Mel Gibson’s controversial movie “The Passion of the Christ” will be in general release at theaters beginning tomorrow.

The film is “relentlessly savage [with a]…pronounced streak of sado-masochism” reports Newsweek.

Perhaps the public should expect such horrific detail from the Oscar-winning director of Braveheart, which after all included heads lopped off, gored guts and culminated with its star impaled.

Newsweek critic David Ansen speculates that maybe The Passion might be subconsciously autobiographical.

The middle aged Gibson has said his film is the product of more than a decade of personal reflection that at times included suicidal thoughts, which were ultimately resolved by his renewed religious faith.

The Braveheart star is a member of a schismatic fringe group that has often been charitably labeled by the media as “traditional Catholics.”

However, the extreme movement that broke away from mainstream Catholicism, which includes the Hollywood star, has no official connection to the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, its members and leaders frequently denounce truly traditional Catholics who accept church authority as essentially “apostates.”

Gibson’s current movie focuses upon the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, apparently in a brutally graphic way.

It “plays like the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade” says Ansen.

What was Gibson’s purpose in producing this bloody “Passion,” which reportedly cost the actor/director about $30 million dollars?

Is it just the product of faith, like the star of Lethal Weapon claims?

Despite Gibson’s rather cynical but savvy marketing approach the star seems driven more by his childhood indoctrination than a desire for profits.

Mel Gibson grew up in a family ruled by a father who has denied the extent of the Holocaust and seems consumed by bizarre conspiracy theories.

Religious leaders have criticized Gibson’s film for its dark portrayal of Jewish people and rabbinical authorities. “Those inclined toward bigotry could easily find fuel for their fire” from this movie, Ansen said.

Gibson’s marketing strategy has specifically focused upon the fire of faith burning amongst fundamentalist Christians and perhaps has delineated the differences between that community and more ecumenical believers.

The star skewed virtually every advance screening of his new film towards this demographic group, which he apparently feels will assure its box office success.

The popular action hero is probably right. He will no doubt not only recoup his initial investment, but also reap hefty profits.

The film and its faithful audience is telling though, not only because of Gibson’s seemingly dark view of Jews, but also because the film’s fans include so many Christians that like the star eschew mainstream ecumenism in favor of the theology of triumphalism.

And Gibson, like many of his fundamentalist supporters, appears to think you cannot really question his religious vision.

“The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film,” the actor has reportedly said.

Is Mel Gibson’s film “anti-Semitic”?

“I don’t want to lynch any Jews…I love them. I pray for them,” Gibson said somewhat cryptically.

But Mel Gibson has made “artistic” choices for his film that cannot be supported either historically and/or biblically, which shed a less than loving light on Jews reports Newsweek in the article “Who Really Killed Jesus?” (Feb. 16, 2004).

In The Passion the director/producer has chosen to have Mary Magdalene plead with the Romans to save Jesus when he is taken away to be tried by Jewish authorities.

However, there is no such scene in the New Testament. And it does suggest greater Jewish culpability than can be supported historically.

Likewise, in Gibson’s film the High Priest Caiaphas must determine if Jesus will die, despite the fact that historically the priest had no such authority without Roman approval.

Again, Gibson made a historically inaccurate choice by portraying the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate as a conflicted sensitive man, who only executes Jesus because he is pushed into it by screaming Jews.

History records Pilate objectively as a cruel tyrant, even by questionable Roman standards.

In fact, according to Gibson’s script Jesus actually tells Pilate that Caiaphas specifically bears the “greater sin” for his execution. But only the governor could actually determine that sentence, which after all was a Roman form of execution.

In a less guarded moment Mel Gibson was reportedly overheard describing those who opposed Jesus as “either Satanic or the dupes of Satan.”

Mel Gibson may not see himself as “anti-Semitic,” anti-Semites seldom do, but his selective version of the final hours of Jesus’ life seems to depict a decidedly negative image of Jews.

To some extent the New Testament can be read this way, but biblical scholars concerned with placing the Gospel accounts within their historical context explain that such depictions reflect the political concerns and polemics of early Christians.

In fairness it should be noted that fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have called such scholarship, “liberal” and “unbiblical.”

And it seems Mel Gibson has more in common with such conservative Protestants than he does Roman Catholics.

The Roman Catholic Church has officially resolved such issues, acknowledging that such negative interpretations of the Gospels caused rampant persecution of the Jews, such as the Inquisitions.

But Gibson’s faction of supposed “traditionalists” does not endorse Vatican II and the modern ecumenical dialog between Catholics and Jews.

And as for his film’s largely fundamentalist Christian fan base, they frequently see religious dialog as largely a means of proselytizing to reach the “unsaved,” which includes Muslims, Buddhists and Jews.

However, authentic ecumenical dialog is actually a two-way street based upon mutual respect and regard for other religious beliefs, which is not something fundamentalists like Gibson and many of his current movie fans are known for.

Those who oppose their religious views are at best “lost,” or maybe as Mr. Gibson purportedly puts it “dupes of Satan.”

And how does such ethnocentric triumphalism affect the mindset of its proponents?

Maybe it would be interesting go to The Passion, more to study its fans than to see the movie.

Note: Rick Ross is a former member of the National Committee for Interreligious Affairs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a large denomination of Judaism.


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