) and compassion, sex trumps compassion. Were I a liberal California Supreme Court justice faced with such a case, I would have said "I don't like the practice but letting them determine their own employee benefits is a price we can pay for their work they do for the poor." Instead they found, or thought they found, that the law requires Catholic Charities to do something they don't believe in, apparently oblivious to the possible costs to the poor of their finding.
THE REAL PROBLEM:
An article some of you may find of interest: For Priests, Celibacy Is Not the Problem by Andrew Greeley, from yesterday's New York Times. Greeley argues:
The picture presented by the two reports — one a statistical study by researchers at John Jay College of the abuse cases and the church's reactions to them, the other a report on the causes and context of the crisis by a review board appointed by the bishops — is horrific and tragic. But as a priest and as someone who has been writing about the evil of sexual abuse by priests for two decades, I must also point to a substantial body of data collected over the last 35 years that presents another story, one which ought to be heard. These surveys of attitudes among priests and parishioners have shown that most don't consider celibacy the problem with the priesthood; the problem is that many priests don't do their job well.
. . . In addition to the abuse cases, the big problems in the priesthood, then, are not celibacy or sexual frustration, but the constraints on excellence in an envy-ridden, rigid and mediocre clerical culture that does a poor job in serving church members.
If priests really want to improve their image, they should not bother to write letters demanding that celibacy be made optional — which will be dismissed by their bishops and the Vatican — but to make every effort to upgrade their work — especially their sermons.
If you're interested in the subject, you will want to read the whole article. It strikes me as, alas, accurate. I am blessed to be in a parish with priests who clearly love their work and do it well (one was even a Touchstone
subscriber before he arrived), but I have visited enough parishes to think Greeley has called it right.
A couple of weeks ago, when our designer reworked the page a little, some readers wrote to say that they used Netscape or Mozilla and now had to scroll sideways to read each line. He reworked it a little more, and some Netscape users wrote to say he had fixed the problem. We did not hear from any Mozilla (Mosilla?) readers and I would be grateful if any of you who use that browser and are still having problems would tell me. We assumed it was fixed, but with such things one never knows.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Now and then a Touchstone subscriber will decide his subscription is a bad investment, tells us to cancel it, and why. The story is frequently something like this: “I once thought your magazine a very good thing, an attempt to draw Christians of varying persuasions together under the banner of ‘mere Christianity.’ Of late, however, it seems you have lost track of your original purpose and are primarily in the unlovely and unimaginative business of liberal-bashing. It is with great sadness and after long thought and prayer that I am canceling my subscription and sending the money I’m saving to feed hungry children and tell people the good news of Jesus—not bad news from Touchstone.” Or words to that effect.
One might as well tell us he is canceling because he finds us irritating and disagreeable--because he is a liberal, and Touchstone has helped confirm it. That we can understand and appreciate.
The frills, however, especially the assurances that the cancellation is only coming after long thought (that is, reasonable people don’t read Touchstone) and prayer (God doesn’t like you either), don’t impress us, and we are inclined to read such letters thus:
"Dear S.O.B.s at Touchstone:
Six or seven years ago I was interested in your magazine, but have been undergoing a steady drift leftward,cauterizing my conscience in response to my church's departure from Christianity. I have to live with it, or the likes of you. I choose my church, because if I agreed with you, and let it be known, I’d lose my status within it, and probably my salary as well. Because I have to live within my own skin, and my own circle of acquaintance, I can do without the constant, grinding reminders I get from your pages of things I would rather forget. I call you staid and uninteresting because if I didn’t, I would have to admit that the “progress” I have been making of late, and praising to those who tarry for conscience sake, is in fact a march into apostasy. I call you reactionary because you guard your minds while I play the whore with mine. I call you petty because you remind me that small things signify greater ones, and I call you strident because my conscience cannot bear your message, made intolerable by the intelligence and penetration of your writers. This cancellation message is an exercise in self-justification, and an attempt to cause you at least a little pain for that which you have caused me. You are part of a past I am trying to forget.”
My advice to subscription-cancellers would be to dispense with the gas. It will allow us to think better of you.
Fr. Robert Hart sends this. The title is his, though it is accurate.
The news in Catholic Charities denied exemption from The Washington Times does so clearly violate the Free Execise clause of the First Amendment that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to overturn it. In the meantime, I hope the Roman Catholic officials in California will simply disobey, as disobedience to men, in this case, is their duty to God.
The story he sent begins:
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Roman Catholic charity must include birth-control coverage in its health care plan for workers even though it is morally opposed to contraception, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
. . . The state's high court said Catholic Charities is no different from other businesses in California, which is one of 20 states, including Maryland, that require company-provided health plans to include contraception coverage if the plans have prescription-drug benefits. In California, "religious employers" such as churches are exempt from the requirement.
. . . The state Supreme Court ruled that the charity is not a religious employer because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to the public without directly preaching about Catholic values.
The court also noted that the charity employs workers of different religions.
"Moreover, Catholic Charities serves people of all faith backgrounds, a significant majority of whom do not share its Roman Catholic faith," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the majority opinion.
Notice that because Catholic Charities helps people without preaching at them, and helps a lot of people who are not Catholic, the court thinks they must accept offensive secular rules for their employee benefits. This does not follow. It is also a principle capable of infinite expansion. Think about this when you next donate to a secular charity.
An interesting comment on the reaction to The Passion from Paul Campbell, a church musician in Fairfax, Virginia (I think, judging from his address, the organist at Truro Episcopal Church there):
To the various and sundry items circulating regarding Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, here is an additional perspective from a humble reader.
