PART 3 of 4
Blood Atonement

The emphasis of the Christianity of the first millennium is on anastasis — resurrection, or literally, not staying put: an iconography of movement, of doing, of change of self and world, of transforming through hope and love. The dome mosaics of the Byzantine churches show not (or not only) huge crosses, but the Harrowing of Hell, in which Christ breaks down the gates of Hades and leads out Adam, Eve, and a host of Biblical characters like David and Abraham. The image is one of strong motion, violent activity, overthrowing, trampling of chains and shackles, symbolism of liberation everywhere. Often this goes with imagery of Revelations, the deisis or the Last Judgment, the same theme that Michelangelo paints in the Sistine Chapel, Christ as King and Judge of the Dead (evocations, yes, of Osiris here, pax Justin!) but also Prophet and Teacher of Wisdom, looking out alertly, poised to speak, holding a book to symbolize The Word Made Flesh. No passivity, no pain, no static figure of a dead Jesus as the most important part of our religion.

It's there, but it isn't the most important part. It's only part of the story. The sacrificial element of Christian theology has come, however, in the second half of the second millennium of Christianity, to predominate. In particular, the version of it which interprets it not as a complex Mystery, but as a simple atonement. Yes, the idea of it was always there — "to pay the debt we owed for sin/Your painful cross was named the price/From Mary's virgin shrine you came/A spotless host for sacrifice" the old hymn goes; but again, it was not the overwhelming, oversimplified bludgeon of a doctrine that those who endorse it — like Mel Gibson, or Lahaye and Jenkins — have made of it.

The problem is that they see it as tit-for-tat. We were bad, (Original Sin), so somebody needed to pay, in the payback sense, and yet there is no way that any human being can suffer enough to pay back what they "deserve" of pain and suffering to the God of Justice. So God had to take on that debt, like a bank writing off a bad loan, and this took the form of the Crucifixion. This is the widely-accepted version of the Atonement doctrine.

Now, think of children in burn wards, or whatever wretched inexplicable human horror you are personally aware of, and ask yourself if this makes any sense. (If you have to say, "It's all a mystery but I trust that it will make sense some day, because I feel Jesus in my heart and the Bible tells me so," well, I'm sorry, but that isn't going to convince anyone. Your subjective feelings and willingness to shut down your intellect are not transferable like the 'flu.) To try to claim that a day-old baby dying of a congenital disease and Pol Pot are both equally hideous, disgusting, and stained in the sight of God (and yes, I've read plenty of Christians making this claim, and way more of it this past few weeks than I would ever want to, it's not a slander, go read Christian websites and blogs and posts out there, if you don't believe me) in order to justify the necessity of suffering, the deservedness of Divine punishment, is irrational and insane. What kind of warped mind sees Jeff Dahmer and his victims as identical in guilt? The mind of God, as interpreted by uncritical Christians, for one.

If one accepts this, there is really no consistent destination but despair.33

There is another understanding of Original Sin, which is that it is a common weakness that all sentients, and quite possibly all life forms, share (thank you, Diane Duane!) which is the reason why we find it so much easier to be cruel than kind, so much more enjoyable, and why we are so willing to find every excuse for not living up to our own principles. Like a hereditary disease contracted by our ancestors at the dawn of time, this is not something which is our individual faults, but something we all need help with. The Fall (or Falls) in this interpretation is the giving in to temptation to do wrong for a good cause (say break faith with a friend and benefactor in the interests of some potentially-helpful acquisition, and trusting the advice of the person who tells you what you want to hear) because evil is not an end in itself, but always at least on the surface directed towards a good end.

The hopeful part of this is that it denies outright that this is the way we are supposed to be, without denying that we are this way, violent and petty and scared. A congenital disease that makes it hard to think clearly, hard to control impulses, and hard to find motivation is vastly different from a natural state of inherent corruption.

Diseases can be cured, or the symptoms controlled. Ontological defectiveness can't.

So…why is the Crucifixion the necessary cure?

Hey, I didn't say it made logical sense, only that as a paradigm, it's a heck of a lot better than the standard line of explanation, which just gets worse and worse the more you think about it. (But you're not supposed to think about it, that way lies madness, just like for Kierkegaard, you're just supposed to emote, to weep and flagellate yourself. (But only in a wussy way — even the cilice and "discipline" of Opus Dei (see sidebar article Christian Masochism for details) pale against the passion reenactment of those who mourn for their martyred saint Hussain.34 Another reason why I'm not impressed by all those who trumpet that The Passion is for Real Manly Christianity, not that namby pamby version for girly-men, the Hallmark Card religion etc — let's see Gibson & co covered in blood that isn't fake, let's see them picking up real swords and using them on themselves to express their continued solidarity in suffering for a holy leader… Like that's going to happen.)

The alternate version — and you must realize that the doctrine of Atonement isn't there as such in the Gospels, Jesus doesn't explain why He's got to be crucified, ever, it's a relatively late-medieval invention as well, formulated with much more nuance by Anselm of Canterbury at a time when the argument over whether the Trinity meant polytheism was causing a lot of controversy, and people were reading secular science books and starting to ask a lot of messy questions about why Christians believed what we believed, and what did we believe anyway, exactly — this alternate version of Fall and Redemption imply a much different relationship between God and Creation than the guilt/punishment schema. It is also true that there is an implicit heresy in Gibson's version, which emphasizes the separateness of "God" and "Jesus" as being indeed opposed to each other, a sort of demi-Arianism, paying lip-service to Christ's divinity but not letting it make any difference in the story.

The Trinity is a capital-M Mystery, because although theologians have tried to explain it, they can't. Read any classic theological work on the subject, and you start thinking that the Unitarians have a point, because the more explanation the less convincing it sounds. It's best left to be something intuitive rather than trying to nail it down into logical boxes, that there are different aspects of the Divine, that work in different ways, and one of those ways is entering into the created world under its material terms and limitations. On a mythic level, not regarded legalistically, it works in a lot of ways, it "makes sense" in an intermediate realm that is not merely emotional affect but is not a scientific proof either, in a more fluid interpersonal interaction sort of way.

God suffers, taking on human nature, to heal the world in mysterious ways. My personal understanding of it all is somewhat idiosyncratic, heavily influenced by the Oxford Movement, and primarily by Tolkien's mythological musings, and probably would count as Sabellism, or Patripassionism — the idea that it is "The Father" who suffers in the form of "The Son" and speaks as "The Spirit" — and yes, this is a heresy, but I really don't get why. (And yes, I've read Augustine and Tertullian on The Trinity, and studied them somewhat intensively in class, and it was those learned doctors of the Church not being able to make any sense of what I'd always accepted from Baltimore Catechism days unquestioningly "Three Persons In One God" but not Three Gods, that left me shaken and doubting — this is the best we can muster in defense of our belief?) It seems like the most coherent explanation of how "three Persons, one God" actually might work. And if the alternative is "don't worry your pretty little head about it, just believe and toss in your tithe every Sunday" — well, I'll be a heretic like all the other Neo-Traditionalists with their magical thinking and superstitions and weird schismatic beliefs, only I'll be open about it.

I have however come to an understanding of the Cross (not entirely on my own) which does satisfy me both intellectually and poetically, without pretending to any sort of absolute compelling intellectual necessity, and which hinges upon the "true man" aspects of the Dual Nature from a very ancient, classical world perspective. A God who is not remote upon the heights of Olympos, nor enthroned above the Kherubim, looking down upon us all in lofty judgment — but who has served in the trenches beside us, suffered all the indignities of bowel movements and stubbed toes sneezes and catching His sleeve on the corner of the end table and ripping it, even aside from the business of death and pain — all the tiresome silliness that makes the human condition a laughingstock — and really knows what it is to be human, good, bad and bizarrely stupid — there's a God a woman can respect.

A God who walks the walk, does His time, and suffers it all to help His fellow men, using His divine powers to help, not to dominate or profit — there's a reason why Hercules was always a more popular and beloved deity than his father Zeus the Thunderer. Instead of fleeing from that Myth in horror, ancient Christian writers should have embraced it, the way that Justin Martyr ecumenically understood the similarities between Christianity and Stoicism as pluses, not blasphemies, or the ancient Christian artist who painted Jesus as Apollo in the Sun-Chariot with a Trinitarian halo…Equally, in a way, the death of Jesus can be seen as part of the answer to Job's justified furious Why? the raging demand for justice which God praises as the only right-speaking, when all the conventional pieties are wrong. How long, O Lord, (Holy and true) how long—?!? The Crucifixion must be understood in light of the Sermon on the Mount, when did we see you hungry and naked and in prison, and refuse to show you mercy, Lord? —When you failed to see Me, to see and honor the Divine in those you regard as worthless and subhuman.

