A Must Read

I know I’ve been posting a lot of links to Passion stuff recently, but I think that anyone with even a passing interest in this movie and/or the debate surrounding it should read Dennis Prager’s piece over at beliefnet.
Of particular interest to me were the following sections:

It is essential that Christians understand this. Every Jew, secular, religious, assimilated, left-wing, right-wing, fears being killed because he is Jewish. This is the best-kept secret about Jews, who are widely perceived as inordinately secure and powerful. But it is the only universally held sentiment among Jews. After the Holocaust and with Islamic terrorists seeking to murder Jews today, this, too, is not paranoid.
However, what Jews need to understand is that most American Christians watching this film do not see “the Jews” as the villains in the passion story historically, let alone today. First, most American Christians — Catholic and Protestant — believe that a sinning humanity killed Jesus, not “the Jews.” Second, they know that Christ’s entire purpose was to come to this world and to be killed for humanity’s sins. To the Christian, God made it happen, not the Jews or the Romans (the Book of Acts says precisely that). Third, a Christian who hates Jews today for what he believes some Jews did 2,000 years ago only reflects on the low moral, intellectual and religious state of that Christian. Imagine what Jews would think of a Jew who hated Egyptians after watching “The Ten Commandments,” and you get an idea of how most Christians would regard a Christian who hated Jews after watching “The Passion.”
Jews also need to understand another aspect of “The Passion” controversy. Just as Jews are responding to centuries of Christian anti-Semitism (virtually all of it in Europe), many Christians are responding to decades of Christian-bashing — films and art mocking Christian symbols, a war on virtually any public Christian expression (from the death of the Christmas party to the moral identification of fundamentalist Christians with fundamentalist Muslims). Moreover, many Jewish groups and media people now attacking “The Passion” have a history of irresponsibly labeling conservative Christians anti-Semitic.

Read the whole thing

You knew it was coming

After the brouhaha in San Francisco re: gay marriage certificates, it’s easy to despair at the state of our country’s courts and law enforcement (*cough* CA Atty. Gen. *cough*), but at least some people are laughing at the potential Scriptural ramifications.
I particularly enjoyed the commenter “kath”‘s take on Mark 10:7:

Mark 10:7 For this reason a party of the first part shall leave his (father/mother) and (father/mother) and be joined to the party of the second part, and the two shall become one applicant.’ So they are no longer two but one legal arrangement under the law.


More Passion Reviews

It seems to me that many, if not most of the negative reviews of The Passion thus far have ignored the fact that the story Gibson portrays is drawn, almost whole cloth, from the Gospels themselves. The especially controversial sections (“Let His blood be upon our heads and on our childrens’!”, the trial before the Sanhedrin, etc.) are actually in the Gospels. What these reviews are dancing around is actually labeling the Gospels themselves as anti-Semitic (a far less sustainable and far more incendiary charge, to be sure). Yet I have seen no admission of these facts, at least until I read the New York Times’ review (registration required).
To wit:

Is “The Passion of the Christ” anti-Semitic? I thought you’d never ask. To my eyes it did not seem to traffic explicitly or egregiously in the toxic iconography of historical Jew hatred, but more sensitive viewers may disagree. The Pharisees, in their tallit and beards, are certainly shown as a sinister and inhumane group, and the mob they command is full of howling, ugly rage. But this on-screen villainy does not seem to exceed what can be found in the source material.

So, that then leaves us with this question: were the other reviewers wilfully or merely accidentally ignorant of the facts at hand? I would like to believe the latter, unfortunately, I think it’s most likely the former.

The Passion at The Corner

Those intrepid group bloggers over at National Review’s The Corner have been blogging on their reactions to The Passion. There are times that I envy others their ability to describe their feelings succinctly and clearly. To wit:

1) It’s an excellent movie, a masterpiece of craft. 2) It’s hard to imagine that it will lead to many conversions to Christianity, because it focuses very intensely on the human suffering of Jesus (as opposed to his Divine/human glory)-and can thus be seen relatively easily as a graphic documentary of a human-rights atrocity, of the kind that has been all too common in every period of human history. An agnostic, an atheist, or a non-Christian religious believer can view this film as chiefly a description of man’s inhumanity to man. (Of course, the Spirit blows as it wills; conversions have in fact arisen from stranger circumstances than these.) 3) For me, as a Christian believer, what came through most vividly in the film was the disfiguring nature of sin. The Romans beat Jesus to a bloody, shredded pulp-barely recognizable as a human person. Many movies with torture scenes focus on the nobility of the sufferer; not this one. The Romans themselves, as they beat him, have their faces contorted with jeering glee at his suffering. I thought, looking at both him and them, that this is not how God created us, not what he intended us to be and to look like. This is the result of sin. 4) The film makes abundantly clear that great evils are often perpetrated in the name of good. The priests of the Temple are portrayed as defenders of religious tradition and the established social order. They think they are waging a culture war against a social and religious subversive; so they “do not,” in fact, “know what they do” in killing the Messiah. 5) The best performance in the film is not by the excellent Jim Caviezel, but by Maia Morgenstern as Jesus’ mother. What Caviezel’s Jesus suffers in the flesh-aided by very realistic makeup–Morgenstern’s Blessed Mother suffers in her soul, and shows, heartbreakingly, in voice, expression, and gesture.

