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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Saturday, March 20, 2004

"If you're gay, bi, or transgendered, we embrace you. But if your orientation is toward Jesus, you'd better keep it to yourself..."

For What it's Worth

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear...
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down...

Stephen Stills

Passion bashin' is in fashion

Margaret Wente writing in The Globe and Mail struggles to come to terms with the power of the Passion and concludes that secular liberals may be... out of touch... Surely not!?

Judging by most of what you read, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is the most dangerous, disgusting movie of all time. Even if you haven't seen it, you know that it's a gore-filled splatterfest with anti-Semitic overtones, that Mel Gibson's father is a flat-out Holocaust-denier, and that Mel himself is a sinister marketing genius.

The movie has been condemned by most reviewers... Rick Groen said it "comes perilously close to the pornography of violence." Frank Rich, The New York Times cultural writer, has been flaying Mr. Gibson's movie for weeks. "A joy ride for sadomasochists" was among his kinder remarks. The brilliant Christopher Hitchens called it both homoerotic (in a Nazified kind of way) and sadomasochistic. The Toronto Star's Linda McQuaig called it a "torture flick" that will "fan the flames" of anti-Semitism. Commentators of every faith have deplored it as a religious travesty.

So why is The Passion doing such boffo box office?

Because for millions of people across North America, The Passion is a deeply meaningful devotional experience.

"I was profoundly moved," says Ken Godon , who is pastor of Snowdon Baptist Church in Montreal. "It was a very, very emotional experience for me. I saw it twice, and I wept both times. I'm a devout follower of Jesus, and I love him."

The real rift over The Passion is not between the Christians and the Jews. It's between certain devout Christians and all the rest of us, especially those of little or no faith. Virtually everyone who mongers opinions in the mainstream media, including me, belongs to the latter category.

Rev. Godon is a fine and thoughtful man who counts several rabbis among his friends. His flourishing urban congregation includes Iranians, Filipinos, Africans, West Indians, Chinese and Koreans. Some are converts to Christianity. They feel as he does about the movie. "In the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament), there is a chapter which describes what will happen in the future. The Messiah, or the suffering servant, will be marred beyond recognition," he told me. In other words, the gore is precisely the point. "Mel doesn't want people to see a sanitized version of how horrific this was."

In this rendering of Christianity, the suffering is at the very heart of the faith. God allowed His Son to be crushed in our stead. What was done to Jesus is a metaphor for sin. "This is what sin does," says Rev. Godon. "It destroys, it disfigures, it mars. So when you put it all together it becomes a very, very deep reflection. It's a meditation on Jesus and also on my own personal soul."

In the movie, both Jews and Romans howl for Jesus's blood. But Rev. Godon says no Baptist would take a message of anti-Semitism from this. The real message is that we all bear responsibility for Christ's death, and we are all with sin.

In fact, there's no sign that the movie has provoked any upwelling of anti-Semitism. (Some argue that it might be used as a propaganda tool in the Muslim world, but that's another story.) And ironically, the evangelical community is among the staunchest supporters of Jews and Israel. "I have a deep respect for Jewish people," says Rev. Gordon. "I look up to them. I honour them. My faith is connected to their traditions and their scriptures. Everything started with the Jewish people."

He's distressed that some Jewish groups are officially upset by the movie (others are not). "When I look at the film, there is nothing but a profound love for Jesus and a deep respect for the culture from which he came," he says...

Christian evangelism [sic] -- which accepts the literal truth of the Bible -- is the fastest-growing brand of religion in North America today. As the grand old edifices of the Anglican and United Churches empty out, the new fundamentalist congregations are booming. It's not hard to guess why. The churches of the Protestant upper classes have neutered Jesus of his terrifying power. They got rid of all the militancy and gore, which were seen as hopelessly primitive. The suffering of Jesus is Christianity's greatest calling card, and they threw it away.

The Jesus I grew up with was a California hippie with a peace symbol. He was gentle, meek, and it never occurred to me that he was Jewish. The revolutionary Jesus condemning sinners to hellfire was nowhere to be seen. Even as I marched up the aisle on the day I was confirmed, it had begun to dawn on me that Jesus was just a metaphor. You weren't expected to take any of this hocus-pocus literally. In which case, why bother?

The up-market liberal churches have pushed God to the sidelines in favour of ecumenism and social justice. He has all but vanished. For evangelicals, God is real. The blood is not a metaphor. The suffering of Jesus is holy, and to contemplate it is to bear witness. "To me, as horrific as it was, the movie was hauntingly beautiful," says Rev. Godon.

You won't see this view articulated in the mainstream media. Most media folks are proudly secular types who regard openly religious people as distinctly odd. If you're gay, bi, or transgendered, we embrace you. But if your orientation is toward Jesus, you'd better keep it to yourself. We are fairly certain that born-again Christians are bigoted, not very intelligent, and possibly dangerous. This stereotype is easy to sustain because we've never actually met one.

After I talked with Ken Godon, I finally went off to see The Passion. To me, the movie was alternately riveting and revolting, moving and unwatchable. Once or twice it almost touched a chord of rapture in me, the sort of rapture that I vaguely remember feeling as a girl.

The Passion is on its way to being the biggest hit in movie history. Something's happening here, and we ought to find out what it is.

memo to Ms Wente: Read the book

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

...God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

The Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians

10:30:00 pm