Unfortunately none of this comes through in the mawkish Gibson-Emmerich interpretation of the Passion. It is, as I said at the outset, solely and uninformatively, the Passion: that is, it is about suffering, and nothing else, suffering stripped of content as of context. I think that a film which does convey some of the richness of the theology of the Messianic vision, and the conflicted, vibrant, all-too-modern culture which surrounds the Gospels, and gives them their context, could be made. I would love to see it in fact, and I do think there are a number of films which come far closer to achieving the transcendence of the Gospels meanings even without any explicit Christian "message" — but this is nothing like it. The isolation and exaltation of physical destruction pure and simple, is wielded as a bludgeon to create an "argument" of the crudest, and therefore least useful, sort: an enthymeme in which all other premises are suppressed and the validity of the key one unexamined, to create the appearance of logic only: look how He suffered for you, how can you not Believe and Obey? But the questions of Why, and What? are still there, and will not go away for all the tears that fall like grain upon the shallow sand of the pathway to sprout quickly, and as quickly wither, lacking deep roots or the necessary follow-through of rain.

The point after all isn't that He is dead but that, as the Byzantine liturgy affirms, "He is risen!" The late Catholic/late Evangelical emphasis on death is, to be blunt, morbid. (And moribund, too, the faith of the fearful, hoping for the world's end, hoping to "skip death" and avoid the rush in Rapture.) The older one was a spirituality of nobility, all humanity ennobled to divinity in the person of the God-Man, material creation affirmed in its goodness, life affirmed by those who lived (in an age without antibiotics, disinfectants, or guaranteed food) always aware of its corruption and desolation. The overwhelming symbol of Christianity, revealed by the hundreds of oil lamps cemented into the tomb niches of the catacombs, which I have touched, was fire — the fire of the Sun at midwinter, the Paschal flame at spring, the Eternal Flame in the heart of the temple, the single flames of individuals praying and remembering — living fire.
And this new one? Darkness, shadow and the Triumph of Death, throughout. The Resurrection is fast-forwarded, a brief, weirdly-sensual flash of a glowing, apparently nude Jesus sitting up from a mummy-like shroud that collapses in on itself as if its inhabitant has teleported right out, instead of the cloths separate and folded as described in the Gospels, focusing on Caviezel's smooth thighs for a relatively long time, in order to show the SFX of the pierced palms with see-through holes. That's it. No context of despairing friends and relatives and a movement about to collapse as disillusioned believers try to figure out what to do next. Nothing. 

A wordless Gospel, I say — and a meaningless.

Examples of some Resurrection images in the Byzantine style:

Hagia Sophia Anastasis

contemporary Greek ikons

mosaic Deisis

mosaic narrative sequence

 There is no message, beyond suffering, in the film; no one will depart with a deeper theological understanding of Christianity for it, nor any inspiration to seek deeper into its mysteries, because of it. Those who go in will get out of it only what they bring with them. And reading the witness of its fans, I am not impressed by that, either.


If you have gathered from my dismissal of the faith engendered by G's P as that which requires a sadomasochistic Deity for its center, that I take a dim view of ordinary secular BDSM, you would be correct.
Not because of some unconsidered emotional reaction, because it is squicky — a moral foundation of what should be rejected or accepted based on squickiness would result in the eventual extinction of the human race, since both necessary surgery and childbirth would be out. (Along with the basics of food preparation.) 
Christian Masochism

Rather, because it does not seem to me — operative words, note them well — to be possibly consonant with an ethic based on respect for fellow sentients. My stance w/re to sexuality is essentially largely Kantian — I credit Kant with giving me an honorable option to Otto Weininger's35 Manicheanism and logical madness, which is what the Male:Superior/Woman:Inferior sexuality of world culture — secular, religious, Eastern, Western, Northern or Southern — accepts almost without question. My soul revolted from an early age, but there seemed no alternate model. Yet I refused to accept that it was Nature (capital intended) that there be a superior and a subordinate in any relationship, and that the subordinate was Meant to be the female.

Because, doncha know, women are underneath in the act of copulation (at least in the only Church-approved36 variant) and that's inferior, literally,37 and men do the acting, women just lie there and accept it passively, so that's inferior, and women are smaller and weaker or should be, so men are clearly supposed to be dominant, and besides it represents the relationship of the stronger, wiser, active Deity fertilizing the passive, dependent Material realm (which sounds like Gnosticism or ancient paganism to me, even when CS Lewis invokes it in defense of marital BDSM38 or Leon Podles39 in defense of radical masculinism) and it also applies to any man who "plays the woman's part" without question.

And this is, to me, as repellent in same-sex relationships as it is in heterosexual. Yet it is the model that most fanwriters seem to accept, again, unquestioningly (i.e. seme/uke) — not seeing an alternate way, even when objecting to it in some fashion: they cannot break free of the worldview that incorporates inequity. Which is very strange, because that which most appeals to so many of us, historically, in genre fiction is the ideal of an equal friendship between very different individuals, even when there is some overt difference of power, physical or in terms of legal authority, regardless of whether we simply enjoy the aspects of community and friendship that buddy films and the interactions of partners and teams in TV series rely on, or whether we go on to extrapolate a romantic interaction between the characters. Much of the ideological rationale for slash, indeed, was the ability and ready-made opportunity to depict sexual and romantic relationships between equals, free of the baggage that heterosexual ones historically have held, with the female always being dependent, the weaker partner.

And yet so many fanficcers must impose their dysfunctional modes of male/female relationships, their acceptance that this is the way it must be, on such pairings! Where are all the slash stories that depict matches of equals, of friends, functional relationships taking place "when two brave men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth" (or galaxy) — or women, for that matter? Ans: most of them are being written by a small cadre of authors over at LTLJ40  and rare few elsewhere, that I can find. It's angstfic city out there, in all fandoms, with countless rehashings of the Soap Opera tropes of stupid misunderstandings, whiny passive "feminine" partners doing stupid things that need them to be rescued by the heroic dominant "masculine" partner, and lots and lots of torture and rape, which last itself is understood, frequently, to be a necessary component of a loving relationship. And I don't see any improvement on this in the acknowledged BDSM stories, than those which coyly euphemize it as, say, "slash without consent."

The problems with BDSM for me in short are the same problems I have with "normal" sex writ large. I don't find it "threatening" — I tend to find its depictions, fictional or real, laughable and pathetic, like most haunted houses, or small town parades, or liturgical rituals, not grand and daunting and filled with dark chthonic mysteries. It doesn't work for outsiders, at least not for this one who has no tabu horror of things that scare mundanes. I do, however, find the ethos of it highly offensive, because it hinges on a systematic disrespect and an idealization of the degradation of another sentient, which even voluntarily and in a ritualized context, does not strike me as in any way a good thing, for anyone involved.

Moreover, my personal experience with the handful of individuals I have actually encountered in RL who have pretty certainly been, by their own admission (and not, that is, teenagers who fancy themselves "daring" by giggling about handcuffs) into BDSM has not been encouraging. To put it mildly, all of them had serious boundary and self-esteem issues as well as problems interacting with others in a respectful fashion; all of them were seriously disturbing people to work around, before any unwanted information about matters that are not the business of virtual strangers was forced upon their listeners willy nilly. (And this is just as true of "normal heterosexuals" who want to aggressively tell random coworkers about their rug burns etc. Guess what, we don't want or need to know about your private affairs.) The recent court case in this area involving some amateur practitioners, an accidental death, and a deliberate dismemberment/disposal, did not do much to improve my opinions of the supposedly safe/sane/consensual scene. But this is not a meaningful statistical sample, and I do not pretend it is.

At any rate, I do not feel that there is something necessarily sacred or off-limits about BDSM, that it should be tabu to criticize it or discuss it objectively, any more than "normal" sex. It seems to me to be more of a symptom than a cause — that is, there may well be happy, well-adjusted individuals with high self-esteem (not aggressive arrogance) without damaged psychological backgrounds who simply have a fun time playing slavemaster and slave, without it reflecting or affecting anything of inward conflicts and interpersonal relations outside that compartment. Given that even RPGing isn't that simple and separate, I doubt highly that sexual LARPing can be, but I could be wrong. But given that we come of a species which particularly in the Christian West has identified pain and suffering with spiritual nobility or as our just deserts, both sent by a loving divine parent, and which culturally uses "I only hurt you because I love you" as a justification for physical abuse and psychic domination by lazy and selfish parents — it's a wonder to me that BDSM isn't openly the norm for "normal" sex, that everyone doesn't think they ought to be beaten and restrained and mocked in a relationship.

