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56 of 52  Trip Around the Sun: The Passion of the Christ, the Movie

 

I have revisited a few churches to get a view of how this “audience” is reacting or approaching this coming movie. Now I have seen the movie, and as with all the other visits, there has been as much emphasis on paying attention to the audience as to what was being presented.

 

To begin, what was presented in the drama here was not significantly different from other “Passion Plays” and movies on the topic, with the exception of one important emphasis. The “bordering on psycotic” interest in detailed violence was so exagerated that it gave a way of measuring not only this director, but moreso the audiences that would appreciate it.

 

There were some other details included in the story that I can’t remember reading in the Bible. Satan appears several times as a rather effeminate figure with a half smile, lending support to the process going on before him.

 

There are two scenes in the film which are parallels to me. I’m sure they were not intended that way, but they were equally ugly visuals for me. One was of Satan holding a sort of “child.” The child was loving him, kissing him, then turning toward us, he looks as evil as the devil does himself. The other scene was of Jesus embracing the tool of torture, closing his eyes and loving it, the cross. A Roman asks, “Why do you embrace the cross, fool?” This Roman had seen many crosses at the side of the road and was familiar with it as their chosen tool of torture and execution for criminals. I think the question was valid and deserves an answer.

 

That cross has become an important Christian symbol, and I can understand a modern Catholic embracing a model of it, but Jesus had no such religion or symbol. It looked entirely ludicrous to me, and I have to wonder what scripture was used to support such insanity. If he had been executed by guillotine, would we see him now embracing the guillotine? Idiocy. He loved us, even the least of us, but not the tool of torture. The cross did not become a symbol of this sacrifice until later.

 

And why is Satan always depicted as stupid? Didn’t he know about this whole plan that Jesus had? Why was he so supportive of it? Why did he encourage the cricifixion, for example. Wouldn’t he achieve his purpose better by influencing it not to happen? Are we to assume he knew nothing about what was going on?

 

The Romans employed to do the flogging, including no person who would have any idea that this was the Christ with special powers, would be most aware of what amount of flogging a human body could endure. This was their job; they knew how it worked. Yet this movie was directed to make them entirely unaware of this. This flogging would have killed any normal human being several times before it was over. They would have assumed that Jesus was normal; they were not Christians; they did not believe He was God or the Son of God. Cuts were visibly a quarter inch deep, one to six inches in length, and there were thousands of them, covering every visible surface of the body, front, back, sides, legs, arms. This was ludicrous and exagerated violence that could not have been the case during the real event. It would have precluded the coming torture by bringing on the death very early. Not, some may say, for the Son of God, because He could take it without dying. But the men inflicting this flogging would not have known nor believed this was a super God-human who could take that abuse. It makes no sense that they would do this. It was designed to feed a need, a need of the expected audience, a grand need for violence. It is enjoyed by lovers of it for heroes and enemies alike. I saw it appreciated when Rocky was beaten to a pulp, making his eventual victory even more sweet to us. If Rocky had not been badly beaten up, he would not have been felt as such a hero.

 

Other Passion Plays seem to do the same, but not to this insane degree.

 

And what is this weakness about, when Jesus stumbles and can barely carry the cross? Don’t all Christians understand that He could have flown like Superman with his cross and all to the top of the hill at will? Why the pretense of weakness? They could not take his life; He gave it. But how could they take his strength? Did He simply pretend to be weakened by their actions against Him? Most Christians believe that Jesus is God, the only God, and thus could not view this as the result of God’s abandonment of Him.

 

There is not much more to say about the movie itself. Would I recommend it for others? Only if the viewer goes critically. It is not reasonable for entertainment, though that is primarily the way it will be seen, and it was engineered to be that way. The fourth laughing will prove it, I think.

 

I will talk here of four “laughings,” which have been significant in my own life. These are four times I heard people laughing that caused anger for me. The fourth one is from this movie. There have been more than four, of course, but the three plus this one are those that came to my mind during the experience of watching this movie.

 

The four laughings. I’ll put them in simple chronological order.

