Friday 4 August 2006

The passion and the hatred.

A lot of people are saying that Mel Gibson's alarming outburst just goes to show that they were right all along about The Passion Of The Christ being a piece of antisemitic propaganda. I don't think so. In fact, I can't see any way in which the meaning of a film could be influenced by something its director does a couple of years later. If you saw the film at the time, you know what was in it — and that's still what's in it. It didn't change when Gibson got pulled over.

I saw it at the time. It had been out for a while by the time I got around to it, so I'd seen most of the criticism by then. I wasn't at all sure what to expect, the reviewers being so widely divided over whether the film promoted Jew-hatred, but I was certainly aware enough of the possibility that I was looking out for it. And I'm quite sensitive to criticism of Jews, because I'm one of those people who think that resurgent antisemitism is a serious and pressing problem in today's world, and... well, frankly, I can be a bit boring about it. Some might call me hypersensitive. Vic would: as she said yesterday, if I didn't notice any Jew-hatred in the film, it's not there to be noticed. But it would appear that plenty of people are even more sensitive than I am.

I've never been impressed by the fact that Jesus's having been killed by Jews has been used to justify anti-Jewish feeling in the Church. It's certainly true, yes, but it's stupid. Of course he was killed by Jews: he was a Jew living in Judea. If that's going to be held against the Jews for all eternity, then why not damn the English for Harold Shipman's work, too? After all, every single one of his victims was killed by an Englishman. I've always viewed this dodgy reasoning as evidence of the stupidity of the Church. It's a shame that it seems to have spread to so many of Christianity's critics. Take Christopher Hitchens, for instance:

Apparently seeking to curry favor, Gibson announced a few weeks ago that he had cut the scene where a Jewish mob yells for the blood of Jesus to descend on the heads of its children (a scene that occurs in only one of the four contradictory Gospels).

Hitchens is an atheist. He doesn't even like Christianity, let alone believe any of it. So why on Earth would he mention how many of the Gospels this scene appears in? He objects to the scene's content, which would be the same if it were in all four Gospels as it would if Gibson had simply made it up. Arguments about how much weight to give each of the contradictory accounts in the New Testament are for Christians, who do actually believe some of it. All the Gospels assert that Christ was resurrected, and Hitchens certainly doesn't believe that.

Yes, this scene in the Bible has been used by the Church to justify killing Jews over the years, but what that proves is that people, the Church included, are bloody stupid. Many people have also used the doctrine of determinism to excuse the actions of murderers. That doesn't mean that Einstein was guilty of incitement.

The film's detractors claimed, of course, that there was a lot more to it than merely controversially showing that Christ was killed by Jews. No, they said, the thing is that the bad Jews in the film are obvious evil Jewish stereotypes straight out of Nazi cartoons, while the good Jews are all pale-skinned, delicate-featured people. This was mainly a reference to the scene in which Judas puts on his glasses before ordering a bagel and going to work at the bank.

Well, bollocks. There were a wide range of different noses, lips, and curlinesses of hair in the film — just as there would have been in Judea — and I certainly didn't spot any correlation between facial features and evil. By far the palest, most North-European-looking character in the film is Satan, and I hardly think Gibson was trying to portray him as the ultimate good guy (though I have to admit that the moral message intended by putting him on a skateboard went right over my head. Must be because I'm an atheist).

Meanwhile, it's been over two years now. The film was massively successful, being watched by millions upon millions of devout Christians, most of whom seem to have loved it. If it was teaching them all to hate Jews, well, where are the bodies? The briefest of glances through Christianity's history shows us that it doesn't take a huge amount of work from a persuasive preacher to set off a bit of Jew-killing. But, as far as anyone can see, not one Jew has had so much as a slap in the face as a result of the film's message. There is, however, a lot of gleeful violence directed at Jews from a group of people who certainly weren't interested in the film.

Whether Gibson decided not to push his obnoxious opinions in his film for moral or financial reasons, or whether he is simply a terrible director who tried to make a piece of Jew-hating propaganda but screwed up, we don't know. But the film is not antisemitic. And, in fact, is rather good.


Apparently, there's a lot of gleeful violence directed at Jews from a group of people who, it turns out, went to watch the film in droves. You live and learn. Well, I do. However, they were directing gleeful violence at Jews before the film was released, and I for one am not convinced that the film caused them to ramp it up a notch.

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