But I can't see that it is, of itself, a good thing, or necessarily any more to be respected than the activities of those who get off on binge drinking, driving too fast, and drunken snowmobiling, which combines the best of both worlds; but, despite that, as long as no one kills or maims anyone else — it's still problematic recreation, imo, but I don't see that so long as it involves adults capable of meaningful consent and no one is involuntarily injured that it should be made a matter for legal censure, any more than other risky and often painful recreations like rock climbing or skiing. And the meaningful adult consent and injury criteria is equally applicable to all sexual encounters, regardless of the social acceptability or "normality" of the situation. I await evidence that would convince me to regard BDSM in a more positive light, as I have been convinced to regard (voluntary!) human sacrifice of the altars-and-knives sort in a less negative way, but it hasn't turned up yet.

—I do, however, have strong objections to sublimated BDSM being substituted for theology in my religion. But that is due as much to the deception involved, the antithesis of clarity of thought, the paradoxical dishonesty of homophobes and virginity freaks putting a quintessentially-erotic set of tropes in place of other tropes while denying any eroticism, and what is done with the resulting mish-mash of religious fanart for "teaching" purposes and mind control, as to my skepticism regarding the ethics of BDSM per se. Those articles I have read intellectually articulating principles of BDSM, while they haven't converted to an approbation of it, have served to help me articulate what is wrong with the flagellating pietism of Counter-Reformation Catholicism and the "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" degradation of humanity of Calvinist Protestantism.
And it is really, really funny when you take into account that all this Christian BDSM comes from people with obsessive fixations on female virginity (and female blood), male chastity as freedom from control by the bodies of women, and an even greater fixation with and dread of homosexuality…

But that's another rant's worth of stuff, all on its own, I think.

St. Mel, Patron of Flakes



[Note: I am using the words "anti-Semitic" in the conventional sense, for simplicity's sake — but although I am aware (far more so than many, knowing more about Middle-Eastern culture than most) that Semitic and Jewish are by no means identical, I do not think the expression is as far off as some have averred. The history of the "biological" anti-Semitism of the Nazis and the "religious" anti-Jewish attitudes of Christianity are very tightly bound together; both have political aspects and underpinnings in socio-economic rivalries, the racial anti-Semitism undeniably41 grew out of a centuries-long religious/social unscientific tradition; and in any case, the religious anti-Judaicism had from the outset a racial character. Jews in medieval Europe who converted to Christianity were never treated as equals with those whose ancestors had converted from paganism; they were always considered outsiders and of dubious social status, which could be revoked if the society and its leaders wished to scapegoat a minority with impunity. If it had truly been merely a religious matter, ethnic Jews who were religious Christians would not have been compelled to take identifying names (Mandelbaum, Morgenstern) and been subject to particular surveillance and at special risk of legalized injustice, as were the Conversados. And the religious justification always came back to the charge of deicide, and the particular, externalizing interpretation of the lines "His blood be on us and upon our children." And since the Cananite and Arab populations of the Province of Judea are omitted from the film, and the ignoring of a group's very existence is itself as much a manifestation of bias as vilifying, anti-Semitic in its literal, ethnic sense is true of Gibson's movie any way you look at it.]

This is a complicated issue, as are most. It's particularly messy for me, due to the fact that but for small chances in history, I had been born in a kibbutz. I am not ethnically Jewish, however (I said it was complicated) and my mother did not afaik actually ever convert to Judaism before becoming Roman Catholic, so what I have is a trace legacy that I have never known what to do with, comprising a Siddur, a handful of Hebrew words and even less letters (I can recognize aleph, shin, lamed, and yod reliably and a few others most of the time), a passion for the artwork of Ben Shahn and Marc Chagall, and an obscure sense of confused moral obligation as to whether or not I should keep kosher (I don't) and have a menorah along with an Advent wreath — and a very idiosyncratic intellectual/emotional relationship to both Judaism and Christianity which doesn't seem to be in common with anyone else. (Though my recent discovery of Tikkun gives me some encouragement.).

Do I have any right to speak on matters concerning Judaism, Jewish-Christian relations, Israel, in my ignorance and lack of personal involvement? Do I have any right not to, due to my slightly-better-informed and weirdly personally-involved state? Only recently have I been able to come to any grips with this, something much more difficult and confusing than my de-facto-but-not-de-jure bastardy, because it is something I am both proud of and doubtful of any right to such pride, unlike the other which is merely something which I am indifferent to despite being supposed to be ashamed of, which is also confusing but involves no sense of moral obligation. I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to do, but acknowledging that I am also a bastard daughter of the Torah and thus perhaps have some rights and duties beyond those common to all humans, in this regard, is a small progress.

Obviously, though, my relationship towards Judaism is not like that of most Christians, particularly those of various Traditionalist sects. There are plusses and minuses to this, all relevant to this Passion business. The pluses are that I self-identify on a very basic, unintellectual level as Jewish, my knowledge of and emotional outrage at the Holocaust does not stop and start at Auschwitz and with the Catholic religious figures of Bl. Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe, and with a greater historical awareness of the Graeco-Roman world in which the Judea of the Gospels existed than a lot of people supposedly better educated in matters of theology than myself. The minus is, that specifically-Christian anti-Semitism is as opaque to me — as incomprehensible, and as almost unbelievable, (and a late discovery, in fact) — as the racism that made miscegenation a crime in this country, when it says in the Christian Scriptures that every people and nation and race will be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Part of this is, of course, the legacy of Vatican II, and part of it is personal, from having the Gospels and New Testament explained to me as a child by someone who had self-identified as spiritually and politically Jewish despite being Anglo-European American agnostic by ethnic and religious heritage — with a strong dollop of principled old-fashioned Liberal Quaker Christian ideallism — the sort of idealism that took dangerous risks back when the Fugitive Slave Act was still enforced.

Where what part of my persona comes from is anybody's guess — how much (or little) from education, from an academic upbringing, from being next-gen Convert RC, from being next-gen milbrat, lived in more countries than some of my neighbors have visited nearby states before I was in school, from being descended from a minister who ran a station on the Underground Railroad and that legacy of bone-stubborn ideallism and willingness to challenge the Establishment — rebel with too many causes, that's me, with the shackles of a background of critical thought that made it impossible for me to ever sign on with any movement, because even as a teenager I was questioning whether an approach did more harm than good and what if the leaders were wrong or false, which makes it hard to Join The Revolution and likely to be purged if one does.

(Bozhemoi, but I hate talking about myself in public like this. I really wish someone else had dealt with Gibson thoroughly, so I wouldn't have to.)

Why am I going into this background? Because it is important that readers understand, before they dismiss, that I am not, cannot, be part of the typical stereotyping breakdown of responses. I am not ethnically nor religiously nor culturally Jewish, I was not raised practicing any form of Judaism, I am, I suppose, something like one of those Magna Graeca pagan settlers in Alexander' legacy who was interested enough in Judaism to participate and become a proselyte, mentioned in both the NT and other ancient sources. But no more, so to say that convictions that this film is anti-Semitic only come from the hypersensitivity of paranoid Jews, and that no true Christian could see any shadow of anti-Semitism in it, does not hold up.

I am definitely not going to be one of those who say "Why, I even have Jewish friends, and I didn't feel it was anti-Semitic at all, so obviously it can't be!" I don't "have Jewish friends," like the people who don't get the Civil Rights movement saying "some of my best friends are black," I had a Jewish supervisor once, and I went to school with some Jewish classmates and one of the lecturers in a course I had was Jewish, and their religion only came up incidentally, and anyone else of my acquaintance who may be Jewish, it hasn't come up yet either.

I was raised, in fact, to be hypersensitive in regard to anti-Catholicism specifically and anti-Christian attitudes generally, by people who have argued that Ladyhawke is anti-Catholic propaganda because it contains a bad bishop and a whiskey priest, or who argue that Disney's Hercules is an attack on Jesus by portraying a "son of god" who saves people. Any and all criticism of religion, of the Church, were bigotry and signs of bigotry — even when they were true. (I know, I know.) But the fact that those who I know espouse this attitude — Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for one, any number of Christian bloggers for a zillion more — cannot see that the depiction of all those Jews who are not appropriated as Christian saints as stereotypically villainous, is itself a sign of bias, shows a surreal level of subjectivity and blindness on the part of these Christians.

