Martin LeFevre: The Passion and the Pity
The Passion and the Pity
I haven't seen Mel Gibson's gory indulgence of Jesus' torture and crucifixion yet, but you can hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on the tube in the States without being inundated with Christian nostalgia. I think I'll wait until "The Passion of the Christ" comes out on DVD so I can take breaks from its relentless violence. I can't help but wonder however, what does all this madness mean?
During his interview with Diane Sawyer on "Prime Time Special Edition," Gibson came off crazier than his character in the "Lethal Weapon" series. Beyond his personal demons however, Mel has managed to demonstrate the opposite of his fanatical belief in the 'blood of the lamb,' indeed the opposite of Christianity's core tenet that 'Jesus died for the sins of all men and women.'
In what must be one of the most ironic twists in the history of art, and proof of the law of unintended consequences, Gibson's obsession with human cruelty confronts the West with the fact that Jesus died for nothing.
So, what does the media mania with a movie about physical suffering devoid of spiritual meaning signify about the Christian world?
I cannot speak about Islam, and where it went wrong, but I can speak about Christianity, and where it did. The cornerstone of Christianity is the clever trick of turning the failure of Jesus' mission into the success of his 'sacrifice.' After 2000 years of war and injustice, that falsehood has run its bloody course.
Now a corrupted Judeo-Christian tradition and a corrupted Islamic tradition divide the world more than the Cold War ever did. The former exerts unprecedented power through a military machine the Romans would have greatly admired, while the latter splinters into factions of fundamentalist fanaticism willing to use any and all means to indiscriminately kill enemies of the true faith.
How far we've come. What would Jesus say about his crucifixion, much less the movie about it?
Rather than glorify his own crucifixion, Jesus would undoubtedly put it in the context of the countless number of people killed the same way, recalling, for example, the tens of miles of crosses along the Apian Way, when the Romans crucified thousands after the slave revolt led by Spartacus, and let their bodies rot in the sun and rain.
"Not only did Jesus strike at patriotism and the bonds of family loyalty in the name of God's universal fatherhood and the brotherhood of all mankind," as H.G. Wells put it (in the male-dominated language of his day), "but it is clear that his teaching condemned all the gradations of the economic system, all private wealth and personal advantages."
"Towards the end of his long day of suffering this abandoned leader roused himself to one supreme effort, cried out with a loud voice, 'My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?' and‹leaving these words to echo down the ages, a perpetual mystery to the faithful‹died." Gibson's twisted emphasis on flaying and bloodletting utterly misses that mystery.
Christians believe that Jesus' triumphant ride into Jerusalem on a mule, signaling the fulfillment of a central prophecy of Judaism, was in fact a celebration of his imminent crucifixion and sacrifice. They assert that Jesus knew his destiny all along, and welcomed it. But that flies in the face of contemplative insight as well as common sense.
The night before his death Jesus saw that the whole thing had gone horribly wrong. He faced a terrible choice‹he could either run, or see things through. In retrospect perhaps he made the wrong decision, and should have left his sleeping disciples and fled the Garden of Gethsemane. Then the horrors committed in his name over the subsequent centuries may have been prevented.
The amazing thing is that, as his last words attest, Jesus did not lose faith in God or in his mission, just in himself. Not understanding what happened or why, he took it back on himself. That was human beyond human, and it is the true reason why Jesus has resonated so deeply in the hearts of so many people over the centuries. He was just like us, only more so.
Perhaps, in the failure of Jesus' mission, a cosmic intelligence (God, Allah, Yahweh, Tao, whatever name one gives the nameless) foresaw the killing and suffering that humans would inevitably inflict on each other. Perhaps that intelligence foresaw as well how humankind would come to this total impasse, as three faiths with one ultimate source tear the world apart.
Religions have come to an end, as has man.
But is the end of the world the beginning of the globe, that is, of the consciousness Jesus called "the kingdom of God."
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.