As a church musician, the controversy sparked by the film comes as no surprise, as I’ve long since become accustomed to the fact that performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Saint John Passion frequently brings picketers to the church or concert hall steps. (It is John’s account, you will remember, that consistently refers to the crowd as “the Jews.”)
What is interesting is that no church in which the St. John Passion is simply read aloud as a narrative on Good Friday — as it is the world over — is ever picketed. It is only when the events therein are expressed through art – in these two cases, film and music — that concerns arise. So when we analyze the pronouncements of those who charge the Gibson film and the Bach oratorio with anti-Semitism, it is important to note that few of them argue with the historical accuracy of the events depicted therein; that is, they make no claim that Gibson or Bach changed the original narrative in order to increase the appearance of culpability of the Jews. Rather, their fear arises from the idea that an artistic depiction of the Passion — however faithful it might be to the original narrative — is likely to engender a far stronger emotional response than a non-dramatized, spoken rendering (thus, as I’ve said, a mere reading brings no protest, while artistic renderings do).
What is being asserted, then, is that religious belief should be kept in its proper (mundane, unreflective, not-consequential-to-real-life) place. Behind the attempts to suppress and decry film and oratorio alike is the idea that religious belief is something about which we must never be allowed to feel strongly, much less that we should feel strongly enough about it that it might actually govern our behavior and our lives.
Mr. Campbell may very well be right, and if he is his insight provides a nice irony: secularists for whom art is a kind of religion, or at least the thing that provides for them something close to a religious feeling, react in fear to artistic depictions and leave the, to Christians, equally powerful readings and liturgical enactments alone. Because they don't understand religion, they do not see what they should (on their own grounds) fear and attack.
In the past, secularists have understood this, but if they've forgotten, good.
CRYING "WOLF!", OR "BLOOM!":
An enjoyable article: The Wolf of the Left by Catherine Seipp, on Naomi Wolf’s overwrought (yea, hysterical) reaction to an alleged pass made at it by one of her professors twenty years ago. Now, I am someone who, were his daughter to inform him that a professor had put his hand on her thigh (Harold Bloom’s alleged offense), would find the professor and convince him in a mostly non-verbal way that he had made a mistake. But still, Ms. Wolf, even if her claim is true, over-reacts.
A RATIONAL RESPONSE:
Eric Kniffin sent this about three weeks ago but I'm afraid missed it (the inbox is very full). Though I'm posting it after the event to which the article recommended referred, its proposal is still a good one.
www.law.harvard.edu/news/2004/01/08_glendon.php is an editorial by Mary Ann Glendon and Hadley Arkes that proposes a novel solution to the impending crisis arising out of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's November decision striking down a statute which defines marriage a relationship between a man and a woman. Conventional wisdom says that unless the Mass legislature amends the Commonwealth's constitution, gay marriage will be the law of the land.
These two noted scholars argue otherwise. It comes down to a careful examination of what the court did and did not say. The Court held that the Massachusetts statute failed the "rational basis" test. But the Court did not say that there is no conceivable rational basis for maintaining that homosexuals cannot marry. Rather, the Court held that neither the statute (which presented no rationale for the law) nor the Department of Public Health, which defended the statute, presented a rationale which adequately justified the law.
Glendon and Arkes argue that the quickest, easiest solution to the crisis created by the court's decision would be for the Massachusetts legislature to re-enact the current marriage law with express legislative findings stating clearly the rational bases for reserving the status of marriage to one man and woman. As long as these bases are other than those dismissed by the court in Goodridge, the Court would, at the very least, not be able to strike down the marriage law until it had a chance to rule on whether the new statute stands on a rational basis.
This is good, creative legal thinking. I think their solution is sound. Perhaps it is less permanent than an amendment, as a rabid court might strike down any proffered rationale. But it seems to me this proposal has two advantages in its favor: 1) passing a law is many times easier than passing a constitutional amendment; 2) it would be a small victory in itself to show that a constitutional amendment is not necessary to preserve the only definition of marriage henceforth known to mankind — rather, a legislature need only make the simple judgment that rational bases exist for preserving this definition of marriage.
METROPOLITAN ON THE PASSION
With regard to views of the Eastern Orthodox on The Passion of the Christ, I received today this text of a letter to be read in churches about Gibson's film:
Beloved Clergy and Faithful of our Archdiocese:
Greetings and blessings to you in the spirit of this Holy and Great Lenten season.
Shortly after the beginning of our journey with our Lord to Calvary and the empty tomb, Mel Gibson released his excellent film, "The Passion of The Christ." This film raised many favorable, and at the same time, controversial questions; thus, I decided to see this movie and form my own opinion. The following is my observation:
I think that Mel Gibson has done an outstanding job. Ninety-five percent of the film is based on the biblical accounts recorded in the Gospels. We cannot distort history nor can we betray the hymnology of our church and the story which we relive every year during Holy Week. I advise our clergy and faithful to see this movie and share the suffering of our Lord and the joy of His Glorious
Yours in the Triumphant Christ,
Primate, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
A genuinely useful article, Jews as “Christ-Killers” in Islam by Andrew Bostom, who is Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical School (surprising, that). After offering a number of useful (if hair-raising) quotes, he concludes:
As a Jew, even an admittedly very secular one, it has been quite reassuring to see the preponderance of devout American Christians fully prepared and willing to mollify any potentially anti-Semitic (especially deicidal) motifs in “The Passion of The Christ,” due in no small part to The Church's sincere modern teachings.
There is no remotely comparable progressive strain evident in the Islamic world. Muslim clerics and regimes, especially in the Near East, vehemently opposed, and continue to oppose, the Vatican II/ Nostre Aetate renunciation of the deicide allegation against Jews. Moreover, basic Islamic theology regarding the deicide allegation, and its ugly related politics, are barely known in the West, due to a combination of profound ignorance, and deliberate, cynical obfuscation. The chasm between modern Muslim and Christian teachings with regard to the "deicide/Christ-killer" allegation against the Jews, as well as the overall conception of Jesus, couldn't be wider.
