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FIRST-PERSON: The passion of hypocrisy

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–Regardless of your reaction to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ,” it has done a marvelous job of exposing the hypocrisy of the artistic elite of American society.

Cinema is considered to be part of the world of art. As such, films are heralded for their interpretation of events and personalities and derided for lacking freshness or creativity. Filmmakers who dare to broach taboo subjects or who challenge convention are usually considered bold and daring.

Enter Mel Gibson’s interpretation of Jesus’ suffering and death on a Roman cross. From a strictly cinematic point of view, the film has all the elements that would normally elicit kudos from the avant-garde.

Creativity abounds in the film. The script was written in Aramaic and Latin. Subtitles allow viewers to follow the dialogue. Gibson’s depiction of Satan has to be considered, at the very least, provocative. The special effects are so well done they are almost invisible.

Images dominate the film. As such, like any work of art, they leave aspects of the movie open to interpretation. For some, The Passion may well raise more questions than it answers. However, I have been led to believe that one of the purposes of art is to make one ponder reality.

While The Passion of The Christ has been well-received by the movie-going public, grossing more than $200 million in less than two weeks, the artistic elite have by and large dismissed it. The basis for the negative reaction has been the film is either too violent or too narrow in its scope.

The Passion is the most violent movie I have ever seen. I do not recommend the film to those who are squeamish. That being said, its primary focus is the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. History records that these two forms of Roman punishment were gruesome if not outright sadistic.

For critics to slam The Passion for being too violent is disingenuous at best, and hypocritical at worst. I will point out that the “too violent” charge comes from the very community that lauded Quentin Tarantino’s gratuitously bloody “Kill Bill Vol. 1.” Other mindlessly violent movies have met with similar approval. At the very least, The Passion’s violence has a historical context.

As for The Passion being too narrowly focused, one reviewer commented that Gibson showed too much of Christ’s suffering and too little of His life and teaching. Perhaps this critic should have looked up [The] Passion in a dictionary before seeing the film. Included in the definitions found in the American Heritage Dictionary are: The sufferings of Jesus in the period following the Last Supper including the Crucifixion, and a narrative, musical setting or pictorial representation of Jesus’ sufferings.

Hello mister movie critic, the film is intended to be narrowly focused.

Movies about the life of Christ abound. Mel Gibson sought to do something fresh. In so doing, he has presented a compelling and thought-provoking portrait of a suffering Christ.

Probably the most scurrilous charge made by the artistic elite is that The Passion is anti-Semitic. The implication is that in supporting or approving of the film, you are giving tacit approval to those who have persecuted Jews throughout history.

The Passion portrays Jewish people who were sympathetic to Jesus’ suffering as well as those who wanted Him crucified. To wit, the film represents good Jews as well as bad Jews. However, in no way does the film intimate that the Jews as a whole are responsible for the death of Christ. To label The Passion as anti-Semitic, one would also have to seriously consider the New Testament in the same vein. A few critics have done just that.

It is interesting that reviewers who normally laud films that tackle controversial subjects with an avant-garde flair are cool toward Mel Gibson’s work. Critics who are usually blase toward blood and gratuitous gore are expressing shock over the depiction of Roman scourging and crucifixion. Those who present themselves as religiously tolerant find themselves choking on one of the central tenets of the Christian faith -– the suffering of Jesus Christ for the sins of mankind.

For the avant-garde to reject The Passion on artistic grounds is hypocritical. Mel Gibson has done a serious treatment about a Christ who willingly embraces suffering. Could it be the subject matter of The Passion that has the artistic elite so queasy?

If nothing else, The Passion begs one compelling question. Why did Jesus endure so much? Everyone who sees The Passion will have to deal with this query. Perhaps it is that question that the artistic elite wish to avoid.
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.

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