 

The first laughing:

 

As a college student, I went with a girlfriend, one I liked quite well. This laughing and my reaction to it was the beginning of the end for that relationship. It was a World War II movie – John Wayne as the star. It was just a good old shoot ‘em up movie with good guys and bad guys. It was always assumed, of course, that all Americans were good and all Germans were bad. In more modern war movies, we might have had at least one “bad” American and one “good” German, but not so in this older movie.

 

German tanks were nearing. John Wayne ran to a tank, climbed up on top of it, opened the hatch, pulled the pin on a hand grenade, tossed it in, closed the lid and screwed it tight. Then he retreated from the tank, and we heard the muffled explosion and saw smoke coming from all the small openings under, around, and on top of the tank’s structure.

 

The audience of college students laughed. I turned to my girl friend and said, “Why in the world would people be laughing.? Don’t we know that simple boys, most likely innocent of any real understanding of why they have been put into such a war, perhaps trying to get a last look at a picture of their little children in their wallet, have just bled to death? Why is this funny? Oh sure, I know – the psychology of it all. But some laugh at one thing, others at another, and it does mean something.

 

The girl asked me after, “But don’t you think it was needed to stop that tank?”

 

I answered, “Well of course. It was a war. But I don’t celebrate when I clean the toilet. It’s something that has to be done, but it’s not for entertainment. We should have been glad the tank was disabled, but sad about the poor simple men inside.”

 

I don’t have to think far to find examples of the same for me. With a different set of circumstances, a different “enemy,” it’s the same for me as for that audience, but I often think that I don’t like this about myself and most of the rest of us.

 

The second laughing:

 

Most of my work with the United States Navy for 31 years was in defensive warfare. Even the missile programs I worked on were not involved with missiles of mass destruction, nor even missiles designed to kill. They were designed to home in on a radar or some other physical target, and with a small explosive destroy that radar. Still, all about me were programs of a more “offensive” nature, wherein the goal was the killing of human enemies. I came to realize in the final analysis, that my own work was in support of it all.

 

We were called to a secret meeting, that is, a meeting requiring a secret clearance for attendance. A film was shown, during the first war in Iraq, under the other President Bush. In this film, the camera is located inside one of our aircraft. A laser designator is assigned to a tank on the ground, a small missile is fired which then homes in on the laser energy reflected from the tank, and the tank is summarily destroyed, innocent men and all. Then the men in that aircraft went ballistic with delight. It was similar to the delight when a touchdown is made by our favorite football team. The same delight along with laughter leaked into our safe meeting and filled our room. I sat ashamed, yet afraid to speak. Sometimes war becomes necessary, but enjoying war is not only not necessary, it is evil.

 

The third laughing:

 

In California, the Mormon Church put lots of effort into the passing of Proposition 22. This was a proposition that would bring us a law disallowing our honoring of any homosexual marriage if performed in another state or somewhere else where it was legal. Such marriages were already illegal to be performed in California, and this proposition was to keep it from happening elsewhere and then having to accept it here in our state. The new law may be determined to be unconstitutional, and it may not, but it did pass. There is a statement in the California constitution requiring our acceptance of things done legally in other states. Most other states have this same statement. This proposition was to make an exception to that statement and to put the exception into the law.

 

There had been organized meetings to support this proposition. Fliers were made up and distributed to members. Talks were given in main religious meetings to encourage and pressure members to put up signs, walk door-to-door, etc. We and our adult children were called many times in an effort to have us work for the proposition. Wards were organized statewide from a central organization.

 

After the passage of the proposition, there was a celebratory meeting held at the Stake Center, a large meeting center for Mormons. I attended.

 

There was always an insistence that “We do not hate homosexuals; we love them, and we want them to accomplish a sweet repentence.” Yet, during the enthusiasm and hoopla for this passage, I heard often words like “faggot,” right at church. My wife heard the same in meetings of women.

 

The leader, the man who had led the operation for the state, was speaking. He told several stories of successes along the way during the campaign.

 

One story involved a time when a gay group was planning a sign-carrying demonstration on the lawn of one of our church buildings. It was to be held during one of the Sunday meetings. As it turned out, the particular congregation that was going to be meeting at the time, unknown to the gay group, was the Samoans, who have their own Branch. “Can you imagine what would happen if they demonstrated while these Samoans were meeting?” he said, and the audience laughed heartily.

 

Why? Was it funny to envision possible violence against these gays?