THE NEW ANTI-SEMITES:
A perhaps useful article: Return of the Old Hatred by the English journalist Melanie Phillips, about the resurgence of anti-semitism . . . on the political left. (And in the Tory party, but then English conservatives seem to have always tended to be anti-semitic.) She includes several hair-raising quotes.
I am one of those people who genuinely do not know what to think about Israel and Palestine, having never been there and having knowledeable and sober friends who side with the Israelis and equally knowledgeable and sober friends who side with the Palestinians. But I remember in my leftwing youth being surprised at how many leftists were not only anti-Israel but slid from there into anti-semitism.
I thought then that many resented the Jews because the Jews would not accept their (the leftists') universalistic project for changing everything and their assumption that every officially oppressed group was in fact completely in the right and its (alleged) oppressors completely in the wrong. Theirs (the leftists') was not a nuanced position, at least in this. The Jews, with their sympathies for Israel and their insistence on seeing that situation as a more subtle and complex problem, offered a resistance they did not like and indeed resented.
THE SYMPATHETIC JUDAS:
Our contributing editor Fr. Addison Hart (older brother of Robert, who appears in the next item) writes in response to religion writer Terry Mattingly's latest column, on the ABC movie Judas. In the column (not yet posted on the website), Terry writes:
"Judas" opens with a crucifixion, only the man on the cross is one of hundreds of Jews being executed by the Romans. The man is Judas' father and this event plants a fierce hatred of the "Roman bloodsuckers" in the heart of his young son. Judas grows up to become a bitter urban rebel and his anti-establishment anger prevents him from grasping the peaceful, sacrificial message of Jesus.
That gives you an idea of how the movie treats Judas, as will the quotes from it I included in ABC Betrays Judas
. Addison writes:
This new film about Judas appears, from Terry Mattingly's description of it, to be a bit of modernist psychobabble, with poor Judas's act of betrayal portrayed as a symptom of his screwed-up childhood. So, we don't have a sinful act at all (as the New Testament presents it), but a fit of excusable "temporary insanity".
In Gibson's film we feel sorry for Judas precisely because he is hounded by the evil to which he has enslaved himself — evil and sin destroy him. In other words, Judas is at least given the dignity of possessing a free will, albeit one he has abused and sacrificed.
In this trite TV tripe we are evidently supposed to feel sorry for Judas because he is just another misunderstood victim from a bad environment. In other words, he couldn't help himself. He really had no innate dignity, he had no free will. He was merely a little, sad sliver buffeted by sociological and psychological forces bigger than himself. He wasn't responsible for his actions when he handed Christ over to those who wanted Him dead. So, of course, Judas loses nothing in the end (no "evil" was involved, after all) and he goes straight to Heaven (God is such a dear).
This is not the Gospel at all. It is really very bad news. Sadly, it's the sort of sappy nonsense that modernist preachers -- including many sentimental saps in the RC Church — have dished out to the faithful for too many years (sexual abuse, by the way, easily fits in with this sort of self-serving "theology"). The lesson taught by this version of "Judas", if embraced, keeps one completely lacking in any sense of responsibility before God, and gives the false impression that the Lord doesn't take us or evil very seriously at all.
Rather, Christians are much better off spiritually and ascetically, and have a truer picture both of God's holiness and supreme act of love on the cross, if they say with Christ Himself and Scripture — and with fear and trembling for themselves — that Judas was, by his own free will, "the son of perdition". There's far more real human dignity implied in that stark assertion.
FR. HART CORRECTS SOME ORTHODOX:
Fr. Robert Hart, a priest of the Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake and a new contributing editor, has sent two messages responding to comments made by certain Orthodox on the alleged Westernism of The Passion, which disturbs him as he thinks it isn't true. The first message come in response to last Thursday's Unpassionate Greeks. Which, if you find the item and then scroll up, three Orthodox priests and one Orthodox layman objected to as well. Here is Fr. Hart's first message, beginning with a quote from the original item:
"The Orthodox Christian tradition has never focused attention on nor explicitly promulgated an 'atonement theology' as central to church teachings," Kantzavelos wrote in the critique. "The point of Christ's death was to triumph over death and make a way for each of us who come after him to join with him.
My mind keeps coming back to this quotation, which is part of Thursday's UNPASSIONATE GEEKS blog. As I said before, I do not believe that this is a fair and thorough representation of Orthodox theology, so I am not addressing it as if I were making a case against the Orthodox Church. But, I feel complelled to make a case against what this one man said.
Atonement theology is not optional. It is a very obvious and consistent part of the entire Bible, and without it nothing makes sense. It was not invented by St. Anselm; it is stated in the Torah in every ordinace concerning "kippur" made by the priests. It is the meaning of the Suffereing Servant passage in Isaiah 53, quoted often and applied to Christ's Passion in the New Testament, and obviously referred to by St. Paul as a major point of the Gospel itself, in those simple and direct words from I Cor. 15, "Christ died for our sins according to (meaning, as foreteold in) the scriptures." "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" cried the Baptist. If Orthodoxy could picture Christ destroying death without bearing away the sin of the world, as death and sin are two sides of the same coin, then Orthodoxy would be unorthodox.
But, as I said, I do not believe that this is the teaching of the Orthodox Church. I thnk it is simply another example of ant-Westernism run amok.