How if the cardinals at the trial of Galileo were depicted as Caiaphas and his followers? What howls of anti-Catholicism we would hear concerning such a film! How if a mob of Christian zealots were shown stoning the pagan female professor Hypatia with only a handful of individuals ineffectively protesting, while Christian clergy incited the Alexandrian secular authorities to stand aside and not intervene to protect their victim,42 if the Puritans' treatment of the Indians in King Phillip's War were shown in far more oppressive detail than ever before, together with the use of demonizing Scripture quotes as justification for atrocity? But those are historical incidents, far better documented than the Gospel events: surely there could be no bias whatsoever in representing them, or in how the events were shown, could there? If every sneer, and some invented ones, were placed in the mouths of Cardinals Barberini and Baronius, if every gouge, every splintered bone and bruise in the corpse of the murdered academic were catalogued — still, Christians would have no grounds for objecting, either to the choice of events or to the graphic representation of them, by their own words standing condemned.

Be honest — you know what Pat Robertson and Michael Medved and the rest would say.

The thing is, there's no way any reasonable person could not find the anti-Semitism of Gibson's passion disquieting, could come away thinking that WE were supposed to identify with "the Jews" in the film and see them as Us, not Other any more than any serious Catholic cannot be troubled by G's rejection of Nostra Aetate and the magisterial norms on Passion Plays. It's mere handwashing to say that the Romans come off as bad or worse — no, they don't. Yes, they're idiotic sadists, incompetent monsters rejoicing in pain — some of them. But Pilate and Lady Pontia come off as better human beings than even the Apostles — than Peter himself (is this a subtle-for-Gibson stab at the Vatican for Vatican II in the person of the first Pope, by adopting Emmerich's vision over all four Gospels?). And the officers of the cohort, again following Emmerich more than Christian tradition even, let alone the Gospels, are shown to be sympathetic, guilt ridden, one young soldier crying as he watches the flogging, the others being deferent to Mary & Mary at the Cross — no, it isn't even-handed at all.

It's anti-Semitic enough to make one want to go out and stitch a Star of David to one's sleeve in solidarity.

But — and perhaps strangely — I will not say this is entirely a bad thing. Yes, it is bad that Gibson made such choices — to hide behind "artistic rights" is to engage in hypocrisy again, by those who condemn and would ban the showing of films they consider immoral — and it is worse that so many people slavishly lap up his mess of blood'n'schmalz served out for them, and claim it true nourishment. And is also true that (as Dr. Fredriksen said, beyond the quote-out-of-context that film defenders take to show her as hysterical liberal woman, thus discrediting themselves still further w/re intellectual integrity ) in this country, it probably won't cause anti-Semitic violence, though all bets are off in places that haven't renounced bigotry in any degree (and of any sort).

What it is doing, however, is revealing a staggering amount of extant anti-Semitism and bigotry in the US. And this, I think, is a good thing. Not pleasant, any more than finding that your house is full of termites or carpenter ants or mold, but it's better to know about it, to have it in the open, where you an point to it and work on addressing the problem, than to be in denial or ignorance.

Take, for instance the number of outright anti-Semitic defenders of the film, who reveal their bigotry and conspiratorial mindset in their posts. We knew they were out there, we knew they linked Christianity with bigotry, and yet those who complained about the linkage have been dismissed as bigots themselves. But now it is there in their own words, and cannot be denied.

Then there is the less overt, but still revealing behaviour of those who defend the film by doing things like sending hate-mail and leaving threatening phone messages to those who criticize Gibson's bigotry — oh yes, such wonderful defenders of the faith! With friends like this, Christianity doesn't need enemies to spread lies about its tenets, the home grown efforts are quite adequate.

Then there is the still-more subtle revelations by people who probably don't even realize how badly their biases are showing, when they start accusing those who criticize the film of being Jews, or ranting about how Hollywood is "controlled by the Jews." Actually, H'wood is controlled by the audience, which is overwhelmingly not Jewish, in America or everywhere else, which is equally the audience for H'wood films. If people didn't' go to and rent those objectionable movies, didn't pay huge sums of money to see nudity and gore in any context, they wouldn't be made. Evil Secular-Liberal-Jews are not running out there and rounding up your helpless children and forcing them at gunpoint into theatres before shaking them down like the playground bully for their cash, to make them sit down and watch Kill Bill. Last I checked, the statistics in the US were something under 3%, which means that either there is some massive overwhelming mind-control machine (or maybe it's an ingredient in the butter on the banged grains) that is turning non-Jews into slavish watchers of violent sexy movies since the 1920s (I shouldn't joke like that, I'm sure somebody out there believes it) — or we have only ourselves to blame for the problem.

And most of the people working on Hollywood movies are not Jewish either. Read the names on the credits sometime. Really, the amount of illogic and ideology sloshing around in the desperate attempt on the part of "conservative" "Christians" to avoid accepting responsibility for any of societies ills quite boggles the mind. The obsessive quest to find Someone Else to scapegoat is nothing new, of course — that's why there's this whole controversy about the film.

The most subtle and to me fascinating sign of bigotry is the way Steven Spielberg's name keeps cropping up in contrast to Mel Gibson's. Now, those who know me know I am not, by and large, a fan of Mr. Spielberg — I have huge issues with most of his films that I have seen, and I use Spielbergesque (or used to, before Jacksonian became obligatory) for crude sentimentality, overt manipulation, oversimplified drama that turns into bathos. ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, SPR, Jurassic Park — the only one of his films which I have seen that totally eschews the sap and is terrifyingly pure for that is Empire of the Sun, which feels as though it was made by someone else. Close Encounters is pretty free of sentimentality, and the classic Jaws. But the sort of forced emotion that the other films indulge in, the mawkishness of ET, the casual cruelty of the good guys in Indiana Jones, the icky humour of Jurassic Park, the hand-leading plot of SPR — these I find objectionable.

I have not, for various reasons, yet seen Schindler's List,43 so I cannot comment on it. But I know people who have, whose judgment I respect in regard to films, who admire it greatly. I did see SPR.

And these two films are the rhetorical spikes that Passionistas are seizing upon to defy the charges of unwarranted violence in Gibson's film. How can you object to the violence in Passion, how can anyone object, if you didn't object to the violence in Schindler's List and SPR? Well, I didn't see the first — but I did see the second, and there's no comparison whatsoever, and whatever the film's problems (real) which have been analyzed to death on many forae, the pacing, the black-and-white depiction of the American Heroes, the extent to which it depends on previous WWII mixed-company films, the tear-jerking — the violence wasn't considered by anyone I know, Christian or not, to be excessive or unwarranted. Harrowing, yes, unwatchable to many, but not exploitative. There were in fact discussions and soul-searching as to whether or not there was a moral responsibility to not look away in moral solidarity with those we send forth as our sword to do battle for us afar44 as well as the objections that it was not nearly realistic enough.

And it wasn't, any more than Glory, which I dreaded seeing, was anything like the hamburger-making fusillades of the Civil War. It was — not so much sanitized, as sparing, reverential. The same is true of the far superior WWII film, Thin Red Line — the film's makers knew when to show us enough, and more than enough — and then pull away, leaving it to our imaginations. SPR is not a good film to pick as a banner of excessive gore, — something like Terminator, or Rambo III, or indeed nearly anything by Mel Gibson — would be far more exemplary of the bad side of H'wood, and I suspect, though I will not know until I have seen it, that Schindler's List is the same way.

There are huge questions about the nature of film violence, and the stupidity of people who think that all film violence is created equally evil unless it's made by a Christian, which this raises. (Will address that, too.)

But the interesting point is that they pick, instantly, two films to criticize by the big name filmmaker who is most self-identified as Jewish, not simply ethnically, not simply culturally, Bar Mitzvah and Hanukkah-gelt style, but religiously and proudly so. Is anyone unware of the Shoah project, the dedication of all profits from Schindler's List to the foundation, and by the consistency of Spielberg's professed humanitarian ethics with his filmic output? I make no secret of my issues with his movies, but for all their problems there is no question that under all the melodrama and schmalz there is genuine idealism of a Capraesque nature, however problematically expressed. It is hard — and if Passionistas were honest they would acknowledge this — to reconcile any message of love and any Christian ideallism with the relentless brutality and the love of flashing his bare backside that Gibson has consistently exhibited in his films.

There is a smaller trend of pointing to Kill Bill as an example of H'wood's depravity, but I think that is not out of any fairness but simply because it is the most recent and obvious example of over-the-top violence in films, so it's the one sticking in the heads of defenders. It certainly is not being held up as the typical product of ethnic Italians, something you'd expect from the people who brought us The Games and crucifixion!

