Tuesday, February 03, 2004


The anti-Semitism argument is not the most controversial thing about the soon to be released Mel Gibson film. The amount and quality of the violence in the film will be a much bigger bone of contention for the Christians who will be lining up at theaters. Believe me, this isn't the kind of film that you load up on popcorn and Diet Cokes for and then sit there munching away. A lot of people are going to be shocked, and profoundly disturbed by the violence.

Most adult Christians need to see the film, but we need to prepare them for the shock of it.

I have written an article for an upcoming issue of the St. Austin Review that addresses this question. I don't have permission to excerpt the article here, but I'll reprint a couple of paragraph's by way of promotion...

Several devout Christians have noted to me that they will be staying away from The Passion of the Christ because of the violent images. I hear from them things like, “Violent images on screen get stuck in my head” and “screen violence is just too disturbing to me.” I understand this. I have never been able to purge from my mind some of the terrible torture scenes I have been exposed to in films like Romero, The English Patient and The Fixer. And yet, those films amount to powerful indictments of real evils, in the civil war in El Salvador, from the Nazis, and in the Mob. These are evils that caused immeasurable human suffering. If others had to live it, through no fault of their own, isn’t there something just in me having to watch it, especially from the relatively easy life I live, through no particular merit of my own? The truth is, I could have gone merrily on my way, never brooding over, or even aware, of the terrible suffering in the Church in Central America, had not Romero forced me to look....

...The images of violence in The Passion of Christ are very hard to watch. They are truly disturbing on a level in which I have never been disturbed by a movie before. But I needed to see it. The movie “disturbed” me back into a pragmatic seriousness about, to borrow from St. John, “sin, and righteousness and condemnation.” The great novelist Flannery O’Connor defended the harshness of her work by noting wryly, “I have found that violence uniquely opens my characters to the truth. The truth is something that we can only be returned to at great cost.” She also noted that as the world moved farther and farther from righteousness, more violence would probably be necessary to return it to the truth.

Still, watching the Savior suffer and die may be too much for some disciples. Out of the entire troupe of Our Lord’s apostles, even after three years of front row seats at miracles and sermons, only John was able to stand up and watch the actual events of the Passion. The others fled the sight, and it was undoubtedly a mercy for them to be able to shield their eyes.

Perhaps the horror of the Passion would have obscured for Andrew and Thomas and Peter the joy of the resurrection. Perhaps it would have irrevocably shaken their faith. Perhaps it would have led them into an anger and hatred that they would not be able to overcome. The reasons probably all are still applicable to some believers today.

But certainly, those same apostles who did fail to watch with him, lived and died with the certainty that theirs was a falling short. It was a failure of courage, and the consequence of a weak faith that kept them away from the images of Jesus on the Cross. Above all, it was proof of an imperfect love that ultimately placed their own safety and sensibilities over following Jesus....

The article came out to be 1700 words long, so, if you want to read the other three sections of the piece, (ie. "Prudence or Fear?" "Art or Exploitation?" and, "Does It Have to Be So Bad?") contact the magazine for a copy.

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