And the second, written in response to this morning's Today's first batch of Passion references
1. Safire is very concerned about "Jew-baiting" as a possible consequence of the Passion movie, but has he considered the more likely "priest-baiting" that may result from it? Caiaphas and company were priests, and this movie shows them as not very nice priests (absurd I say; who could imagine such a thing?). I fear that if I wear my collar as I walk down the street, that a crazed mob will attack me, being filled with frenzy from seeing Gibson's priest-baiting, anti-clerical movie. And, to be perfectly serious, I consider that to be more likely than any possible anti-Semitic consequences of this movie.
2. Frederica Matthews-Green's article is very interesting. But, before Anselm, and before the later fathers who came before him by many centuries, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote that "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins." The theme of sacrifice is what is clear in the earliest records, namely the books of the Bible themselves. The idea of a ransom is not clear at all as any kind of major theme in the scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews treats the Passion of Christ as the fulfillment of the Laws about Yom Kippor, the Day of Atonement. John the Baptist spoke of Him as the true Passover. "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." If the Church began to clarify this more perfectly in accord with scripture after the First Millenium, so what? Is it not the same Church born at Pentecost that still lives to this day, in which the Holy Spirit continues to lead into all truth?
I would also point out, relating her article to Gibson's movie, that through the pain and suffering that is portrayed, Christ is clearly shown as the victor and conqueror. Never before has He been shown in any film as being more heroic. He is clearly choosing to go to His death, and as the "bad" thief points out, He embraces His cross. It is clear in this film that Christ acted by His own power and will.
I think Bob is right on all points. For what seems to me as an outsider, and to insiders whom I know, a more accurate — a more nuanced — view of the Orthodox teaching than we are getting from some Orthodox spokespersons, see our executive editor Jim Kushiner's We Are Bad
from last Friday.
MORE ON JESUS IN BEIJING:
A reader responded to "Jesus in Beijing" (three items below) that David Aikman's book of that title
is a good introduction to anyone wanting an overview of Christianity in China that is up-to-date (a rare thing). The information on the house church is very well documented.
However, I think he’s a bit too hard on the TSPM government-sanctioned church, and his commentary in that regard displays often as much cultural prejudice as research. Not that the TSPM is spotless by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t the liberal puppet that it once was — there is a strong evangelical presence and the churches are packed. The TSPM also has the ability to print Bibles and train pastors — resources sorely needed by the house church. To act as if the TSPM were nothing but a government puppet is to ignore the witness and indeed suffering (albeit in a more subtle form) of many faithful Christians.
An example of this is where Aikman talks about the document the house church submitted to the government asking not to be persecuted. He got in touch with the TSPM representative to see if they had a response. They didn’t. He then asserted “Maybe the TSPM thinks that if they ignore the house church they will just go away.” I would hasten to add “OR . . . Maybe the person Aikman was talking to didn’t want his name in a best-selling book next to a quote criticizing government policy, putting his livelihood in jeopardy.”
So that’s an important quibble, I think. That aside, this is a very important and enlightening book, that I do recommend.
He then wrote another message:
If you are interested in learning more about this topic (and I think that responsible Christians should be), I recommend Acquainted With Grief: Wang Mingdao's Stand for the Persecuted Church in China by Thomas Alan Harvey, in addition to Aikman’s book. Not only does it tell the story of an important Chinese Christian, it also gives some perspective on Touchstone’s opposition to liberal theology in the churches today, as those who espoused the “social gospel” actively supported the persecution of Wang Mingdao.
LOTS OF CHRISTIANS, BUT HOW MANY?:
A reader responds, with proper caution, to the figures given in the book review of David Aikman's Jesus in Beijing, linked to two items below:
I find the thought of a rapidly Christianizing China to be an exciting prospect, but one has to wonder about these huge numbers like 70 million Protestants. Other estimates have it around 20 million Protestants, maybe 25 million, and 12 million Catholics. Since the overwhelming majority are in the house churches, how can anyone come up with a reliable number? I suspect there is more than a little hyperbole and wishful thinking in the numbers.
The same process may be at work as in Latin America where the numbers and growth rates of pentecostal Protestants in various countries were found to be grossly overestimated, especially in Brazil and Guatemala. I have no way of knowing myself what the real numbers in China are but am cautious. The growth rate needed to reach 82 million Christians in a decade or less seems too high to me.
A friend, who has some knowledge of China, commented on this:
I think Aikman's estimate is probably quite accurate (I've heard estimates as high as 200 million myself), and he documents why in his book. The spread of Christianity in China the second half of the 20th century is indeed something that seems rather miraculous, but it's been preceded by decades of prayers of a committed and suffering group of Christians.
TODAY’S FIRST BATCH OF PASSION REFERENCES:
Here are some of the articles on The Passion I’ve seen or readers have sent in. I have a few others, which I'll post when I can sort through them.
1) Yesterday, in Not Peace, but a Sword, New York Times columnist William Safire accuses The Passion of the Christ of brutality and anti-semitism, retailing arguments that have been well aired for months now. For example:
At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD? Is art served by presenting the ancient divisiveness in blood-streaming media to the widest audiences in the history of drama?
. . . The richness of Scripture is in its openness to interpretation answering humanity's current spiritual needs. That's where Gibson's medieval version of the suffering of Jesus, reveling in savagery to provoke outrage and cast blame, fails Christian and Jew today.
I think what Safire means is that Scripture is rich because it can be understood as one needs or wants to understand it. An Orthodox Jew and an orthodox Christian would say that Scripture is rich because it tells a true story in which we can find the meaning of all our own small stories. We are not at liberty to change the story, or suppress the story, because that is to waste the riches, like inheriting billions of dollars in cash and using it all to build a bonfire.
In the course of making this argument, Safire claims that the film shows Pontius Pilate as a sympathetic character. That strikes me as morally a little dim.
