Although I no longer attend church, The Passion of the Christ affected me. I wept as Caviezel as Christ was scourged and staked against the sky. I wept when his mother ran to him as he fell on the Via Dolorosa. I wanted the film, the suffering, the ganging-up to be over and done, but it just kept on, like it really did for that man and those who loved him.
The film’s controversy has clarified cultural dynamics. Preachers are jockeying for evangelizing leverage rather than examining their consciences concerning how Christianity has been misused to mistreat or murder too many to count. Congregants are weeping over this movie yet figuratively stoning gay couples for wanting their relationship commitments to be decently and fairly recognized. This scripture-based intolerance is interesting, given how divorce, another biblical no-no, is much more prevalent (and accepted!) in churches than gay get-togethers.
In a predictable counterpunch, gay film critics, self-anointed guardians of style and culture, pan the film as religious stupidity while totally disregarding the film’s obvious craft. They go on to cast depictions of Christ’s human suffering as manipulation and silly myth-making.
It seems both groups are casting themselves as saviors.
History documents how Christ’s name has been used to justify horrific pogroms. Boasting how things have changed, various fundamentalists now condescend to consider religious Jews as damned souls instead of Christ killers. I can see how Jews, who might not consider that an improvement, are afraid of Passion reprisals. Even so, Jews have their own conscience of violence to examine.
What separates the various aspects of Catholicism, Judaism and the 30,000-odd Protestant denominations is not so much theology as personality. I can relate when de-churched gays and atheists chuckle when various pulpit thumpers insist their hide-bound interpretation of Jesus is the right one. I’ve met many who would rather win an argument than save a soul. It’s personality that blurs The Passion‘s essential story: We all have much to learn from the humility, courage and compassion that characterized Christ the man. Instead, many of us continue to make excuses for hurting each other by citing self interests. That’s one part of the book the movie didn’t leave out.
Still, for me, The Passion in its current art form evokes hope. I hope that old-fashioned parents who easily slap their children’s faces will find other ways to teach and guide. I hope that anyone who has ganged up on someone or stood by and watched others do so won’t do that again. I hope those married but mired in resentments will see themselves in the Roman soldier slinging an awful weapon at a bloodied and fallen lover.