Note: This is my contribution to Blog Against Theocracy 2008. You know about that, right? It was in all the papers. A bunch of bloggers, blogging about other blogs…and…stuff… So this is my take on The Passion of the Christ, four years late.
When The Passion of the Christ came out, you heard a lot of rhetorical questions that began with a variation of, “How could anyone see the film, and…”
…not walk away a believer.
…find it anti-Semitic.
…not find it anti-Semitic.
Well, I actually liked the movie, perhaps for the reasons unintended by Mel Gibson.
My first reaction:
How could anyone see this film and not become an advocate for human rights?
I have never seen a more visceral depiction of torture on film, and I don’t want to. Jesus is brutally abused by civil servants–or perhaps they are contractors. Nonetheless, in a civilized society there can be no sanction for sadistic treatment of anyone in the custody of the government.
At least Jesus was afforded the right of habeas corpus, not that it did him much good. Didn’t he appear before Pilate–twice? In Jesus: The Guantanamo Years, comedian Abie Philbin Bowman suggests that today, Jesus wouldn’t even be given that.
And why was Jesus tortured? Because he espoused views that were threatening to an established, politically-connected, religious hierarchy.
Which brings me to my other reaction:
How could anyone see this film and not conclude that, in a just society, civil and religious authority should not be mixed?
In this case, it was the Roman colonial government trading favors with the Jewish Pharisees–but it could apply to any government anywhere, and any religious cabal.
Look around the world today for religious persecution, and you will find a preponderance of states where the government is infused by a particular religion or sect. Generally speaking, religion ranks pretty high among the justifications people have for being shitty to one another. But combine that with the power of the state–formally or informally–and you have a recipe for oppression.
The story of Jesus, the Pharisees, and Pilate is a universal parable on the liabilities of sectarian influences on government. Certainly a government has an obligation to keep a watch on messianic cults within the society. But when government delegates to religious leaders to do the watching, all citizens should become very concerned.
If there had been separation of church and state in first century Judea, Jesus’ ministry might have fizzled out. He might have gone back to carpentry. And we all would have been better off–particularly the corporeal Jesus.
Now that’s an alternative ending I want to see on the DVD.
How could anyone see the film and not oppose capital punishment?
Who among us is safe from a similar, irreversible injustice if even the Messiah can get the death penalty–after being hastily convicted, on trumped up charges, without a fair trial, where the witnesses against Him (the only witnesses) had highly questionable motives?