2) A regular reader, Deacon Michael Harmon, sends the link to his article on the subject from his local newspaper, Gibson's 'Passion' produces high praise and raises hackles
, part of which explains what Safire missed:
The film itself, while it portrays some Jews as seeking to silence Jesus (quite rationally, from their viewpoint), others defend him, including two members of the ruling council. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who ordered the Crucifixion, is portrayed as a typical worldly bureaucrat seeking to avoid confrontations for the sake of his career (or, in his case, his life). Of such banal realities are great tragedies made.
Gibson's film, which is to the best of my discernment faithful to Scripture, is in truth philo-Semitic, as it is pro-humanity in all our diverse cultures and societies. As Jesus says (and as Gibson quotes him in the film), "No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again."
. . . Still, the severity of the initial criticism reported in this paper and elsewhere made me wonder if those people had seen a different movie than I did. Then I realized that, yes, they had. Gibson's vision comes from within the Christian faith, and outside it, this is only a film about a man being tortured to death in a particularly vicious and bloody manner with no redeeming import.
3) Last Thursday in Unpassionate Greeks
, I quoted an attack on the movie by the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Chicago, and some Orthodox readers responded (scroll up from the first message to find the responses). In another response, an Orthodox reader writes:
Here are links to an Eastern Orthodox convert, who perfectly fits your description of a convert as one who "will use almost anything to make a debating point and throw down the weakest argument as if they were slapping a royal flush down on the poker table and raking in all the chips."
This particular convert is attacking TPOTC because it does little but create an emotional response in its viewers( www.doxos.com/comments.php?id=P979_0_1_0) and it is nothing more than media, no different than your local news, thrill rides, "Jason" slasher flicks, the X-Files, or the Vicar of Dilbey ( www.doxos.com/comments.php?id=P980_0_1_0).
4) Our contributing editor Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote for Books and Culture
an article titled The Meaning of His Suffering
, arguing that Orthodoxy has a deeper and better understanding of Jesus’ suffering than western Christianity, Protestant and Catholic.
5) On the other hand, a friend sent round a report from a talk by a bishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, who
was asked about the film in the Q&A session. He recommended it unreservedly (other than for children, whose parents should see it first, according to him) and stated that everyone probably ought to see it twice.
He also was asked if he felt that the film was too "Western," as in putting forth a "debt-paid" theology of the atonement. His reply was that if that was what Mel was trying to promote, he failed miserably, as the devil is present throughout the film, and in his mind, depicted a very Orthodox view of things, with Christ battling Satan at every turn.
Why he thinks the picture of Jesus battling the Devil at every turn is particularly or uniquely Orthodox, or that a picture of Jesus battling the Devil contradicts a "debt-paid" theology of the Atonement, I have no idea. But at least the bishop didn't make the sort of cheap debating point to which those of us who are Western Christians object.
6) In today’s Wall Street Journal
, Brendan Miniter argues in God’s Second Act
that (as the article is subtitled) “Mel Gibson brings him back to Tinsel Town.” The article begins:
Mel Gibson says his new movie, "The Passion of the Christ," is a story about love. For months critics have said otherwise — that it's gratuitously violent with anti-Semitic undertones, or that it risks sparking violence against Jews.
Now millions of Americans are judging for themselves. What they are figuring out is that the controversy surrounding this film says more about those who would have kept it off the silver screen than about the film itself. This is a powerful, important film that lays down a cultural marker at a time when the nation is facing its own struggle of overcoming evil without compromising its moral character. It's the right movie at the right time for America.
JESUS IN BEIJING:
Something I should have posted a while ago, when Fr. Robert Hart sent it to me: an informative review of David Aikman’s Jesus in Beijing, which looks like an interesting and informative book. I hope to have it reviewed in Touchstone (we want to do a lot more with evangelistic and missiological matters, by the way).
A friend sent a quote from the New York Times obituary of the historian Daniel Boorstin:
Dr. Boorstin broadened the concept, contending that the American experience was shaped by the efforts of a people to tame the continent.
This struggle, he believed, had led Americans to value practicality and pragmatism over theory and dogma, action over thought, and experience over tradition. He maintained that this outlook made American institutions resilient and versatile.
This is probably true as a generalization, but not necessarily reassuring. Reeds that bend in the wind are resilient, but so are tumbleweeds that roll wherever the wind blows them.
Ken Pierce, who sent yesterday’s quotes from Kierkegaard, sent a sort of p.s. this morning, which ended with an interesting observation:
because I have written you in the past about the power of words (Dorothy L. Sayers) and the changes in the meaning of words, I realized at Bible Study last Sunday evening that one phrase that apparently has not lost its meaning to even the general public is "the gospel truth." Not that they have researched it's origin. . . .
MARK OF THE BEAST IN ROME A “COINCIDENCE”
A story picked up by Associate Press notes that in Rome, Georgia, “The number 666, which many Christians recognize as the ‘mark of the beast,’ is appearing on movie tickets for Gibson's film at a local theater, drawing complaints from some moviegoers.”
Apparently, a ticket printing machine put the number 666 as a prefix on all the tickets--666 begins a series of numbers that are listed below the name of the film and the date.
Gary Smith, owner of the Movies at Berry Square in northwest Georgia, said, "It's from our computer and it's absolutely a coincidence." Some moviegoers requested replacement vouchers for their tickets.
Politics isn't our usual subject, but many of you may enjoy this disection by Mark Steyn of John Kerry's rhetoric: John Kerry is all tied up in nuances
from The Daily Telegraph. After describing the droning cliches that make Kerry almost unquotable (television news crews have had to coax him to say something quotable and give him several tries), Steyn writes:
the notion that Kerry is more verbally felicitous than Bush depends on one's appetite for sonorous senatorial blather. The Tory benches may have what Boris calls "a certain snobbish resistance to his syntax", but I love Bush-speak. "Misunderestimate" encapsulates brilliantly what his opponents keep doing.
