Gimme That New-Time Religion -- a Play-Doh Jesus
I don’t want to read anything else, hear anything else or feel anything else about “The Passion of the Christ.” There are just so many things not to like. First there is the violence. The relentless phlomp! pholomp! of bullets bashing bodies in “The Matrix” or on prime-time “Alias” is so much more appealing than watching a bleeding, brutalized man for almost two hours.
Mel Gibson’s is violence you actually have to confront and feel as opposed to the hither-thither of rapid-edit, thrill-sized THX digital with CGI enhancements. I hate that. It is so much more appealing when scores of nameless, soulless, faceless forms are being splattered everywhere. That makes the violence so much less personal and more entertaining. Slaughter, after all, should be lighthearted.
The biggest problem I have with “The Passion,” however, isn’t the violence. It is with the protagonist. The guy on the screen is nothing like that insipid, tunic-wearing, lamb-carrying, two-dimensional, felt-faced Jesus from Sunday school. That Jesus was easy. He could be molded and crafted like Play-Doh into anything I -- or anyone else -- wanted from him. That Jesus, for instance, would certainly support faith-based charities partnering with the government. He would happily support a balanced budget amendment, increased defense spending and welfare reform. He would definitely be against gay marriage because heterosexual marriage was his top priority -- it says so right there ... in, well, somewhere. It has been easy for a lot of us to make our own personalized Jesus because he -- the Play-Doh one -- had no soul and certainly posed no threat.
Just look at money. He surely talked about it a lot. But from what I’ve seen and heard from virtually all the churches I’ve ever attended, Jesus was less into serving the poor than polishing the BMW. Maybe that’s why one church recently decided to spend almost $100 million building an even-more-mega-than-mega church building in the safety of the ‘burbs.
It is clearly why he’s given my family so many material blessings. Yes, indeed, when I get stressed by things like “The Passion,” I can just go outside, put the top down on our beautiful convertible and let some of the pressure off. That $5,000 cruise to Bermuda? Jesus would be all over it. Praise God.
I’m guessing that Jesus is probably also -- big-time -- into the people and corporations profiting off God. Christian books and music? Billions of dollars. Paying $30 to go sing songs of praise and worship with a top Christian recording artist? Absolutely. No problem. Jesus was, after all, about higher margins. It’s there in the book somewhere, right?
And this isn’t just a conservative thing. Jesus is as pliable to the left as he is to the right. He’s the moldable Jesus. Friends have told me he would be against any war -- Vietnam, Iraq I, Iraq II -- but definitely for the “war on poverty” even if it hurt some of the people it was supposed to help. He would definitely, I’ve heard it said, be against President Bush because he’s too conservative on fiscal matters, pro tax cuts and anti gun registration at gun shows. Jesus was evidently passionate about those matters too -- one part Cesar Chavez, one part Gandhi. Convenient.
“The Passion’s” Jesus, however, isn’t convenient. In fact, he makes me very, very uncomfortable. That Jesus isn’t moldable, pliable, malleable -- not even huggable. He’s determined. He knows who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. He rebukes Peter, silently mocks Pilate, defies his captors and never whimpers. Forget William Wallace; this guy is tough. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus the movie is closer to Jesus the book. Maybe he doesn’t give a flip about balanced budgets, trade imbalances and interest rates. Maybe he took the lashes of hell for a reason that wasn’t material in any way. Maybe he meant what he said about caring for the poor -- that loving him requires it. Or about wealth -- that it is really, really, really hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Or about profiteering in his Father’s house -- that it is a remarkably bad idea with suboptimal long-term outcomes. Or even about himself -- that he is “the way, the truth and the life.”
“The Passion” is so hard because it presents Jesus as we’ve never seen him and reveals a truth: Come face to face with Jesus in any way and prepare to squirm, or maybe even to hate him. He arouses that kind of passion and should make all of us who use his name for anything be very, very careful.