When I was a teenager I attended an Assemblies of God church. One weekday evening I went to the first of what was hoped to be a series of relaxed gatherings for teenagers in one of the church memberís homes. It was one of many failed attempts to ďcommunicate with kids on their level.Ē We sat around talking, playing games, and singing Christian folksongs (an oxymoron, I know, but thatís how they were presented). At the end of the evening, the one person there who wasnít a teenager, a man in his mid-twenties, gave a little talk. We had been told that it wouldnít be a sermon, that it would be more open, more frank, than what we were likely to hear at church on a Sunday.
We all expected that it would be about sex, or drugs, or some other subject specific to teenage life (as the older church members thought we experienced it). As it turned out, the subject was totally unexpectedóa blow by blow account of the crucifixion, in graphic, almost clinical detail. The speaker gave us minute information on the various wounds and beatings Christ received, the stabbing, the driving in of the nails, the hanging from the cross, and what affect this all had on his body.
The idea was to drive home to us the suffering Christ had gone through in order to redeem us of our sins. That a man should have chosen to go through such intolerable agony in order to rescue humble sinners such as ourselves is, if you are a believer, a powerful testament of Godís love and can be a strong reinforcement of your own faith. I was both shocked and moved. All of us were.
This, I imagine, is what Mel Gibson is trying to achieve in The Passion of the Christ. (I havenít seen it yet, but you can read detailed reports of it here, here, and here). If youíre not a believer, howeveróand I no longer amóitís doubtful that this way of telling the story is going to have much affect on you, aside from possibly turning your stomach. I canít imagine anyone being converted by such a spectacle.
I doubt if it will work on most believers either (Andrew Sullivan, a devout Catholic, considers the movie pornographic and immoral). My friends and I walked out of that meeting moved, but also questioning the motives and the reasoning of such a presentation. There never was another meeting of the group, and I never saw the speaker again, either in church or anywhere else. In a way, being presented with the facts (and we believed they were the facts) in this way, only resulted in diminishing, for us, the divine qualities of Jesus. It made him too human, just another guy being tortured to death. And growing up in the late 20th century, we were all too familiar with that.
But then, maybe thatís part of Gibsonís goal, as well. Maybe what he really wants to do is separate the wheat from the chaff. If you canít handle his particular brand of manly but masochistic Christianity, then maybe you should just step out of the tent now into this convenient fiery pit we have ready for you. If you canít handle the truth about your saviorís suffering, you probably donít deserve to be saved anyway, you sniveling little worm. Letís face it, youíre just not tough enough to accept Godís love. You deserve to go to hell, just like Melís wife.