Senator Joe Biden — a man so rhetorically insecure that he's the only presidential candidate ever to plagiarise Neil Kinnock — was bending Bush's ear about the need to take a more "nuanced" approach to Afghanistan, and Bush replied: "I don't do nuance." Beautiful, and pithy, and a lot funnier than anything in the Bush parodies.
The smart guys don't think it's funny. Richard Cohen wrote a column for the Washington Post, headlined "Bush's War against Nuance". If you've gone over to the forces of nuance, Kerry's your guy — or your nuancy boy. He's got nuances coming out of his nuances. As the New York Times put it in its endorsement of the Senator: "What his critics see as an inability to take strong, clear positions seems to us to reflect his appreciation that life is not simple. He understands the nuances."
I suppose I liked this in part because in my days as an Episcopal activist I found that those I dubbed "latitudinarian conservatives" and their friends the "moderates," both of whom didn't want to say anything very clearly, loved to claim that theirs was the "nuanced" view. When I happened to be with them — I must admit that I almost always found the liberals much better company, but sometimes one was stuck — I had great fun trying to get out of them an explanation of what were the nuances they saw and all those simple-minded traditionalists and liberals allegedly missed.
As you will have guessed, none of them ever — and I am honestly not exaggerating — proved to have in their thinking any nuances whatever. They offered no fine and subtle distinctions the rest of us failed to make. What they offered was a vagueness grown of dishonesty and cowardice. That was one reason I preferred the company of real liberals to theirs.
COMMANDMENTS AND BEER MATS:
Something enjoyable, in a weird sort of way: And the 11th Commandment is . . . thou shalt not resort to cheap gimmicks from The [London] Daily Telegraph, about a Methodist stunt to attract young people. It begins:
The Methodist Church is launching a nationwide competition to find the 11th Commandment in an effort to attract more young people.
The initiative, which is being publicised on 250,000 beer mats and postcards in bars and cinemas across Britain, has attracted criticism for its "ridiculous gimmickry" and its attempt "to rewrite the Bible". . . .
"We hope [says the Rev. Jonathan Kerry, the Methodist Church's co-ordinating secretary for worship and learning] that this can be a way of finding out some of the things that matter to them [people under forty]. We hope people will want to collect the drinks mats and postcards, discuss them with friends and use the quick and popular medium of text messaging to tell us their ideas."
The beer mats and postcards feature several light-hearted suggestions including "Do not disturb", "Eat more doughnuts" and "Never give out your password".
One particularly striking example depicts a naked man with trousers around his ankles accompanied by the slogan, "Remove all packaging".
DRESDEN'S BOMBING RECONSIDERED:
According to a surprising book review on the usually reliably leftist Salon.com, a new book on the Allied bombing of Dresden shows that much of the history many of us thought we knew is not true. In Dresden: Tuesday, Feb. 13, 1945, the English historian Frederick Taylor tries (according to the reviewer, Laura Miller) to explain what really happened. The historically-minded among you may be interested.
The most familiar version of the story, the one that appears in "Slaughterhouse Five," is that Dresden, the seventh largest city in Nazi Germany, was a lovely, cultured place of no military significance that had been left untouched by the air war before February 1945. The Allies' attack, two waves of Royal Air Force bombings on the night of Feb. 13 and a lesser raid by American planes the following day, was an unprecedented, unnecessary, vindictive assault made at a point when the war was essentially over and when the Allies knew that the city was full of refugees fleeing the advancing Russian front to the east.
The attack, according to this version, was a pure "terror bombing" designed to wreak maximum havoc and culminating in the aerial strafing of people fleeing the flames. Somewhere between 135,000 and a half-million people were killed.
According to Taylor, most of the above is simply untrue. Tapping municipal records that have only recently become accessible after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of East Germany (the nation that included postwar Dresden), he persuasively argues that the real death toll from the attack was somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 and that Dresden was far from innocent of war-related industry and activity.
After scrutinizing and comparing the records and history of British bombing campaigns against the Third Reich in the latter days of the war, he finds that "Dresden was a big raid, but no bigger than a considerable number of others at that time directed against the urban areas of Germany." He comes up with several stated and plausible reasons for the Allies to target the city besides the main motive attributed to them by their harshest critics: bloodthirsty revenge for the bombing of London during the Blitz and anti-German zeal. The strafing almost certainly never occurred.
I know little of the subject beyond the story I grew up with (the most familiar one, gathered from reading Slaughterhouse Five
in high school) and the evidence offered in this review. The story Taylor tells, if true, suggests how much that "everyone knows" is not true, which is always a useful reminder.
ABC BETRAYS JUDAS:
According to the latest issue of World magazine, ABC’s movie Judas is really bad. Among the lines:
Judas: You know, I have to tell you, I was very impressed with what you did at the Temple today.
Jesus::Well, don’t be. You know, I was trying to make a point and lost my temper. You can’t change a man’s heart by yelling at him, by humiliating him, by taking away his livelihood.
My religious beliefs aside, I have to ask: what sort of people would take a compelling and yet mysterious historical figure like Jesus and turn him into such a banality? What do they think they gain by making him less intelligent and insightful than many men we know? Why do they think this kind of thing — the aw shucks Jesus — more interesting, more dramatically
interesting, than the real story?
My guess is that the kind of people who produce such movies are, though very talented in certain areas, themselves banalities. Men who cannot recognize greatness and therefore, ironically enough, given their occupation, recognize great stories. At any rate, comparison with The Passion of the Christ
suggests their serious dramatic mistake.