Mike Poterma

I saw it yesterday, and was deeply moved. I’ll have a column about it in tomorrow’s Dallas Morning News. But a few things here: 1) the intensity of this film blasts away the standard bourgeois American domesticated Jesus we get from too many pulpits today; it’s impossible to come out of this movie and to remain satisfied with the faith as it is lived in much of America, and even in your own life; 2) I was startled by how much empathy I had for Caiaphas and Pilate; echoing Mike’s comments, the movie made me see that both of them reacted very humanly to the “problem” of Jesus: if I were a temple priest, and I’d had to listen to this preacher going around calling me and my kind hypocrites, and then had him right in front of me claiming to be the Messiah, I’d surely see him as an outrageous blasphemer; if I were Pilate, a colonial bureaucrat who just wanted to keep the peace and avoid trouble, why wouldn’t I have given this innocent stranger over to die, if it made my life easier? Like Mike said, the religious and political authorities just wanted to defend order — and lots of us contemporary conservatives understand the impulse.
Which is all to say that this film made me understand in my bones that if I had been there, I probably would have wanted to crucify him too. And, as the Church teaches, in some mystical way, I did.

Rod Dreher

Passion Reviews

I don’t know why I was expecting any different, but the NY Daily News, the New Yorker and Newsweek have already weighed in, claiming that The Passion is a profoundly anti-Semitic hackjob.
While the reviewers are welcome to their opinions, is it too much to ask for them to do a little research before shooting their mouths off? Gibson takes the Scriptures literally, as many Christians do. If one is to read the Gospel accounts of the 12 hours covered in The Passion, then one must allow that 1) the high-ranking officials associated with the Temple instigated the plot against Jesus and 2) the Romans carried out the execution.
However, the Newsweek piece, which was evidently the most well-researched one of the four I mentioned, takes a page directly out of the mainstream media playbook and acts as if controversial theories (many of which have been debunked by countless theologians) and acts as if they are given facts.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke appear to have drawn much of their material from eyewitness accounts and an earlier manuscript, dubbed “Q” by Biblical scholars. Luke’s account gives indication that it was written prior to the death of the apostle Paul (ca. 67 AD) and Matthew and Mark are both widely regarded to predate Luke. John’s account was most likely written later than all the others, perhaps even as late as 90 AD. Yet the author of the Newsweek piece blatantly insists that all reasonable people stipulate to the Gospels being written at least post-destruction of the Temple (70 AD) and that temporal removal and political considerations of early evangelists factor heavily into the tone of the Gospels (i.e., they were trying to curry favor with Rome and therefore placed the blame primarily with the Sanhedrin in order to reduce the culpability of the Romans).
Many of the piece’s author’s objections seem to arise from incredulity.

If Jesus is a severe enough threat to merit such attention and drastic action, where are his supporters?

Deserting Him, as He said they would. The people of Palestine at that time seemed to primarily be interested in Jesus’ miracles and, while some became devoted followers of His, most simply hung about, hoping to see cripples healed or demons cast out. Even Jesus’ disciples failed to understand His role here on Earth and were sorely confused and, yes, afraid for their lives when Jesus was captured by the temple guards. The fact that the Sanhedrin took their action at night shows that 1) they were afraid of the people’s immediate reaction and 2) were less fearful of their reactions if, by the time a new day dawned, most of their skullduggery was accomplished.

But the Bible can be a problematic source. Though countless believers take it as the immutable word of God, Scripture is not always a faithful record of historical events; the Bible is the product of human authors who were writing in particular times and places with particular points to make and visions to advance.

And here we differ in opinion. Fundies like myself take the Bible to be the literal truth and this twerp dismisses out-of-hand (with zero supporting evidence) the accuracy of Biblical accounts, then, in the same breath, delivers an ad hominem attack on the Gospel writers. He offers no facts in support of his conjecture. He seems merely to assume that, were he in the same situation, he would be more concerned with saving his own hide than in spreading a Gospel he considered truth. How craven.