 

There was a time at the meeting for questions. I asked only one. “Why did this audience laugh at the thought of possible violence toward gays from the Samoans.

 

His response: “Oh no – this brother (speaking of me) obviously does not understand these Samoan brothers of ours; they are sweet, peaceful and non-violent people.” I knew that.

 

I, of course, was not speaking about Samoans at all, but about this audience. It does not matter what personalities might have made up that Branch – this audience was excited at the “thought” of possible violence against the gay demonstrators. That’s what the laughing was about. What else could it be? This was an audience full of people who hate and fear gays. One woman stated from the audience that she was afraid all the time since she put a sign in her yard in support of the proposition. “What will they do to my family? I can’t sleep at night.” Can’t these leaders see how much of their own fear they have engendered for others concerning gays?

 

The fourth laughing:

 

After all this horribly detailed violence in the movie, one would think people should learn something about the “message” Christ has tried so hard to give. “When ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.”

 

Yet while Jesus hung on the cross, one thief pointed out his own guilt and the innocence of Jesus. Jesus then told him that he would see him that day in paradise.

 

But then the other thief, kind of rolling his eyes and indicating unbelief in Jesus, found flying above him, a crow. The crow swooped down and pecked a hole in the man’s forehead. Many in the audience laughed. Then the crow reached down and pecked out an eye of the thief. Even more of the audience laughed, and louder. They had laughed at violence against one of the “least of these,” even while he was being crucified, and therefore, by the teaching of Jesus, they had laughed at violence against Jesus. They didn’t know this; they had not gotten His message at all. Doing it unto that thief, they had done it unto Him, and they didn’t even know it. I don’t think the director knows it either, for why was the crow invented and provided? (Unless it is a test. I would be interested to know - - )

 

I can’t remember this crow from scripture. I think it must be that this was intended for exactly the reaction it got. It was entertaining to the audience, who adored violence. What they probably have trouble admitting, is that they also enjoyed the violence against Jesus, just as we, the proponents of boxing do, or long ago, the proponents of gladiators. It was doubtless only part of this large audience, but definitely a significant part, who laughed at Jesus. (By laughing at one of the “least of these.”)

 

For me, the ghosts coming from the TV screen in Poltergeist (the movie) was so ridiculous that it seemed to me the author was trying to make it humorous. I think if the Atheist Coalition came to see this movie about Jesus, they would see this ridiculous and exagerated violence as humor, and probably would have laughed out loud at exactly the times this audience would not. When Jesus was taking this impossible flogging, it would be as Wiley the coyote being blown up by a bomb or mashed by a freight train, impossible and therefore funny. Ah, how we humans love our violence.

 

This was by and large an audience of people who hate the unbelievers so much that they are glad to consider each of them burning forever in Hell, a worse fate than they had just witnessed for Jesus. They knew nothing of this thief. The scriptures don’t tell us anything about the man. They didn’t hate him because of his stealing. They hated him because he didn’t accept their hero. They hated him because he didn’t believe something. Is that reasonable justification for hate? Someone does not believe as I do, so I hate him? And they will say, “No no, we don’t hate the unbeliever. All we want for him is salvation.” Ok, so why did they laugh when the crow pecked out an unbeliever’s eyeball? These folks are at a football game, and they want their Jesus to win.

 

The movie had the Romans who did the scourging and the nailing to the cross, etc., laughing quite a lot during the process, and so, naturally, this audience was wanting much to laugh back. They did not imagine that they were much the same as those very Romans, laughing as they did, about this man having his eye dug out by a crow. Poor Jesus, the very ones who “worship” Him forget to love Him, as he had told us He wanted, by their loving of the least of these, visiting those convicted of crimes in prisons, forgiving adulterers, and all the rest that He so plentifully exampled. Jesus loved that thief. This audience hated that thief. If that same crow had plucked out the eye of Jesus, they would not have laughed. That’s good, of course, but Jesus would not have had us laugh when the crow pecked out the eye of the thief, and they have not gotten this message.

 

I’m glad the director, writers, etc., did not show Jesus laughing about that crow. Yet, if they had done so, it would probably have made it clear to the audience how wrong that would be. We would all say to ourselves, “Jesus would not do this.” So why would we do it ourselves right at this moment when Jesus was before us giving us His message? Why is His message ignored while we hail Him as our hero?