THE PASSION, THE JEWS, AND THE REST OF US SINNERS:
A friend put me on to a helpful short article on The Passion of the Christ from The Ottawa Citizen, titled The Passion by David Warren. Warren ably defends the movie’s story, which is to say the Gospel story, against the inevitable charges of anti-semitism.
The article includes this paragraph, which I enjoyed, though probably for the wrong reasons:
In a statement whose layered modernist irony, and calculated political incorrectitude may be lost on some readers, W.H. Auden once challenged the view that "the Jews killed Christ". That was a stupidly bigoted idea, he explained. "The Jews did not kill Christ. It was the Romans; or, to bring it up to date, the French.
Available at the same site are other of Warren’s articles, including the sensible Women and minorities
about the rise of Islam in Iraq.
The same friend sent another link from the satirical site Scrappleface: Churches Buy All 'Passion' Tickets, 'Pagans can Wait'
KIERKEGAARD ON THE PRESS:
A reader, Ken Pierce, wrote with several useful quotes from Soren Kierkegaard:
Don't forget Kierkegaard's opinion about the news:
Indeed, if the press were to hang a sign out like every other trade, it would have to read: Here men are demoralized in the shortest possible time on the largest possible scale for the smallest possible price.
On the whole the evil in the daily press consists in its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is. But all moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary.
If Christianity is really to be proclaimed, it will become apparent that it is the daily press which will, if possible, make it impossible. There has never been a power so diametrically opposed to Christianity as the daily press. Day in and day out the daily press does nothing but delude men with the supreme axiom of this lie, that numbers are decisive. Christianity, on the other hand, is based on the thought that the truth lies in the single individual.
If someone adopts the opinion of the public today and tomorrow is hissed and booed, he is hissed and booed by the public. A nation, an assembly, a human being can change in such a way that they are seen to be no longer the same; but the public can become the very opposite and is still the same, the public.
and much more of intense interest from the mid 1800s. The radio and TV can be inserted for the press also. In fact Kierkegaard also said:
Suppose someone invented an instrument, a convenient little talking tube which,say, could be heard over the whole land. . . . I wonder if the police would not forbid it, fearing that the whole country would become mentally deranged if it were used.
(quoted by Malcolm Muggeridge in The Third Testament, pages 81,82.)
WESTMINSTER CONFESSION ANEW:
Of interest to some of you, a conference on The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, being held at the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh. The ad I saw for the conference gave email@example.com as the address for information.
OF AGED DONS AND INFANT TELEVISION:
Two interesting things I picked up in a book called The First Cuckoo: More Classic Letters to The Times, 1900-1975 (Akadine Press, 1997).
First, Dr. Martin Routh, president of Magdalen College in Oxford (C. S. Lewis' college) from 1791 to 1854 "could see no reason for the installation of baths in the college since the young men were up [at the college] for only eight weeks at a stretch." The railway to Oxford was built in his 89th year and he refused to believe students who told him that they'd got from London to Oxford in two hours, calling them "conspirators bent on making him take leave of his senses."
Second, an excerpt from a letter written by T. S. Eliot in 1950, responding to a government proposal to spend a lot of money developing television. He had just returned from America,
where television . . . has become a habitual entertainment in many more households than here. Among persons of my own acquaintance I found only anxiety and apprehension about the social effects of this pastime, and especially about its effect (mentally, morally, and physically) upon small children. . . . The fears expressed by my American friends were not sch as could be allayed by the provision of only superior and harmless programmes: they were concerned with the television habit, whatever the programme might be.
THE PASSIONATE CRANKS:
A friend sent a link to Gibson's Passion forced to find sanctuary from The Scotsman on Sunday. (The Passion is not being released there till March 26t.) It's a bit grumpy but right (there are people who make one grumpy and to whom grumpiness is a rational response), saying in the middle of the article:
Bishop Joseph Devine, bishop of Motherwell, is one of the few in Britain to have seen the film and has described it as "stunningly successful . . . a profoundly religious film."
Yet, today, the Easter People, the dancers in sanctuaries, those who claim They Are Church and all the assorted Lollards and Fifth Monarchy Men who have converted Catholicism into a crankfest regard the Passion with as much alienation as any atheist.
Religion should be nice. It should have no doctrines, since that would create division. There are no moral absolutes, no objective truths. In an ideal world, you should not be able to put a cigarette-paper between a Catholic and a Buddhist. Since we are all going to Heaven, regardless of our conduct on earth, what is the point of all this violence on Calvary? Of course, we need some ritual and collective spirituality: so, let’s go and hang some cuddly toys on the railings of Kensington Palace. What we need is a one-size-fits-all, syncretic religion, centred on the United Nations; an ethical code that does not restrict us from the perpetual gratification of all appetites.
You will find little dissent from those propositions among the smirking, blue-rinse nuns of the post-Conciliar Church, or their ecumaniac male counterparts. To them, the crack of the centurion’s whip and the thud of the hammer on nails are distant, alien sounds — a disturbing echo of Holy Week long ago, of Gregorian plainsong, of ferias in Seville. In a word — ecumenically unhelpful; best washed away by a few more cups of tea at Scottish Churches House.
TAKE THE CHILDREN?:
The Catholic priest quoted in the following blog wrote a follow-up message, which included some good advice to parents:
Another frequent response [to his message] was, "What then do you think about children seeing the movie?" Parents, be very cautious. If you can't see it ahead of time to make judgments, don't take your teenagers unless you are confident that the emotional distress won't trigger crude defense mechanisms such as scorn, anger, or depressive guilt. Even some adults coming out of the movie have not been able to transcend these reactions, so we can't presume that children will be able to do so.
