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February 16, 2004
Gibson Defends The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson appeared on a special Primetime Special Edition, interviewed by Diane Sawyer about his soon-to-be-released film, The Passion of the Christ, to both publicize the movie and to explain it. Gibson appeared along with panels of Christian and Jewish scholars to debate points of theology and intent in Gibson's vision of the last twelve hours of the temporal life of Jesus.

I have not yet seen the film (which opens next week, on Ash Wednesday), but I do plan on seeing it as soon as I can, especially after seeing Sawyer's interview. Gibson, who looked uncomfortable throughout the show, still appeared to answer as honestly as he could, being charming perhaps even despite himself, especially when he claimed that he was thinking about pitching his tent next to the WMDs, so that "no one could find me". The only time he looked angry instead of uncomfortable was when the conversation strayed to Gibson's father, who is an extremist paleo-Catholic and Holocaust skeptic (at least in terms of scope), telling Sawyer, "You don't want to go there."

While there were many fascinating parts of the interview, the focus obviously fell on the allegations of anti-Semitism. Gibson admits that these charges "make him crazy," and it's not hard to understand why. Gibson asserts that he has made a film that faithfully represents the Gospel accounts of the Passion. If this is true, and if he then is challenged because of it, critics are really alleging that Christianity itself is anti-Semitic -- certainly an assertion that would offend many millions of Christians who consider themselves anything but, including myself, a staunch defender of Israel whose maternal grandfather was Jewish. Gibson himself said that his critics "really don't have a problem with me ... they have a problem with what's written in the four Gospels."

And what is the basis of this supposed anti-Semitism? A representative of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said he was "disturbed" and "pained" by the reaction of several thousand evangelical Christians at a screening he crashed, who cried, wailed, or sat silently at the end of the movie. Not once did he state during the program that Gibson misrepresented the Gospels or even the overall historical record, nor did any of the other scholars condemn anything in the movie outside of the "blood curse" verse in Matthew, which was removed from the movie, at least in the subtitles. Gibson explained that after a lot of reflection, he decided that there wasn't enough time in the movie to put that verse in its proper theological perspective. It's still audible in Aramaic, but I highly doubt that anti-Semites spend their time learning ancient Jewish languages.

Sawyer even tried to associate Passion plays with Adolf Hitler, saying in effect that they caused Hitler to be anti-Semitic, which is beyond ludicrous. Hitler, as Gibson points out, was hardly a model Catholic, and his anti-Semitism was well-established before his political career ever began. Hitler was an occultist and a believer of a warped Germanic mythology, weirdly twisting Wagner's Ring into a religious belief of German supremacy.

Instead, as the program repeatedly underscored, the issue of most critics was that the movie was made at all. At one point, someone asks, "Why are we revisiting this now, of all times?" This question is ignorant and ridiculous. Christians the world over "revisit" the Passion every year at Easter, straight from the same Gospels that Gibson uses as source material. It's not as if Gibson unearthed some obscure apocrypha that no one would otherwise know. And Gibson expertly skewered the most inane criticism offered by ABC's panel, from an "expert" who stated that if he was a Martian seeing Gibson's version of the story first, he wouldn't understand why such a nice man was killed because Gibson didn't provide the context. To which Gibson replied, "Yeah, you're right ... if you were a Martian." Do critics really believe that we're all Martians who have no access to the rest of the story?

The movie was made because Gibson wanted to make it and had the resources to do it. Eventually, the market will determine whether he made a wide commercial decision in doing so. Why can't these scolds and finger-waggers simply trust people to make their own decisions on the film?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 16, 2004 10:34 PM

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