February 25, 2004,
It seems odd that today's self-appointed arbiters of public morality are eager to canonize sodomy as a fundamental human right, and to defend the display of a dung-smeared Madonna at public expense as a heroic exercise of First Amendment rights, while condemning Mel Gibson's literal portrayal of the Gospels as beyond the pale of acceptable social behavior. It is enough to lead one to believe that, to these critics, it is God Himself at least, a personal God who places any particular requirements on moral behavior or, worse yet, religious practice who is the enemy. The only God acceptable to them would be an amorphous one with no religious or moral preferences, and the only acceptable religion one that asserts no claim to objective truth. Unfortunately Christianity fails both of these tests, and thus so do Mel Gibson and his movie.
Gibson's The Passion of the Christ commits a litany of unforgivable sins. It accepts the Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus at face value, rejecting the "demythologizing" reinterpretations that have become the pseudo-dogma of the past several decades, thus incurring the wrath of a bevy of doctorate-wielding modern theologians (some of whom, to the shame of the Catholic Church, are on its payroll). It incorporates scenes from the mystical visions of Catholic saints, as though they might actually have historical value and not be simply the delusional hallucinations of pious psychopaths. Compounding the offense is Gibson's apparent belief that God played a role in his making the movie, as though God Himself might have an interest in the Gospel being preached "to all nations," and that Gibson's artistic decisions might have had some help from the Holy Spirit. Gibson's unapologetic admission that he understands Church dogma as it has been understood for most of the past 20 centuries of Christianity, rather than according to the more recent post-Vatican II interpretations, has only added fuel to the fire.
Since Gibson's foes would have a hard time claiming the moral high ground on the basis of their opposition to Christianity itself, they have had to resort to an always-convenient tactic in attacking Christianity the accusation of anti-Semitism. This weapon can be trotted out perpetually, because there is let's face it something intrinsically opposed to Judaism at the very heart of Christian faith. It is not the belief that there is anything defective or inferior about the Jewish race; that is hardly sustainable, given that, according to Christianity, when God Himself took human flesh, he chose to take the flesh of a Jew. Not only was the incarnate God Jewish, but so was at least in the Catholic faith the only perfect creature God ever made: the Blessed Virgin Mary. No, Christian doctrine cannot be held to teach the inferiority of the Jewish race; if anything, it is in greater danger of teaching its superiority. But it is precisely because Christianity teaches that Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah to the Jewish people that the religion implies that Judaism is in fundamental error in its rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. The "Christian" theologians who have taken the lead in attacking the film many of them leaders in the "Jewish-Christian" dialogue have generally made their careers by sidestepping this dilemma by asserting either that Jesus was simply a great moral and ethical teacher, a Rabbi among Rabbis, whose later disciples conferred divine status on him (a view that is by definition non-Christian); or that Jesus introduced Christianity as a way for non-Jews to enter the Jewish covenant but never intended for Jews to become Christian, an interpretation which is contradicted throughout the Gospels. In either case, in their minds, "Gospel Truth" is bunk.
Hence, the attacks against the movie rest on the claim that its literal acceptance of the Gospels makes it unhistorical and anti-Semitic. This supposed anti-Semitism is produced not by the Gospels themselves, but by the false separation of Christianity from Judaism that is part of the modernist spin. Because upon honest examination, it becomes clear that it is not only most of the villains in the Gospels who are Jews, but also all of the heroes, starting with Jesus and his apostles; Caiaphas was no more a Jew than John the beloved disciple.
Our culture pretends that Judaism and Christianity are two separate but equal religions, with equal validity. But that is intrinsically illogical one or the other must be wrong. They are one and the same faith, separated only by the matter of whether or not Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and the religious consequences stemming from that fact. Yet mention of this point must be avoided at all costs, under the current rules of our politically correct culture, for it implies that either Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and all of today's Jews are mistaken, or that Jesus was not, in which case Christianity is a grotesque and idolatrous error.
Poor Mel. He finds himself on the front lines, abandoned by those who should be his allies, and getting it from both sides of the "Jewish-Christian" dialogue, as well as from anyone else infuriated with Christianity for any reason. I for one pray that he has absorbed more than a little of the spirits of those two famous characters he played, Braveheart and Mad Max. He'll need it.
Roy Schoeman is author of, most recently, Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming. More information can be found at www.salvationisfromthejews.com and the Ignatius Press website.