For Christians who cannot understand why Jews would be upset about an anti-Semitic version of a traditionally anti-Semitic form of folk-art used historically not as a private devotional but also to incite violence and reinforce social phobias against European Jewry, I have this to say — take all the problems that Christian critics have with films that portray Christians in anything but slavishly fawning respectful light, and consider that you are looking in a mirror. Learn some empathy, and start practicing it.

IOW, people need to stop going around saying things like:

"What it all boils down to is this: The haters of Christ and the Bible, with their relentless attacks, cannot stand to see a Powerful, moving and great epic film and they are blind to the true message." [sic, sic and sic, from rec.arts.movies.current-films]

And for those who cannot understand why Jews would be offended at Christian appropriation of the words of the Passover, and other aspects of their faith, far less at the use of them in an anti-Semitic work of fanart — I ask you to think about how you, personally, feel about the appropriation of Christian symbols for other uses. Remember all the rage about Serrano's disrespectful crucifix and similar artworks? And more — what does the use of our sacred images and rituals in Voudon and Santeria evoke in you Christian readers: blasι tolerance or troubled indignation, when you see the Virgin Mary and St. Michael being identified with the gods of the African Diaspora?

Now, again, take that mirror of the soul and shine it upon others in empathy again, so that you understand how devout Jews might feel at our annexation of the Law and the Prophets, piecemeal, for our own uses, not all of them by any means noble or Christian.

On a slightly better note, ordinary American Catholics, at least, have some justification for not understanding the disquiet that Jewish viewers mostly feel. Nostra Aetate, for those of us not part of the Neo-Traditionalist movement, has done its work perhaps too well. We attend the Mass in our own language, hearing all of the Scriptures and rituals derived from the Scriptures (for example, part of the Eucharistic prayers are straight from Hebrew tradition, "Blessed are you, Lord &c" being a rendering of "Baruch Adonai," deriving of course from Early Christian practice back when we were still all one schisming faith) in our own language, expounded in English, and I have never heard an anti-Semitic (in any sense of the word) sermon in my life. Plenty of boring, banal, theologically-unsound ones, yes, but never one blaming The Other for deicide. The emphasis, as long as I have been alive, has been on identifying ourselves with those whom the prophets reproach for luxury, violence, irreverence etc, (which is also a coopting of Hebrew religious tradition that distresses some Jews, but certainly not all. There are plenty in the interfaith movement who welcome those common aspects of our religious which are not in doctrinal conflict.)

And this is particularly emphasized in the Holy Week celebrations according to the Novus Ordo — where, when the Passion is read, and the words "Crucify him!" are spoken, they are spoken by US. By the Catholic congregation, not by anyone else, not by the lectors portraying the other characters, Pilate and Caiaphas and the female security guard and Peter and the rest. Only us, and all of us together, so that in this new liturgy, so hated by Gibson and his ilk, there is no way to externalize evil and responsibility onto anyone outside the group, for us to feel as if we are "among the elect" watching those bad people over there do something awful to Our Saviour. Not and be consistent with what is going on in the ritual reenactment, at least.

How much of this sinks in, and how much bounces off, who can tell? Apparently very little of the Gospels sinks in, given the obvious ignorance of so much of it by Catholic Passionistas, who don't seem to remember the bit about Pilate cracking down on Galileans that's referred to by Jesus. But at least some of the purpose of Vatican II, in decoupling Catholic worship from automatic anti-Semitism, has been accomplished. I say "too well," because it has resulted in the present generation of Catholics having no clue (again in America at least, I cannot speak for the cultural memory of Europe from within) that the two were ever connected. And for all my religious schooling, in and out of parish schools, the emphasis was always on the evil Romans in a continuum of identification that linked the Crucifixion with the persecution of the Early Christian martyrs.

This, itself, is a problematic thing I belatedly came to realize: the focussing on the history of Rome solely as a backdrop for the Persecutions, without any geopolitical or cultural contexts, the division of people into "Romans" and "Christians" or "Pagans" and "Christians" with no comprehension on the part of either teachers or us students as to how the two groups overlapped and interacted and why. Christian hagiography, for the purposes of teaching history, is utter bunk. Sorry, but it's true. Not sorry for saying so, either, just that it's true. It consists of shallow, meaningless polemics, reducing the history of the ancient world to trite little fairy-tales — where is the unholy mess, in all of this, that resulted due to the fact that a hell of a lot more people burned incense to the Emperor than were martyred, and that after the persecutions were ended, the battles between those Christian factions that wanted to allow reconciliation for the fallen-away who now wanted to return, and those who said that the weak (ie, people who weren't willing to have their whole families executed over religion) were damned and should not be permitted to return, spilled over into such violence and street fighting that the Emperor was forced to exile the leading Christian clergy on both sides?45

This is the shocking stuff, not the thinly-veiled eroticization of violence and bondage that makes up most of those stories about saints having their breasts sliced off and being turned in by rejected boyfriends, or the softcore relporn novels based on them, like Quo Vadis — the mundane, thoroughly-modern infighting among a mythicized group of the golden age of our Church, that sounds so much like the nasty elitism and ostracization that goes on between the Neo-Traditionalists and themselves, as well as Everybody Else.

And learning about it causes one to apply less-simplistic paradigms to everything else about that Early Church, and to wonder a little about how it looked to those pagan Romans, whose kids were joining Doomsday Cults and refusing to participate in society? Might there not have been at least as much justification for the suppression of such weird foreign religions as there was for the Catholic Church to suppress the Cathars?46 But the winners write most of the histories, and certainly nearly all of those read by their followers. Considering things from the other side is not something anyone likes to do.

Neither is considering one's own side's discreditable history from one's own side, after the fact — case in point, the old  (of course imprimatur'd) Catholic Encyclopedia, explaining why it was perfectly normal and expectable (if not really a good thing) for Catholics throughout history to oppress Jews and besides it wasn't really that bad and when it was it was done by the secular government and besides, they asked for it really by being so unpleasant a race…

As always, I wish I was making this up. I wish it was just a slander. But it isn't.

Violence in the Film

Date: 20 April 2004
Summary: Should be Mandatory Viewing For All Americans

    Our pastor was right when he said in his sermon a few weeks back that this should be mandatory viewing for all Americans. A beautifully crafterd film showing the truth most people would like to ignore. I don't really consider myself a "biblethumper" because I do have different tastes when it comes to film, but for the life of me, I can't believe a better film will be ever made. I took three people with me last week on Easter and one of them prayed with me after and was saved! That is the power good films with good intentions have. Even the brutality, something I'm always against, was necessary because the truth has to be told. Sometimes things are not pretty and we can use that to our advntage. If you are in anyway having any doubts about your life and are in need of help or loneliness is a problem, see this movie post haste. A true gift from God speaking through the genius talent of Mel Gibson. -Lynn 
[source: IMDb user comments]

You may notice that I have not gotten much into the specifics of the torture and gore that have occupied other reviews in the professional sphere. They are, doubt not if you have not seen the film, fully as grisly as report would have them. In fact, they are so over the top as to become unbelievable if you know anything of human anatomy and physiology — and you don't have to know very much. It isn't physically possible for a real human being to survive what Jesus is shown as enduring — regardless of what pietistic sources who (at least online) all tend to quote each other assert, nor is it credible historically. The infamous flogging scene, for instance.

I have read so many posters and commentators saying that it was authentic, that it is "well known" that Roman floggings were so brutal that people usually died from them — but I haven't been able to track down any historical references, that is non-polemic, non-Christian ones, from real Roman sources, except for the fact that for soldiers who deserted or slept while on sentry duty the punishment was being beaten to death. The most plausible thing would be that some people were probably flogged to death, just as some people were flogged to death throughout history, even in this country. But to go from that to asserting that all floggings were intended to cause life-threatening injuries? Absurd.

That is like saying "Football games have been known to result in the death of players; therefore it is reasonable to assume that we will see a broken neck in every football game." Sure, being beaten to death was a real punishment. But it doesn't follow therefor that every beating was intended to cause death, or likely to take someone to the brink of it. In fact, it's highly unlikely that if flogging was indeed routine as a part of crucifixion47 that the government would want to inflict a pre-punishment injury on a prisoner that would likely shorten his life (as some Christian authors have asserted is what happened) when the whole point of crucifixion was to hold up someone naked and essentially unharmed save for the extremities so that they could die a slow, lingering, humiliating death for the edification of the public: Don't Rebel. Don't Even Think Of Rebelling. Or This Will Be You Next. Or Your Family. —Next?