Now, four decades after the Second Vatican Council repudiated the idea that the Jewish people were guilty of “deicide,” many Jewish leaders and theologians fear the movie, with its portraits of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas leading an angry mob and of Pilate as a reluctant, sympathetic executioner, may slow or even reverse 40 years of work explaining the common bonds between Judaism and Christianity.

And these fears are based upon…? Oh yes, the hundreds of years the US has spent repressing Jews.
I guess the fears of a few are now enough to condemn a movie for all time. Unless, of course, the movie happens to be sacriligeous (i.e. Last Temptation of Christ), then, hey, what’s the problem?

The surprising alliance between Gibson, as a traditionalist Catholic, and evangelical Protestants seems born out of a common belief that the larger secular world—including the mainstream media—is essentially hostile to Christianity.

I wonder where we might get that from… Certainly not incompletely-researched hack pieces in Newsweek, no sir! Why, we’d need wholesale proof of the “mainstream” media’s dislike of Christians, their beliefs and their morals before we could believe such a nasty charge.
If one does not take the Scriptures literally, then all bets are off, of course.

To take the film’s account of the Passion literally will give most audiences a misleading picture of what probably happened in those epochal hours so long ago.

(emphasis mine)
Ahhh, so, since we don’t have any direct evidence to the contrary and we only have those notoriously inaccurate Scriptures to rely upon, we must instead rely upon the bleedin’ conjecture of a Newsweek staff writer.

The Jewish priests and their followers are the villains, demanding the death of Jesus again and again; Pilate is a malleable governor forced into handing down the death sentence.

So close, yet so far. Did he not get that Pilate’s unwillingness to take a stand, his proclivity to pass the buck and his unwillingness to risk a public fight with the religious leaders made him equally culpable? I don’t see how this is such a hard concept to get. Perhaps someone needs to explain to him the difference between sins of comission and sins of omission.

In fact, in the age of Roman domination, only Rome crucified. The crime was sedition, not blasphemy—a civil crime, not a religious one.

Duh. Do you think that’s why the “whole assembly” changed the charge to “subversion” once they reached Pilate?

The two earliest and most reliable extra-Biblical references to Jesus—those of the historians Josephus and Tacitus—say Jesus was executed by Pilate.

Again, the Jews of Palestine in the first century AD weren’t allowed to visit death sentences upon their criminals. Instead, its use was limited to the Roman for crimes against Rome. And yes, Jesus was executed by Pilate, at the behest of the temple officials. Pilate ordered the execution. He is as culpable as the Pharisees and priests.
I don’t think I can write any more on this for the moment. I’ll return to it this evening, perhaps with a fresh eye and a better attitude.

The Passion of the Christ

I witnessed Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ tonight at a sneak preview presented by my church. I went into the movie expecting to be moved, but never to the extent that I actually was.
Let’s just clear the air on one point, before I go any further: I do not know how anyone could view this movie as anti-Semitic. The conniving of the high priests and Pharisees was (in my opinion) equalled by the vulgarity, the animal cruelty of the Romans. The culpability lay with both parties; Pilate and Caiaphas were equally to blame. I was interviewed on my way out of the theater by a reporterette from KYW – 1060 AM in Philly. I’m not exactly sure what I said, other than telling her that I was moved. She then asked if I thought it was anti-Semitic. When I answered with a flat-out “No”, she just held the mic in my face for a few seconds and gave me a “Really?” I don’t know if she actually saw the movie or if she simply was asking questions, but I don’t think she could have honestly viewed the movie and had the reaction she did.
Moving on, I came into the movie expecting to be able to make it through the scourging but to have trouble when the Romans actually nailed Jesus to the cross. I cannot describe how wrong I was. I was literally in tears through a good portion of the scourging. When we finally reached the nails, I almost sighed with relief; I had a “It’s almost over. His suffering is almost done.” reaction.
The emotion was intense throughout the movie; I repeatedly heard sobs escape from many of the ~425 other viewers in the theater. Mercifully, many of the most vivid scenes were broken up by flashbacks to times earlier in Jesus’ life.
Jim Caviezel (Jesus), Maia Morgenstern (Mary), Monica Bellucci (Mary Magdalene) and Hristo Jivkov (the apostle John) all put in amazing performances. I was particularly moved by Jivkov’s performance, as he had very, very few lines, but he was able to convey extreme emotion through his posture, demeanor and facial expressions.
Caviezel’s Jesus cut me deeply. I’m not sure why (perhaps it’s my Protestant upbrining), but I’ve always had a bit of a “wussy Christ” image in my head. The Gospels portray him as dying after a “mere” three hours on the cross. I’ve always jumped from “they convicted Him” to “they crucified Him” with nary a second thought given to the intervening hours. This movie has dramatically changed that for me. Even if Christ “only” experienced half of what Gibson portrayed on screen, it is no wonder that He died so “quickly”.
I am not expecting it, but this movie definitely deserves an Oscar nod for 2004. I cannot foresee any movie having anywhere close to the emotional impact, this year or in any year to come.
I would recommend that anyone with any interest in powerful moviemaking go see The Passion as soon as they can. I don’t think anyone, be they Christian, Jew, Hindu, atheist or otherwise, can come out of the theater and not be moved.
I doubt that I’ll be picking up the DVD, though. There’s only so much I can take. Good thing it wasn’t me up on the cross…
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Praying For Those We “Hate”

