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Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Man is the Message.

Richard Cohen is a columnist I find myself reading periodically. He is one of those many syndicated columnists with whom I rarely agree--in fact, the disagreement is usually vehement. However, unlike most, our opinions have been known to be in lockstep on rare, happy occasions that leave me hoping for more. I'm usually very, very disappointed. His heart seems in the right place, but most of the time he's too trapped by his ideological commitments to follow it.

In other words, when he's right, he's perfectly right. When he's wrong: ugh.

This is one of those "ugh" moments. Mr. Cohen saw That Film, and left with a thumbs-down. I'm not going to go into depth on this one--just a couple of points. Besides, I sort of agree on the Pilate point, but again, he simply blipped over the sympathetic Jewish populace. That, and a column that uses "fascist-" like a diuretic isn't worth too much time.

I thought the movie was tawdry, cartoonish, badly acted and anti-Semitic, maybe not purposely so but in the way portions of the New Testament are -- an assignment of blame that culminated in the Holocaust.

Yes. An inevitable straight-line progression, that. If memory serves, Himmler even had the Einsatzgruppen read the Gospel According to St. John before every kill sweep. Also explains why, of all the Christianized peoples of the world in the two thousand years since the NT was written, only 1930s Germany set up extermination camps. OK.

And, in the future, please try to refrain from referring to my sacred scripture as "tawdry, cartoonish, badly-acted and anti-Semitic." Doesn't do much for interfaith dialogue.

Oh, wait--Christians are on the receiving end of the invective.

Never mind. Please proceed.

The violence was the message. It overwhelmed the message of Christ, which even a non-Christian can admire and endorse.

Here's a bigger problem--Jesus isn't Confucius, merely an admirable moral philosopher. Unlike Confucius, Jesus' teaching is inseparably bound to his own person. Oh, people understandably try to, picking and choosing--no doubt the instant columnist likes "blessed are the peacemakers," "honor thy father and mother," and related proscriptions. Unfortunately, there are all those messianic and, more scandalous--divine claims regarding his person. Even the ethics-heavy Sermon on the Mount is tied to his claim to be greater than Moses.

The message is the man.

In other words, you can't honestly start treating Jesus like a salad bar--Thousand Island yes, chickpeas no--without distorting him into, well, yourself. Like it or not, the violence done to him was because of who he was, and what he claimed to be--both vindicated by the Resurrection.

Which is why Christians are stampeding to the film.

And others are perplexed.

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