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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

It's here.

Some reviews and commentary, sublime and...less so. Me? No, haven't seen it yet. If you're looking for the relentlessly negative reviews, or the negative aspects of even four-star reviews, Michelle has the link for you! A little pinch of arsenic (or a bucket--Carroll? Please...) in every bite.

Still, Jewish concerns are warranted, valid, and must be considered. Here are three reviews by men of goodwill. Read them all.

Michael Medved.
Dennis Prager.
Jeff Jacoby.

"Dialogue" often gets a bad rap, and often deservedly so. Here's an example of a worthwhile meeting about the film between Catholics and Jews living in the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

The Jewish Federation of Grand Rapids bought out two theaters for joint screenings with area Catholics. Leaders of the Jewish community and the Catholic Diocese aimed to defuse divisiveness through dialogue.

Catholic Bishop Kevin Britt hailed it as perhaps the largest public gathering of Catholics and Jews the area has seen.

"It is our prayer that over time this evening will be another step in understanding between Catholics and our Jewish brothers and sisters," Britt said during a discussion following one of the showings.

He noted the Second Vatican Council denounced anti-Semitism and declared neither all ancient Jews nor Jews today should be held responsible for Jesus' death.

Britt said he saw no anti-Jewish slant in Gibson's film, calling it "very powerful."

"I don't think I'll be able to read the gospel again with the same eyes," Britt said. "To see the real physical suffering Christ endured will give it a whole new meaning."

Though extremely violent by today's standards, he added, the movie "might be reflective of what really happened."

Rabbi David Krishef disagreed, calling the violence "over the top" compared to gospel texts. But Krishef said warnings of the film's anti-Jewish content were overblown.

"I walked into the movie expecting something that would be very obviously and explicitly anti-Semitic," said Krishef, leader of Congregation Ahavas Israel. "Honestly, I didn't see it. I saw glimpses here and there."

He asked Jews to keep in mind most Christians won't see anti-Semitism, but a powerful interpretation of a sacred text. But he reminded Christians, "when we Jews see this crowd of people demanding the crucifixion of Jesus, we take it personally."

For the full smorgasbord of reviews, try Rotten Tomatoes. It's running about 51/49 positive negative, as of right now. Speaking of which, here are four balanced, but positive, reviews from a variety of sources.

James Berardinelli's Reel Views.
Terry Lawson (Detroit Free Press).
The USCCB (apparently they didn't get the scholars' memo--fundamentalism is everywhere--AAAAIIIIIEE!)
Kenneth Woodward of Newsweek. I particularly enjoy these quotes from Woodward:

More than 60 years ago, H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the creed of an easygoing American Christianity that has in our time triumphantly come to pass: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment though the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Despite its muscular excess, Mr. Gibson's symbol-laden film is a welcome repudiation of all that.
* * *
It is easy, of course, to contrast third-millennium Christian mores with the story of Christ's Passion. Like other Americans, Christians want desperately to know that they are loved, in the words of the old Protestant hymn, "just as I am." But the love of God, as Dorothy Day liked to put it, "is a harsh and dangerous love" that requires real transformation. It is not the sort imagined by today's spiritual seekers who are "into" Asian religions.

Significantly, the Passion and death of Jesus is the chief element in the Gospel story that other religions cannot accept. In Islam, Jesus does not die on the cross because such a fate is considered unfitting for a prophet of Allah. By Hindus and Buddhists, Jesus is often regarded as a spiritual master, but the story of his suffering and death are considered unbecoming of an enlightened sage. Like the Buddha, the truly liberated transcend suffering and death. But Jesus submits to it — willingly, Christians believe — for the sins of all.

Finally, the...less than sublime.

Two winners of the H. Richard Niebuhr Award for Missing The Point Entirely:

David Van Biema, from Time, who celebrates our wondrous, sinless, superior selves:

The Passion of the Christ is a one-note threnody about the Son of God being dragged to his death. That may be just the ticket for some times and for some benighted places where understanding human torment in terms of God's love is the only religious insight of any use. But in a culture as rich, as powerful, as lucky and as open-minded as ours — one might even say, as blessed — it is, or should be, a very bad fit indeed.

Actually, Mr. Van Biema, that makes it a perfect fit for our smug, well-fed, bored, half-anethesized consciences which can only work up a yawn or titillated smirk at the myriad horrors in our midst.

The nothing-if-not-consistent Deacon Bronson Havard of the Diocese of Dallas.

Many people who saw the screenings of “The Passion” could not articulate how they felt afterwards, except to be repulsed.

And the others, Bron? Besides, last time I checked, crucifixion is repulsive. That was the fricking point.

Shock treatment about the crucifixion is not a substitute for understanding Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or his opposition to religious legalism, oppressive governments and caste systems. The movie has too few flashbacks to Jesus’ ministry to give a clear picture of what his life was about.

Maybe there's not much of the rest of it--I don't know, perhaps--could just be--theoretically, I hasten to add--because the film is called THE PASSION of the Christ, you twit! If it were called The Sermon of The Christ, or The Teaching of The Christ, or The Distinctive Table Fellowship of The Christ, or The Imagined Fuzzy Bunny Inclusiveness of The Christ As Presented By the Spokesflack of the Diocese of Dallas, you'd have a point. But, as it stands now--objection overruled.

Jesus stressed the dignity of each human being. He freed men and women of all backgrounds to know each other as brothers and sisters who are loved by their Creator.

First sentence--Yep. Second sentence--Maalox. Remember the quote from Niebuhr. Actually, Jesus freed us from sin, restoring us to a loving Father we had rejected by preferring everything else in the world to Him. There was only one way He could do that, too. Unfortunately for The Rev. Havard and the rest of the Luv Bunny Brigade, there's no avoiding the scandal of the Cross. Even if you're the pointman for a Catholic Diocese.

To embrace the cross in Christian theology is to truly know the liberating power of love.

"Everyone, open your hymn book to song number 38.

Come on, people now, smile on your brother/
Everybody get together and love one another right now..."

No, Rev. Havard: There's no way out but through. You can't get to Easter without living through Good Friday.

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