That's what "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" means, you do realize.

But even though the historical accounts which seem to me to be somewhat reliable (again, it's so very hard to find independent non-sectarian non-ideological scholarship, or anything remotely resembling scholarship, when it comes to examining the world of the New Testament, for an amateur scholar) say that the whips the Romans used had metal beads about the size of BBs, or hooks on the end about the size of cats' claws, the film shows us a Jesus who is beaten by multiple implements, starting out with a solid bastinadoing, and then using a thing that looks like a cross between a medieval morning-star and the fork-thing you use to rake up the soil while gardening that goes with a trowel. That's how big the hooks are, and sharper. And yes, we do get to see a patch of flesh — not just skin, but everything underneath — bigger than my hand, ripped off Jesus' side, leaving bare bones showing.

Anyone who has done any kind of medical work, even taking injured relatives to the ER, will know that the idea that someone could survive that, and then get up and defiantly ask for more, and keep going despite further beatings and abuses and having a five-hundred-pound weight dropped on them repeatedly, is simply surreal. That so many viewers are saying it's "realistic" just shows how far out of touch with the real, physical world most of them are, that they believe the Hollywood fantasies of Scharwzenegger and Willis and Stallone are not fantasy, that human beings can bleed more than two pints without passing out, or having major traumatic injuries inflicted without going shocky.

The point of the crucifixion shouldn't be — as so many pietistic authors have made it — that Jesus suffered more than any other human being before or since, physically. Read descriptions of tortures — not sanitized martyrdom accounts, but the nasty, desperate records of human rights abuses — or of burn victims' hospital experience, and you quickly realize that many people have gone through as bad or worse, for much longer stretches. Even a usual crucifixion lasted for several days, not part of one. (And thousands of other Jews were crucified, though I swear I rarely meet another Christian who realizes that, or hasn't had it go in one ear and out the other.)

That isn't the point: the point is that GOD went through what was the most humiliating and disgraceful experience that the ancient world of that time could think of, something that of itself indicated to the Roman culture that the victim was worthless, a slave, an unperson, and which also was taboo in the Jewish culture, indicating someone accursed (hanging upon a tree [Deut. 22:23]) and which also, little though most Christians like to admit this, has tremendous resonance from a mythological perspective. Odin, Prometheus, — you don't have to accept Robert Graves' unfootnoted claptrap to admit that it does nevertheless evoke images of Dying Gods King-Sacrifice from a variety of pagan cultures, which, in turn it fed into and was transformed both as those cultures merged and became more-or-less (i.e., sometime voluntarily, sometimes forcibly) Christian. (And you don't have to be afraid of The Golden Bough either, which fear I have read expressed by believers upon a time.)

We don't get any sense of mythic power from Gibson's vision of the Crucifixion, though he tries in a particularly ham-handed way to force it, what with the blasting organ chords, the blowing wind and swirling clouds stolen right from Steven Spielberg (hey, I saw Raiders too) and the "single drop of rain" which pretty much everyone who sees the film interprets as "a tear from Heaven," presumably shed by the Father right before He punishes the Jews by shattering the film's bogus Temple, followed by the sight of an angry Devil having a tantrum in a rock-album vision of Hell, not having been able to dissuade Jesus from the act of self-immolation. (I have discovered that one result of this has been to suggest to some viewers an erotic relationship between the Second Person of the Trinity and Lucifer, a kind of Immortals' lovers' quarrel, just as others have seen a similar disgruntled rejected lover's action in the betrayal of Judas, replacing in some cases speculation about John and Mary Magdalen. On the one hand, I must shake my head — on the other hand, I'm wickedly amused that this should be the fruit of Gibson's pornography.)

The other thing which is very funny, though not intentionally, is that the Roman soldiers are represented as being incompetent torturers and utter dolts to boot. One halfway expects Caiaphas or Pilate to say, in the manner of Evil Overlords everywhere, "I'm surrounded by idiots!"48

Film Violence and Propaganda
I did not want to see The Passion. Who really wants to see two hours of blood, gore and ripped skin? I couldn't last ten minutes through Saving Private Ryan. However, I went to the theater anyway, and I haven't been the same since.

I was disgusted by what I saw. It was violent, graphic and nauseating. Still, what truly disturbed me was that it was all done for me. I looked at the scratches on His face and thought of my idle words. I saw His mutilated back and remembered times I showed hate instead of love. I stared at the cross and knew that it was my sin that put Him there.

In my opinion, a lot of the controversy over The Passion is unnecessary and a scapegoat to distract from the film's message. It's not about Jews, Pontius Pilate, or the Pharisees. The point of the movie is summed up in the first frame that shows Isaiah 53:5. Jesus came to earth to die, and He did it for everyone.

I agree with the sentiments of an online movie critic who said, "How you react to [this film] depends mostly on what you take in with you." I walked in knowing Jesus as my Savior and that this film was one man's interpretation of His suffering. Thus, I was moved. Someone who knows nothing about the Bible or Jesus would walk out saying, "What in the world was that?" I can only hope that "The Passion" inspires those in the faith and prompts non-believers to ask the right questions that lead to the truth.

- Jennifer Jones, staff writer at a Christian music site []

But the point of the violence in the film isn't accuracy. It isn't even — ultimately — mere sensationalist indulgence. That's a means to an end. To understand the reason for the egregious and impossible gore, you have to understand where they're coming from. Gibson's crowd isn't simply going by a Bible-literal interpretation, "We are washed in the blood of the Lamb," here. That's actually a bit too sophisticated for them, in my experience. See, they don't listen to the traditional English hymns, Protestant as well as Catholic, that we sing in our Novus Ordo liturgies. This is a manifestation of a form of propagandizing used most of the time for secular, "patriotic" ends, but here turned towards the goal of awakening sympathy for religion. It is at once very blatant, and very subtle.

It comes from a reductionist, "contra mundi," us against the world, we poor picked-on martyred victims, we heroes, (we few, we happy few) who alone stand up for truth and justice and apple pie, a very unsophisticated worldview, very much that of Tom Sawyer imagining himself dead as he sulks in his room after having gotten in trouble, thinking how his ungrateful family and friends will mourn him, a juvenile and selfish mindset that is all too common among supposedly-educated adults.

Typical of this is the reduction of the world to Good Guys/Bad Guys, with Good — Us, uncritically, and the glossing over of any actions they are forced to admit as objectively bad on the part of Us, or those historical stand-ins that we are supposed to identify with and admire as examples. This is simply hypocrisy of the first water. I have read too much excusing of the atrocities of the Crusades, for example, as either aberrations ("All Christians sin, that's the point of the Gospels") while yet asserting that evil actions on the part of non-Christians derive necessarily from their unsaved state, and too much Christian Cultural Relativism — "Well, this was back in the Middle Ages, they didn't know any better, it was a rougher time, you can't judge Tancrede by modern standards of behavior" — to take seriously the claims of current cultural/moral objectivity/absolutism and the denial of any accommodation to modern society.

This is not, by any means, limited to Catholics nor even Christians: it's a common human behaviour, and propagandists all over the world throughout all of history have been busily demonizing their enemies and whitewashing their own failings. You'd never know, for instance, unless you dig deeper into the history of things, that the Frankish Crusaders didn't totally attack Constantinople out of nowhere and off their own bat, but were enthusiastic participants in a revenge scheme by Byzantium's old economic rival, Venice, against whose businessmen outrages had been committed, and who had countered with their own economic and military reprisals, which had been met with more sanctions and attacks, and so it had gone on escalating with both sides being perfectly righteous in their own eyes as they engaged in the vendetta, until a chance came when weaker, smaller Venice could enlist opportune foreign aid against the superpower. (Didn't you ever wonder why all that Byzantine gold ended up at St. Mark's and not at Notre Dame de Paris?) There's guilt and more to spare for everybody in the events leading up to the Crusaders' Sack of Constantinople, but you'd never guess that reading Byzantine sources or later ones based on them.

