A PACIFIST HIJACKING
Today was the very last day that Netflix would make available (according to my sources, could be wrong)Mel Gibson‘s The Passion Of The Christ. I have heard the worst and best that this movie had to offer. Was it going to be anti-semitic kinda like Gibson’s tendencies? Was it going to be heartwrenching and moving, taking me closer to the Almighty? The point of the violence, well the point of all movies, television, and visual media like them (YouTube videos,etc.) is to move us emotionally from one place to where the director wants us. When The Passion first came out, it was all about EMOTION EMOTION EMOTION. Isn’t it sad how Jesus was beaten, and bruised, and crucified for our sins?
Well, I would have been saddened if I had not been familiar with the story of the crucifixion. The problem is not the movie The Passion of The Christ itself, but the bad theology of the Cross that American civil religion has. American civil religion wants us to only talk about the Crucifixion during Eastertide, and really, some churches can’t even do that much during Holy Week. So I finally overcame my fear and watched this movie all the way through, and this is what I have to say. This is movie is not anti-Semitic, in fact, it went out of its way to have Jewish leaders have a vibrant debate about Jesus’ claims. The Roman Empire for the first 15 minutes were invisible, but after that, they were pretty prominent, and though a little to cheery of interpretation for my tastes (no mention of Roman polytheism with little mention of oppression, etc), I felt the depiction was okay.
The theology of the movie was left to be desired. The demonic baby held by satan was unnecessary, and while the Evil one definitely plays a role in Christian atonement theories, because this film was biased toward Substitutionary Atonement, the devil’s role was somewhat diminished from the classical/Christus Victor view. I was not moved by the violence or gory white body of Gibson’s Jesus; I was much more touched by Jesus’ teachings, to love our enemies, and forgive those who persecute us, the idea that eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth was not to be given over for the ethic of enemy love.
Anti-violence can be found in the Christus Victor atonement theory, the idea that the Son of God overcomes sin, disobedience, Satan, and death in one deed paints a beautiful picture of just how much God loves us. I really believe that a film like “The Victory Of Jesus of Nazareth” would work. For more on this view, I recommend a recent video series by evangelical preacher Greg Boyd: Penal Substitution Vs Christus Victor.