The Passion of the Christ opens this week on Ash Wednesday. I will not see it.
I’m sure the film will undoubtedly reap huge monetary dividends and send an untold number of the faithful into a tizzy of religious euphoria. All the “controversy” generated recently has brought the plight of Jesus back into mainstream society in way that hasn’t been seen for hundreds of years.
Blah blah blah blah blah.
As a Christian, I cannot care less about the filmed final hours of Jesus Christ. All the physical pain his body suffered, the trials and the torture — its cinematic presentation is truly the last part of the story that needs to be revisited.
Mainstream Christianity has made the center of its religion about the pain, about the stigma, about the crucifixion. When I look at how God is perceived in churches today, it is not about promise, hope, and love. It is about perpetual atonement.
The historical Jesus died because he caused dissent in a Roman province. The religious Jesus died so that, in the end, humanity can absolve itself of its own shortcomings. His teachings were about brotherhood, understanding and compassion. Love one another, look out for your fellow man, and put his interests first instead of your own.
And yet his body only felt a drop of pain in the ocean of misery caused by those who think they speak for him. Wars, intolerance, suffering; all things Jesus preached against.
That is why films like The Passion ring so hollow to me. While it may be a love’s labor for Mel Gibson, it is the continued and deliberate re-imagining of Jesus’ death that imbues the world with so much hate. It is the glorification of an instrument of torture as a symbol of religion that makes my skin crawl.
Three major faiths continue to rock this world with bigotry and hate yet all stem from the same indelible ideology that we are a brotherhood of man. Judaism, Christianity, Islam — all of its prophets and demagogues preached to the devout to respect life. Instead, its latter-day followers embrace everything even a casual reading of their scriptures denounces.
Read the Ten Commandments. Study the Beatitudes. Explore the Q’uran. When will these major sects realize that everything they embody today is wrong?
When Jesus stood and delivered his sermon on the Mount, did he create the sacraments and command the faithful to deify his mother? Did he order those around him to build vast secretive empires of wealth and ritual? No. He asked everyone to live a simple life, to treat people well and to be good.
When Yahweh returned Moses to the Hebrews with his law, did that law absolve his promised children of murder, deceit and treachery? No, it asked them to honor one’s family, to cherish life, to be honest and to appreciate one’s station without looking upon another in jealousy.
When Mohammed delivered a doctrine to those around him extolling the virtues of peaceful worship of God, did he likewise pursue an agenda of intifada?
As long as today’s entrenched religious organizations continue to skew their original message in favor of tithes and hypocrisy, movies like The Passion can have no true impact. E-mail testimonials attesting to the sheer emotional weight of Jesus’ plight have zero bearing when you realize his existence was sacrificed — yes, sacrificed — so that all may know redemption. Few people understand the magnitude of giving up everything so that others can lead better lives.
It’s not an excuse to persecute Jews. It’s not a reason for fundamentalists to proclaim the End Times by pushing a purportedly secular government towards Armageddon.
Faith should come from Jesus’ life and message, not just from watching his soul ebb from his broken and tattered body. There is enough violence and anger in the world without grafting it visually to the Savior. Even God turned away when his son died.
I understand that people look to the crucifixion as a watershed moment in religion, and the burden of the world’s sins taken up by God Himself is a powerful message. But to make a lasting difference, to make Jesus’ story of rebirth and empathy actually mean something, those who are inspired by The Passion should redirect themselves to what he really taught and not focus on just one more example of how humanity fails itself. Until Christianity figures out it’s about compassion and forgiveness and not about prayer in schools or hating gays, no movie, no matter how evocative, will promote Jesus’ true motivations.