 

It’s significant to me that our President is one of those who believes that 90% (or more) of Americans are going to burn in Hell forever. Such loved violence as Hell is about as sick as believing gets. That 90% includes all the atheists, among them many great scientists. It probably includes the Catholics, the Jews, the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindu, likely the Mormons, who believe that Jesus is the literal son of a separate God, all those who believe their own works have something to do with salvation. All those, in their belief, except those few who are the fundamentalist “born again” Christians, who laugh when crows peck out the eyes of a man probably not guilty of more than each of them are also. They have been taught to love their enemies, but hating is so much a part of their whole doctrine. Imagine a God who burns His children forever just for getting a technicality incorrect, no matter how well they developed themselves and lived their lives. Now there’s someone I could hate, a God like that. Jesus is so much kinder than that, forgiving even His enemies.

 

It’s not so much about the movie. It’s about the people who made the movie possible, and who are now making it a blockbuster success. They are haters. They hate unbelievers. What one believes, technically, has little to do with their life process. There are good Christians, good atheists, good Jews, and bad folks in all the same belief categories. Fundamentalists, as we know, don’t care much about how good or bad people are. They simply believe all people are bad, and that we are saved by believing what they believe, that Jesus is God, the only God, and that He is their savior.

 

I saw “Fiddler on the Roof,” many times. It never gets old. There was a message of some violence in it, but not gratuitous, not enjoyed violence. The real message was about compromizing religious dogma for the good of family and other values. It never gets old.

 

“The Passion of the Christ” was worth one critical viewing. For that reason, I’m glad I went to see it, but it would be no pleasure to see it again. Nothing could be missed. There was no complexity at all. There was a message of the Savior’s love, but it did not transfer at all to the audience, who at the end of the movie, still hated the poor thief, transferring hate they had just felt for drafted Roman soldiers and for reactionary Jews. Who wouldn’t hate men who torture and laugh. Yet this audience had just laughed at the torture of the thief right in the midst of his crucifixion.

 

As to all the discussion we’re hearing about where blame should be placed for the “killing” of Jesus, the movie gave the scripture line, in a flashback, that makes it clear. It comes from John, 10:18.

 

“No man takes my life; I lay it down of myself.”

 

The Jews did not kill Him: they could not have done so. The Romans did not kill him; they also had not the power.

 

So now we come to the other assumption often made. It is that we, all the sinners, killed him, because we made his sacrifice necessary in order to save us from our sins.

 

The nearest I can come to a similar story, so that we may have some clarity, is to talk of a man with his friends in a foxhole. When this man jumps face down over a hand grenade to save his buddies, who killed him? Was it the enemy who threw the hand grenade? Was it the country who forced him to go to war?

 

But more important, did his buddies kill him by having a need to be saved by him? That’s pretty ludicrous, isn’t it? This was a heroic suicide. He killed himself. His buddies did not kill him. He probably saved their lives, but his death was not their act nor their wish. One of them might have been just as willing to do the same for him.

 

That’s what Jesus did. He died on purpose as a hero. We like to say, “He gave his life,” rather than “He took his life.” But the truth is, He ended his life, and he did it with planning, pre-meditation. He knew what he was doing, and nobody else knew, certainly not the Roman soldiers, certainly not Pontius, certainly not the Jews for whom he claimed to be the promised Messiah, and who did not believe Him.

 

We may look upon the story and see not enough provocation to justify the actions of the Jewish society or the Romans, but according to His plan, if this were not enough provocation, He would have continued to provoke more and more, until His desired goal was met, and He was crucified. It was His own plan, no-one else’s.

 

It was a heroic suicide. He either attempted to save mankind, or succeeded at it. It would be heroic either way. We can each decide our opinion on that question, but we did not kill Him; the Romans did not kill Him; the Jews did not kill Him; He killed Himself. Whether we choose to spin it that He gave His life, He took His life, or He laid His life down, it is sure, if the stories are true, that He did this “of Himself,” and there were no other killers of Him.

 

 

56 of 52 – Trip Around the Sun – The Passion of the Christ, The Movie

 

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