Had an interesting experience last night at our small group Bible study. We were discussing world events and the issue of whether we were within our bounds to hate Saddam, Osama, etc.
The passage we were looking at was Luke 7:36-50, which is an account of Jesus visiting a Pharisee’s house. Jesus told the following parable to Simon, the Pharisee:

Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?

What’s interesting to me is that most of us would probably consider ourselves to be the man 50 denarii in debt, not the 500 denarii debtor. I’d place Osama in at least the 500 denarii camp, if not more. Most of our small group agreed with that stance. (We also lumped Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and Saddam Hussein in, for good measure).
But something really struck me about the passage: we aren’t owed the debt. It’s not up to us to judge. God can forgive any debt, no matter the size. It’s only incumbent upon us to “love [our] enemies, bless those who curse [us], do good to those who hate [us] and pray for those who persecute [us].[1]
And so, we prayed for Osama. We prayed for Saddam. We thanked God that He had revealed himself to Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. We prayed that binny L. and Hussein would not be modern-day Pharaohs (“I will harden his heart [2]“).
I’m trying, honestly, to pray that with full intent.
I’d still love to see ’em both MOAB’d, though.

Odd Bedfellows

My wife called me yesterday afternoon, practically in tears. She had found an article in US News titled Odd Bedfellows (side note: Was US News intentionally trying to avoid a cliche, albeit in a half-hearted fashion? Or do they honestly not know that “strange” is the generally accepted word-of-choice in said cliche?).
For those too lazy to click on the link: a synopsis, if I may.

Evangellical Christians have poured millions of dollars into Zionist funds, in US News’ view, in order to fulfill Biblical prophecy and hasten the End Times. Many Jewish leaders are extremely suspicious of the motives of Christians and are therefore reluctant to accept the funds.

The article itself struck me as fairly par-for-the-course. A media outlet, either willingly or unknowingly, misunderstands basic Christian philosophy. Jewish groups, more than likely unknowingly, misunderstand basic Christian philosophy. The confluence of the two results in a typically short, poorly-researched piece which adds to the current month’s US News’ page count. On my first reading of it, I had a very hard time seeing why my wife would get worked up over such an article. She even went so far as to say that it was “one of the most anti-Christian things [she had] read in a long time”.
On subsequent readings, I have begun to see what she meant. The not-so-subtle suggestion that Christians aren’t trustworthy when it comes to topics touched upon by Biblical prophecy. The idea that we’d like to hasten the second coming of Jesus by way of making monetary contributions. The notion that the incarnation of a Jewish state signals the End Times being “popularized in the bestselling Left Behind fiction series”. Armageddon featuring a “nuclear holocaust that is stopped at its climax by the arrival of Jesus”. Poor research all around, which can be forgiven, but this seemed more like willful cluelessness.
The biases of the author are simply accentuated by the outright suspicion expressed by the Jewish sources cited in the story.
But where does this misconception come from?
Read Psalm 122:6-9 (NIV):

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.

I draw my inspiration for my views on Israel almost directly from the above passage. Such a strong exhortation is hard to ignore.
I and my wife can both recount many conversations wherein Jewish friends of ours express genuine shock and amazement that Goyiim such as ourselves do actively support Israel and the cause of the Jews. “Why would you support that? What’s your motive?” seems to be the overarching sentiment we encounter. We must want something, right? We’re just Millenialist wackos trying to bring about the end of the world. We just want to convert all Jews on the spot and strip them of their “Jewishness”.
It’s extremely disheartening to realize that we’re not trusted. I couldn’t agree with James Hutchens (of Christians for Israel/USA) more: “The best friends Israel has are those of us whose theology calls for the continued existence of the Jewish people in the land that is rightfully theirs.” Why can’t mainstream Jews see this? Why is there so much distrust?
Ultimately, the article will stand as Yet Another Example of Liberal Media Bias and yet, at least for me, it will remain a sad reminder of a rift that should not exist. I guess the only solution is to continue to be unwavering in our support of the right of the Jewish people to their homeland and to let God take care of others’ hearts and perceptions. Any other course will lead to heartbreak and disappointment, I fear.