FEBRUARY 9, 2004
Not My Passion
Martin E. Marty
Call this column "Gibson's Passion Not My Passion" or "Sightings Fails to Sight Gibson's Passion." It's a preemptive response to reader and media requests for comment on the forthcoming film, to which so much attention is being given, and about which we've already been asked for comment. As was the case with the novel The Da Vinci Code, I pleaded ignorance and lack of interest, and then punted to people who could responsibly comment in Sightings. There have to be reasons for standing back, because The Passion is both certainly religious and certainly public. So I offer some perhaps weak reasons for reticence:
First, I don't "do" films. In my time at The Christian Century, editor James Wall did movies "up front;" I did books "in back." Comment on the film as film is beyond my zone of competence, and I won't practice on Gibson.
Second, enough other people are saying enough about it, sight unseen or having seen it in privileged circumstances; they don't need an amateur's comment.
Third, although it is, or is likely to be, credibly charged with being a setback and embarrassment to those who care about positive Jewish-Christian relations, or worry about provoking setbacks -- code-named "anti-Semitic" -- I choose different battlegrounds for addressing that subject.
Fourth, Gibson's kind of Catholicism is not the kind I like to help prosper, and comment, pro or con, will help him prosper. His favoring Opus Dei and rejecting of Vatican II are his sectarian choices; we "catholics" go another way.
Fifth, I don't take to depictions of gratuitous violence. It puzzles me that conservative Catholics and Evangelicals who oppose violence in films find it fine if Jesus is in one. (You've seen the "stills" that give an idea of The Passion.) If you get your kicks from the sight of blood and gore, this is a way to get them "sacredly."
Behind these intentionally flip remarks, I have a serious theological point. The previewers who like violence if it shows Jesus suffering, on the grounds that savagery moves people to appreciate his sacrifice, are measuring the wrong thing. In Holy Week I'll be listening to Bach's Passions, singing about "was there ever grief like Thine?" and meditating on the wounds of Christ, but not in the belief that the more blood and gore the holier, a la Gibson.
The humanistic and theological point: pain is pain, suffering is suffering, torture is torture, and horrible pain-suffering-torture is horrible, and I don't think there are grades and degrees of these. Today, all over the world, people are suffering physically as much as the crucified Jesus. The point now is not to accept grace because we saw gore. The issue is not, were his the worst wounds and pains ever, but, as the gospels show, the issue was, and is, who was suffering and to what end. Christians believe that Jesus was and is the Christ, the Anointed, and they are to find meaning in his sacrificial love and death, not to crawl in close to be sure they get the best sight of the worst physical suffering.
Nothing I have written should be read as a judgment on Christians, Jews, or others who have a different view and who therefore go to see it. Here is a case of "de gustibus. . ." and a theological point on which I could be wrong.