The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, February 27, 2004

I suspect I'll be catching The Passion of the Christ sometime this weekend. The weather is supposed to be pretty foul through at least Saturday night, so it's a good movie op.

Kenneth L. Woodward presents a thoughtful look at how the controversially violent imagery of Jesus' final hours provides a chance to re-connect with the more redemptive aspects of Christianity. I especially like the point he makes regarding the overly-easygoing faith that most Americans, and others, take for granted:

H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the creed of an easygoing American Christianity that has in our time triumphantly come to pass: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Despite its muscular excess, Gibson's symbol-laden film is a welcome repudiation of all that...

Indeed, Gibson's film leaves out most of the elements of the Jesus story that contemporary American Christianity now emphasizes. His Jesus does not demand a "born again" experience, as most evangelists do, in order to gain salvation. He does not heal the sick or exorcise demons, as Pentecostals emphasize. He doesn't promote social causes, as liberal denominations do. He certainly doesn't crusade against gender discrimination, as some feminists believe he did, nor does he teach that we all possess an inner divinity, as today's nouveau Gnostics believe. One cannot imagine this Jesus joining a New Age sunrise Easter service overlooking the Pacific...

Significantly, the Passion and death of Jesus is the chief element in the Gospel story that other religions cannot accept. In Islam, Jesus does not die on the cross because such a fate is considered unfitting for a prophet of Allah.

By Hindus and Buddhists, Jesus is often regarded as a spiritual master, but the story of his suffering and death are considered unbecoming of an enlightened sage. Like the Buddha, the truly liberated transcend suffering and death. But Jesus submits to it - willingly, Christians believe - for the sins of all.

This jibes with many accounts I've read of a general Asian (especially Chinese) opinion of Christianity; with tenets rooted in physical suffering, rapturous emotions and classic god-eating (i.e. the sacrament), classic Confucian philosophy regards Christianity as a savage religion.

A secondary reason for catching Passion is to amuse myself at how many people will get scared off by the two hours worth of subtitles.