Nor, would you ever guess, watching The Patriot, that all those on both sides of the American War as it was then called, saw it as a civil war, and that it was strongly opposed in Britain on the grounds of being immoral and unjust, and protested and mocked for this in spite of a press that was subject to government control, as well as a severe financial drain at a time the country could not afford to be dividing its resources against so many other real dangers, and when there was so much unemployment due to industrialization and land confiscation on the part of wealthy businessmen — any more than you'd guess that the character the film was based on, and whom it was originally supposed to be about, before they discovered the following, was a slave-owning, slave-raping brute who enjoyed hunting human beings and bore no resemblance whatsoever to the sanitized version of The Swamp Fox presented in Jim Kjelgaard's YA biography, which is where most of us learned about him if we heard of him at all. Nor that no churches were burned filled with civilians by British commanders (not only did they pick and choose among the worst actions of a variety of individuals, they invented some when they couldn't find any that were bad enough to contrast against St. Mel's spotless purity) but that indeed, a great deal of viciousness was enacted by colonists against those their fellow colonists who thought that breaking away was a bad idea. There are communities not far from where I live, originally founded by those who fled such violence at the hands of Christian neighbors with different political views.

Real life is messy and there are very few spotless saints, very few culture heroes whose example one can truly emulate in all things, once you get past the sanitized-for-children (of any age) hagiography. —Not even saints. There are a lot of saints who don't come off very well in a lot of different areas. To appeal to "the legacy of the saints" is a very dangerous thing to do, as is to hold up examples of past patriots and heroes. Those who do so, are usually rather ignorant of the Dark Side aspects, or else deliberately deceitful, using such propaganda to "persuade" by simply appealing to what comes easiest: the idea that we, or those we identify with, are perfect, and those who disagree with us, or fight us, are automatically evil, stupid, and deserving of hatred.

Anyone who criticizes the film is automatically dismissed by most of the film's defenders, whom I call Passionistas as anti-Christian, an unbeliever, and many other pejoratives which are neither necessarily the case, nor in many specific instances, accurate. Another bizarre lack of logic is the Passionistas' dismissal of criticism of the film's violence, and the pointing out of the irony that so many of those defending the film's gore are those who have railed against gore specifically as a sign of H'wood's fallenness. The argument inevitably goes like this: "Isn't it ironic that secular critics who love gory movies are now criticizing a Christian film because of its violence? Doesn't that show their anti-Christian agenda?"

Now, in the case of a specific critic who has in the past documentably and indiscriminately praised gory movies, who is now criticizing Passion for its gore, this would be a legitimate charge. But to say generally that critics are being hypocrites because "they" don't mind film violence in secular movies is to create straw men and burn them and pat one's self on the back for being so brilliant. And it is unfortunately typical of the sloppy generalizations and caricature that defenders of this film are making. After all, to argue that a specific film may be worth while either in spite of objectionable elements, or it may be the case that in a particular film a particular instance of gore may be there for a laudable reason.

So I read comments demanding to know if those who object to Passion's gore objected to Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan, with the insinuation or assertion that if they didn't then they are hypocrites, and I just shake my head — for one thing, SPR wasn't anywhere near as violent as Passion, and frankly I haven't seen anything that is. I don't go to horror movies and rarely to violent action movies, and it's rare that I find myself defending the use of violence or coarse language in a film as enhancing the artwork, so the rhetoric of the Passionistas asserting that we who object are all hypocrites who love violence in a secular context falls completely flat. All I can think is that they don't read enough of the secular media, because there have been lots of negative comments in regard to violence in films over the years, not just by self-avowed cultural and moral watchdogs. One very ironic thing to me was the fact that Gladiator was so deliberately stepped-back in its violence, compared to what it could have been — compared to Braveheart — where I was expecting an all-out, over-the-top look what we can get away with nowadays wallow in the excesses of the Roman Empire, out-Caligulaing Caligula — it was practically chaste in both its sex and its violence, denying peeved fanboys the slo-mo fountains of gore they were expecting a la Braveheart in favour of jerky newsreel style footage of fight scenes reminiscent of something from battlefield satellite broadcasts.

But so much of the Passionista rhetoric is so far from reality that it isn't worth trying to break it all down; these people are eels who change their positions as soon as they are caught out on one claim. The simplest take on the problem is that not all violence is created equal. It is not all designed to glorify the doing of harm, or to feed a sadistic temperament, or to merely shock and titillate. Sometimes — in those secular movies, even — it is there for a very laudable purpose, that of honesty, where "looking away" would be inauthentic. Since this is what is claimed for Passion, you would think that the defenders of the film would be able to accept this in non-religious films as well, no?

And sometimes it may be all right as mere entertainment. This is a more dubious proposal, I know; I do not argue it very hard, because my personal feeling is that it isn't, because I don't like gore — and that means that I'm not objective on the matter, either. The thing is, a drama is a Secondary World, and the rules of the Primary World — including the moral ones — don't have to apply the same way. Internal consistency is okay: all stories don't have to tell didactic tales filled with good examples. An intelligent person is not compromising ethics by watching grand opera and enjoying the stories of illicit passion and vengeance and all the rest. So, too, the classic swashbucklers — they might not be explicit like modern films, but the materiel of them is no less dubious, judged as if they were real events; all those wholesome, clean old movies are not as wholesome as many people I know think. (And they weren't thought of as wholesome and clean back when they first came out, either. Reading the new releases reviews in old newspapers can be very eye-opening. People "back then" knew what they were about, and what happened when the camera faded to black on Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart's liplock…) But a work of art is not primarily a moral teaching tool, nor should it be judged first and foremost as such. It is something which is meant to be enjoyed for its skill within its genre or style, and that is where it stands or falls ultimately, no matter how laudable its message (given the specific audience, of course) might be.

So it could be that an over-the-top battle-filled film like Kill Bill is, considered objectively for what it is, an over-the-top battle-filled revengers' tragedy, okay. I don't know. I haven't seen it. I don't really want to see it, and I haven't yet felt moved to see it out of duty. But it's possible that it isn't any worse than that good Christian piece of entertainment, The Song of Roland, with people being chopped in half right and left. and heads being smashed and blood all over the place. It's at least possible.

But the violence in Passion isn't aesthetic, like the smiting of heads and the clash of armies in Kurosawa. It doesn't serve the purpose of awakening empathy and dread, like the brutal, but mercifully quick, police shots of the murdered wife in the beginning of The Fugitive. It's supposed to, but for those of us who are not preprogrammed to accept it, it doesn't seem to be working. Another film, dark and violent and supremely transcendent, uses the brief images of shocking, impossible, "cartoonish" dismemberment to reveal a terrible supernatural power at work in a disordered world; for all its fantasy, the animated film Princess Mononoke is far deeper and more realistic than many a live-action film set in the "real world." The shattering gun violence killing random bystanders in the gritty Ronin does horrify — it is meant to, it depicts the scandal of what we consent to every day, so long as it is done by distant agents and we do not have to see it, by our governments. And the most brutal moment in the superbly holy (yes, holy) war film The Thin Red Line (ironically starring Caviezel as a far more convincing Christ-figure) is not shown on camera at all: in classic film fashion, we see only the reactions of the bystanders to the man who has just had his guts blown out by a grenade — and thus, in the sequence, the heroism and godliness of this profane ignorant sergeant is shown forth, because we are not distracted from the fact (in the story) of his having sacrificed himself by taking the blast for his companions, nor the efforts of those friends to comfort him as he dies.

Is extreme and explicit representation of violence permissible, even laudable, then?

This is a difficult thing to discuss, because it's so subjective, and because there are so many innate and natural biases coming to it. It's hard to get beyond Ugh! and I Like! and actually figure out if this particular instance is justified or not, admirable or not — and this is going to vary for individuals. Some people are much more sensitive to any sort of violence than others — and this does not make them better human beings. Others are not fazed — and this does not make them better human beings either. And what one is able to deal with changes (or may, at least) over time. What I am willing — and sometimes require — shown on screen now, is far different, after having read and seen the true horrors of atrocity and disease, than I was able to comprehend (in all senses of the word) at a younger age.

Frankly, many of the film's defenders seem not only biased, illogical, ignorant, and sophistical, but also flat-out delusional. Maria Morgenstern's argument in a recent interview that it isn't any more violent than the Greek Tragedies in which she has acted, makes one wonder what alternate-universe edition of Aeschylus and Euripides she has been working from. The whole point of Greek drama was that really awful things happened off-scene (they were, indeed, obscene) and we get the characters' moral and emotional reactions to them afterwards. You don't see Oedipus gouging out his eyes with Jocasta's daggerlike broach any more than you see son and mother consummating their blasphemous marriage; you don't see Medea's chemically-treated boobytrap destroying both her rival and the younger woman's father as they are burned alive on stage; you don't see Klytemnestra avenging her daughter's sacrifice by taking a sacrificial axe to Agamemnon in the doom of the House of Atreus —; in fact, I can't think of a single death that takes place on-stage in Greek tragedy, though I may be missing some & will stand corrected if there are.

