Eric Scheie at Classical Values nicely summarizes pundits’ up-and-down votes for ‘The Passion of the Christ.’

Hopefully, Exodus ex-gay spokesman Randy Thomas will broaden his own perspective in the coming days. His review demonstrates some humble insights, but also suffers from serious oversights.

In focusing narrowly on sin and obsessively on sadism against one man, many reviewers say, the film buries Jesus of Nazareth’s radical faith and politics — views that were at odds with the conservative orthodoxy of his time, views that prompted his torture and execution.

Reviewers disagree on whether the film is anti-Jewish — perhaps in part because many Christians are unaware of the visual and verbal cues that have historically been used to promote anti-Jewish bigotry.

The reviews that I’ve seen thus far overlook the whole issue of torture — its history, its magnitude, the plight of modern-day souls tortured and killed for their (usually liberal or unorthodox) religious and political views.

Exodus spokesman Randy Thomas reacted to the film not with big-picture reflections, but by identifying with individual characters — except Judas and Satan.

Thomas’ identification with flawed individuals from the gospel narratives is sincere. But curiously, Thomas overlooks traces of Judas in the behavior of all people of faith, especially the behavior of those who use the lives of others to promote their own political agendas, as Judas did (or so some gospels suggest).

This is not Thomas’ only oversight.

Thomas discusses Satan’s substantial presence in the movie, never acknowledging that Satan is absent from the gospel narratives of Jesus’ final hours. In fact, except for scattered indirect references, Satan is virtually absent from the gospels.

Thomas also cites numerous acts of gratuitous violence — incidents imagined by Gibson, and depicted nowhere in the New Testament. Yet Thomas reassures us that the movie is true to the Bible.

Thomas assumes that it is appropriate to portray androgynous individuals as satanic. He appears to be either blind or unconcerned about the impact of such assumptions on gender-variant and same-sex-attracted people today.

And, among the most illogical of his observations, Thomas takes the orthodox and hypocritical religious rightists of the gospel narratives — the Pharisees and Sadducees — and instead associates them with liberal, secular political correctness.

Totally, exactly the same dynamics that happens today in politically correct circles. Play with words, lie to achieve an end, pass the buck, force people into double binds, do what is politically expedient.

Is Thomas describing nameless immoral liberals, or his own organization and its partner Focus on the Family — or both? It is a bit dangerous — and self-defeating — to issue such accusations when one is the spokesman for an organization that:

  • espouses conservative political correctness and conformity,
  • supports discrimination against gays and others whom it deems non-Christian,
  • misquotes equal rights advocates and science studies to make a point
  • stakes out political positions because they will appeal to Focus on the Family, and
  • winds up in double binds of its own making because it declined to dialogue with opponents or determine the facts before staking out a self-defeating position.

I have to wonder whether, perhaps, Thomas is projecting unhappiness with some of his own organization’s behaviors onto those whom he deems to be enemies, when any finger-pointing might best be directed first at oneself.

The most important messages of Jesus of Nazareth were to love one’s enemies, pray for one’s persecutors, and judge not lest one be judged by one’s own standards. Thomas seems to have momentarily forgotten these messages — lost, as they have been, in the popular uproar over a movie focused on sin, gore, and (possibly) scapegoating.

Here are some links to others’ worthwhile reflections on ‘The Passion’:

Mary Magdala and Competing Strains of Christianity, by Allen Brill
Nailed, review by David Denby, The New Yorker
Passion about the Passion, by Father Bo (Le Pretre Noir)
‘The Passion’: What’s Not in the Bible? by Beliefnet
Peter, Paul, Mary… and God, by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times
Schlock, Yes; Awe, No; Fascism, Probably, by Christopher Hitchens, Slate
The Worship of Blood, by Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic

My personal favorite religious movies:

Fiddler on the Roof
Jesus Christ Superstar
The Last Temptation of Christ

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