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The following letters are considerably longer than the standard Voice letter guidelines allow, but they are so informative, well written, and well supported that I did not wish to edit them. I hope the Voice continues to receive such passionate and erudite responses and that you enjoy reading these letters. If you have an opinion on The Passion of The Christ, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll include it in an upcoming Sounding Off column.
Response to Jody Waddle’s The Passion of the Christ, Another View.
Although Jody Waddle’s article purported to “clear up the most common questions and comments” about The Passion of the Christ, it was alarming for its naive confusion of personal belief with fact. Waddle asserts that Gibson’s portrayal of the crucifixion is not a “gore-fest”, and, indeed, the bible does say that Jesus was scourged. However, it does not say, for instance, that he was scourged until he was practically flayed and it does not say that after they nailed Jesus to the cross, that the Romans flipped over the cross, with Jesus on it, to hammer down the nail-tips poking through on the other side. Undoubtedly, the Romans were cruel, but what Gibson portrays is the product of his religious imagination only and is certainly not verifiable.
As a graduate student of history, I was surprised, too, to read Waddle’s assertion that Gibson consulted with historians about his insertion of the devil into the film. Surely the absurdity of such a statement requires no further comment from me, except to add that it appeared to me that Gibson had consulted, instead, with the rock group Metallica for his portrayal of Satan.
I would, however, like to address Waddle’s question about why Mel Gibson’s association with a particular religious sect, The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) to be exact, should cause people to wonder if he is anti-Semitic. A quick visit to the Society’s web site reveals why this association has been made. In an interesting feat of word-play, an article on deicide (meaning literally the killing of God) and anti-Semitism argues that while the Jews were “directly responsible for the crucifixion” their “curse” does not derive from this, but rather :
“The curse is then the punishment for the hardhearted rebelliousness of a people that has refused the time of its visitation, that has refused to convert and to live a moral, spiritual life, directed towards heaven. This curse is the punishment of blindness to the things of God and eternity, of deafness to the call of conscience and to the love of good and hatred of evil which is the basis of all moral life, of spiritual paralysis, of total preoccupation with an earthly kingdom. It is this that sets them as a people in entire opposition to the Catholic Church and its supernatural plan for the salvation of souls. [Italics added].”1
In other words, the Jews are not cursed because they killed Christ, but because they did not convert to Catholicism after The Truth was supposedly revealed to them through his life and death. Thus the SSPX denies its anti-Semitism while upholding its anti-Judaism.
Furthermore, lest there be any ambiguity regarding the SSPX’s rejection of religious tolerance, the Society’s website also contains an article entitled “Defense of the Inquisition”.2. In a lengthy explication on this topic, the article argues, among other things, that the majority of those who were tortured by the Inquisition withstood the torture and were thus acquitted, suggesting in the author’s view, that torture has been regarded in the wrong way: it was really just “a kind of judicial test”. Ouch. But fear not, because even if you happened to fail the “judicial test”, “those condemned to death were not always executed. Their sentences were sometimes commuted to time in prison, and they were then burned in effigy. Moreover, the condemned were not always burned alive. If they showed a certain repentance, they were suffocated before being thrown on the pyre.” Gee, that’s a relief.
But that’s not all. The author is just getting started, because what he really wants to tell us is that “those who have the Faith must convey a positive judgement on the Inquisition. In purging the Catholic Church in Spain of Marranos’ [Jews converted to Christianity] influence, the Holy Office saved Spain from Protestantism and spared her the horrors of a religious war similar to those which ravaged the greater part of Europe in the 16th century. . . . If the burning of a few hundred heretics had enabled Spain to avoid such a conflict, one must conclude that the Holy Office performed a humanitarian act. In addition, the Inquisition not only saved Spain, but the entire Church.” Thus, the author concludes, by suggesting that an Inquisition in the 19th and 20th century would not have been such a bad thing. Sadly, he suggests that “Now it is too late” for another Inquisition, because it “can only be effective in a society which is already profoundly Christian”. (Never mind that this contradicts his earlier assertion that the reason Spain necessitated an Inquisition was because it was not profoundly Christian due to all of the heretics and Jewish converts that it had to be purged of).
Which brings me back to Waddle’s article. It is clear from even the few examples which are readily available on the SSPX’s website, that the Catholic sect which Gibson is associated with, has, besides a rather curious interest in torture, a strong anti-Semitic strain throughout (although it would be fair to say that they are not tolerant of other faiths, either). There is good reason to wonder to what extent Gibson is influenced by the ideas of the SSPX. Surely by choosing to belong to a sect outside of the mainstream of Catholicism he has made a conscious choice about which church best reflects his beliefs and values.
Setting these troubling matters aside, as a faithful Christian with a perspective different from Waddle’s, I wish to address one other issue. Contrary to Waddle’s assertion, not all Christians believe that “Christ’s mission was his suffering and death for him to be the new covenant between God and the people. He died for our sins so that we could have eternal life.” In fact, it is the position of the United Church of Canada that Jesus’ suffering was “not the payment of a ‘debt for human sin. As a church we believe that God is present to all who suffer, and that God does not desire suffering in any form'”.3.
Ironically, it is Gibson’s film which brought me to the same conclusion as that of the United Church. Up until then, I believed in the doctrine of atonement, but after being subjected to more than two hours of inhuman torture depicted in The Passion, I could no longer reconcile the loving God of Christ’s teachings with the sadistic God of Gibson. Moreover, the doctrine of atonement no longer made sense to me. If God is all-powerful and the designer of the universe, why would S/He need to make covenants with anyone? (And inflict a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering in doing it). Perhaps, then, rather than reiterating the trite formulas of the Catholic catechism, Waddle would benefit from an active examination of them. Faith is a journey not a destination.
1. “Can it truly be said that the Jewish race is guilty of the sin of deicide, and that it is consequently cursed by God, as depicted in Gibson’s movie on the Passion? <http://www.sspx.org/Catholic_FAQs/jews_guilty_of_deicide.htm>
2. Jean-Claude Dupuis, “Defense of the Inquisition”, <http://www.sspx.org/against_the_sound_bites/defense_of_the_inquisition.htm>
3. “Passion: what the United Church says,” The United Church Observer (April 2004), 44.
If you have an opinion on The Passion of The Christ, send it to email@example.com and I’ll include it in an upcoming Sounding Off column.