Having gotten the same question after church yesterday from a man who asked if he should take his sensitive ten-year-old son (I said no), I think this is good advice. I took our fifteen-year-old, but I won't take our ten-year-old.
FOUR TAKES ON THE PASSION:
Here are four of the many messages about The Passion I've gotten. More will be coming in due course. First, from an Episcopal priest I know, who wrote that the move "restores to us the ancient knowledge of sacrifice":
We have forgotten in the twenty-first century a knowledge that the children of antiquity knew in the depths of their being. Sacrifice is killing. Sacrifice is the shedding of blood. Sacrifice always involves a victim.
Mel Gibson has reintroduced us to the realities of sacrifice and the costs that God Incarnate endured on our behalf, on my behalf; for our sake, for my sake. Suddenly the words of the prophet take on for me a new vividness: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed."
When I got home I had to go into the basement to find a 1978 article by Fr Aidan Kavanaugh. In it Kavanaugh discusses the Eucharist and compares the knowledge of the dining room with the knowledge of sacrifice:
"However elegant the knowledge of the dining room may be, it begins in the soil, in the barnyard, and in the slaughterhouse—amidst strangled cries, congealing blood, and spitting fat in the pan. Table manners depend upon something’s having been grabbed the the throat. A knowledge ignorant of these dark and murderous ‘gestures charged with soul’ is sterile rather than elegant, science rather than wisdom, artifice rather than art. It is love without passion, the Church without a cross, a house with a dining room but no kitchen, a feast of frozen dinners, a heartless life. The pious (religious and secular) would have us dine on abstractions; but we are, in fact, carnivores — a bloody bunch. Sacrifice may have many facets, but it always has a victim."
Second, a regular reader wrote that the movie "renewed and invigorated my faith" and recommended
an article that discusses some of its artistic qualities, found at www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0403/opinion/hittingerlev.html. The article also highlights some very interesting things about the portrayal of Mary in the movie. And, based on the movies that I have seen, I also agree with the authors' statement that "The Passion . . . [is] the best movie ever made about Jesus Christ."
Third, a Catholic priest I know wrote:
Gibson's The Passion of the Christ expresses the Gospels' passion narratives with exquisite cinematography, credible and engrossing drama, and thought-provoking visual symbolism. Yes, I cringed at the blood and torture, and hesitated at Gibson's digressions into distressing tangentials such as the torments of Judas or the bad thief, but the film's high art more than compensates for any burden on the viewer. Gibson makes a worthy disciple of Caravaggio, Gruenewald, and van Honthorst.
Theologically, I find no cause for recrimination. Gibson's demons and other artistic licenses appear to be in full accord with religious sense of the passion narratives. Certain isolated scenes might be exploited to support the charge of anti-Semitism, but the film as a whole affirms that Jesus, Mary, Simon of Cyrene, and all the sympathetic characters (excepting Pilate's wife) are Jews. More to the point, Gibson's Passion faithfully renders the Jesus of the Gospels — not a therapist, nor an activist, nor a televangelist, but a priest, the Priest, who sacrifices himself for the health and life of the world.
And finally, another reader writes:
Here is a link to a commentary on the movie from a fairly traditional Reformed perspective. Perhaps another perspective for the readers of Mere Comments: www.pres-outlook.com/passion022604.html.
I saw the movie Saturday night with our fifteen-year-old and will write on it soon.
Tony Dunlop responds to yesterday's Passionate Merchandise:
You raise a very good question; why does the selling of merchandise related to "The Passion of the Christ" bother me? Obviously I don't have a problem with religious merchandise per se; just the other day I bought a very nice icon of Christ, and I'm glad I didn't have to make one myself, as I haven't got the time or the skills. The smaller reason, I suppose, has to do with the nature of the items.
The website did not include the photo that was in the paper, which showed a coffee mug, and what appeared to be a mousepad, with the film's logo emblazoned on them. They looked rather kitschy -- but as you say, maybe that's just the snob in me.
My more serious objections, I guess, are twofold. First, the impression given to the secular world; for surely non-Christians will have their impressions of our faith influenced by the film and any cultural fallout. A merchandising campaign may help the secular - minded to regard the film as "just another Hollywood blockbuster" and Mr. Gibson's motivations as primarily monetary. Never mind that the film could have tanked — it didn't, and that's what people have to work with. Anything that allows people to dismiss the film as "just another" will diminish its impact.
Second is the impact on Christians themselves. Buying "Christian" paraphernalia is a way people can, with the best of intentions, get distracted from the hard work of repentance and discipleship. (It's not the only way — I think getting wrapped up in "social justice" movements can be equally distracting, for example.) Wearing a reminder that we strike a blow to the nail in the cross each time we sin is not a problem. But it seems plausible that focusing on the stuff we can buy to remind us of a film we found meaningful could lead our focus away from the meaning itself.
As for "money changing in the Temple," to me that's a larger issue than just one film. I still can't comfortably set foot in one of those "Christian Superstores." And I don't think it's just the overwhelmingly bad taste of the decorations.
I didn't know about the coffee mugs and mousepads with the company's logo, which seems to me not tacky so much as weird: I understand man's instinct for surrounding himself with pictures of the things he cares about, but what is the point of having with you a picture representing a company?
I thought Mr. Dunlop's second point particularly compelling. Many people I knowwho love books, including me, tend to accumulate them in great numbers, partly because we equate, in a cloudy sort of way, the buying of them with the reading of them. That we've got Jones' major work on Plato or Smith's magnum opus on Aristotle, and paid good money for them too, lets us feel almost as if we'd actually read Jones and Smith. So, I'm sure, with buying icons and pictures and pendants with nails.