We hear about them, yes, in words so vivid that they sear the mind's eye and linger in memory, long after the momentary horror of the episode is past. But if a film version of Medea were to show, via SFX, the deadly cloak bursting into flame and sticking to those who tried to pull it away from its victim, in every moment of graphic agony, would it be as effective as the lines,

…In a moment she turned pale, reeled backwards, trembling in every limb, and sinks upon a seat scarce soon enough to save herself from falling to the ground. An aged dame, one of her company, thinking belike it was a fit from Pan or some god sent, raised a cry of prayer, till from her mouth she saw the foam-flakes issue, her eyeballs rolling in their sockets, and all the blood her face desert; then did she raise a loud scream far different from her former cry. Forthwith one handmaid rushed to her father's house, another to her new bridegroom to tell his bride's sad fate, and the whole house echoed with their running to and fro. 

By this time would a quick walker have made the turn in a course of six plethra and reached the goal, when she with one awful shriek awoke, poor sufferer, from her speechless trance and oped her closed eyes, for against her a twofold anguish was warring. The chaplet of gold about her head was sending forth a wondrous stream of ravening flame, while the fine raiment, thy children's gift, was preying on the hapless maiden's fair white flesh; and she starts from her seat in a blaze and seeks to fly, shaking her hair and head this way and that, to cast the crown therefrom; but the gold held firm to its fastenings, and the flame, as she shook her locks, blazed forth the more with double fury. 

Then to the earth she sinks, by the cruel blow o'ercome; past all recognition now save to a father's eye; for her eyes had lost their tranquil gaze, her face no more its natural look preserved, and from the crown of her head blood and fire in mingled stream ran down; and from her bones the flesh kept peeling off beneath the gnawing of those secret drugs, e'en as when the pine-tree weeps its tears of pitch, a fearsome sight to see. And all were afraid to touch the corpse, for we were warned by what had chanced. 

Anon came her hapless father unto the house, all unwitting of her doom, and stumbles o'er the dead, and loud he cried, and folding his arms about her kissed her, with words like these the while, "O my poor, poor child, which of the gods hath destroyed thee thus foully? Who is robbing me of thee, old as I am and ripe for death? O my child, alas! would I could die with thee!" He ceased his sad lament, and would have raised his aged frame, but found himself held fast by the fine-spun robe as ivy that clings to the branches of the bay, and then ensued a fearful struggle. He strove to rise, but she still held him back; and if ever he pulled with all his might, from off his bones his aged flesh he tore. At last he gave it up, and breathed forth his soul in awful suffering; for he could no longer master the pain. 

So there they lie, daughter and aged sire, dead side by side, a grievous sight that calls for tears. And as for thee, I leave thee out of my consideration, for thyself must discover a means to escape punishment. Not now for the first time I think this human life a shadow; yea, and without shrinking I will say that they amongst men who pretend to wisdom and expend deep thought on words do incur a serious charge of folly; for amongst mortals no man is happy; wealth may pour in and make one luckier than another, but none can happy be. 

—or would it have a kind of transient shock value only, arousing a visceral disgust that distracts from the trajectory of the wronged princess systematically destroying herself along with the life of the man for whose sake she sacrificed her own family and home? Could any "newsreel" depiction of all the horrific aspects of Antigone — the decaying corpse of the rebellious brother being eaten by scavengers, the doomed idealistic lovers committing suicide, the despairing mother of the dead prince stabbing herself bloodily on the altar of the family gods — could these have half the impact that the slow revelation of events, like the marching tread of an advancing army, has in the "eyewitness accounts" that bring each grim fact to the survivors, and us who watch it all unfold with our surrogates, the Chorus?

Words have more lasting power than pictures, for all the saying about the respective worth of pictures; and it is not insignificant that Aristotle says that the script of a play is more important than the costumes and the "spectacular effects" or anything visual in determining its quality — or that there are so few words, and those unintelligible, in Gibson's passion. It is a dumb-show, in every sense of the word.

And this is the problem, above and beyond the impossible injuries and the amazing gullibility of the audience in accepting them as possible or plausible, swallowing them whole with many supercilious statements that of course it was gory, that's how Roman crucifixions were, by people who have no idea who Yohanan Ben Hagkol49 was or even Josephus. This is an inarticulate Gospel, a Gospel of Blood, without any other meaning besides Suffering.

This explains why they wouldn't have flipped the cross over to hammer in the ends of the nails, in RL, either. The corpses needed to be taken down and the nails taken out afterwards, after all. And it's hard to sell nail souvenirs when they're so bent that they won't come out of the bone.

But suffering devoid of context is worthless. Pain is not instructive, in and of itself. This is the strangest inversion of Christianity, of religion: to take out that which is intended to explain the suffering, and turn that suffering into the explanation of the creed.

Now, part of the rhetoric which surrounds the film is the claim that It has to be so violent because we are desensitized to violence these days. Excuse me, but when was the last time that Mrs. So-and-so or Reverend X saw a corpse hanging and rotting by the road on the way to work? When was the last public execution they attended? How many relatives have they laid out personally for burial, how many animals slaughtered with their own hands? What alternate universe are they living in? A strange inability to tell fact from fiction, here! Even the massacres of the roadways we are shielded from, in this country, the slaughter of hundreds each day that is tolerated because we do not know what to do about it, are not willing to take the steps to end it, and by our own admission simply choose not to think about the dangers because of the previous facts. Real violence the middle class and above are almost completely ignorant of; it is a fictional violence, which is often utterly impossible, that is what the moviegoing public is familiar with at best. And even that is not universal. There are many of us who do not go to violent movies, just as there are many of us who do not go to gross-out comedies, or weepies, or whatever. Real violence is even sanitized on the news, for the most part. The atrocities are kept at careful arms' length, when they are reported, unless one chooses to hunt them out.

(And this is doubly true of historical atrocities committed by Christians, which we choose to overlook… Braveheart fans should remind themselves that hanging/drawing/quartering was a punishment invented by Catholics and inflicted on their fellow-Catholics, not something that can be blamed on the Other, a pagan deed like impaling or crucifixion or the rendering of blood-eagles — that European version of the Aztec sacrifice, where according to tradition the living victim's rib-cage was split open and lungs spread out to form "wings" — hdq was a barbarism of Christianity, and a popular form of mass entertainment. When was the last time you went to see someone partially strangled, stripped, castrated, disemboweled, dismembered by the powers that be, and then were able to buy real souvenirs of blood-soaked cloth or gallows-rope snippets?

But ancient wrongs should not blind us to recent horrors:

[…]Vumi suffers from incontinence, and cannot sit down because of the pain, the result of a horrific rape incident last October. 

"The attack happened at night, and we were forced to flee into the bush," she said, in a voice barely more than a whisper. 

"Four men took me. They all raped me. At that time I was nine months pregnant." 

"They gang-raped me and pushed sticks up my vagina - that's when my baby died - they said it was better than killing me." 

The men then stole her few belongings and her community, unable to live with the smell, shunned her. […]

[Archivist's Note: Image not archived by the Wayback machine.]

Furaha Mapendo was staked to the ground with her legs splayed by 10 men, who then had their way with her. 

With her eyes staring fixedly at the ground, the 24-year-old told of how the men pushed sticks and various objects into her for an entire night, six years ago. 

These women all suffer from vaginal fistula, a medical condition found in countries with poor health infrastructure, which is usually a result of poor childbirth care. 

In this part of the world, it is caused by violent rape. 

The walls between the vagina, bladder and anus are torn, resulting in severe pain and debilitating incontinence. 

"We have many stories like this that make us shed our tears," said Jeanne Banyere, or Mama Jeanne to all who know this remarkable woman. 

"I used to cry, but have now become more desensitised. This happens all over this area, sometimes to children as young as nine." […]

BBC News, "Congo Rape Victims Seek Solace"
The Disasters of War, Goya

No, I will not apologize for the foregoing horrors, or for inflicting them on unsuspecting readers. No one reading an article about Gibson's Passion film should have been unprepared to encounter horrors. If you have problems with that report, that visual, that testimony — you should. Those who get sentimentally worked up about the imagined depictions of Jesus' sufferings, and turn away from those of these children of God, should hide their faces in shame before Jeanne Banyere of the Women's Protestant Federation, and those like her of whatever religion or no religion who are fighting against the legacy of brutality which was begun in the name of Christianity by a nominally-Christian Europe which had not scrupled to unleash such horrors upon its own peoples a mere two generations earlier as much in the name of liberty as in the belief of a manifest destiny, by defenders no less than invaders.

To Part 4 (conclusion)