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The “Bashin'” of the Christ

A few remarks on Mel Gibson’s beautifully photographed but badly flawed film:

1) Gibson’s apparently neurotic religiousity impelled him to think he could tell a better story than the Gospels. That is why he lingered on and relied upon long scenes of graphic sadism, whereas the Synoptic Gospels’ passion theologies – and Paul’s and John’s – do not.  That is why Gibson inserted material from the Roman Catholic hysteric Catherine Emmerich, in order to enhance his story’s brutality. Gibson thus was not retelling the Gospel passion narratives. He was substituting his own morbid vision in place of the New Testament’s presentation.

2) Claims are made that through his masochistic imagery Gibson was showing the evil of sin in all its ugliness. That may be true.  But the existence of sin itself needs to be established prior to intelligible discussion about sin and its consequences.  Saying that the Bible promotes the reality of sin is an argument that can only influence fundamentalists who already believe that the Bible is “the inerrant Word of God”.

Moreover, it is essential to recall that sin is not a moral category. It is a theological category. Sin is said not to be merely morally bad, but to be theologically evil. That is,  sin is commonly not said to be bad behavior based on egoic-psychological factors: it is said to be a personal affront against a creator-deity. This alone renders the concept incoherent because – logic and compassion would dictate –  an omnipotent, omniscient creator-deity would know about sin and sin’s consequences in advance and would have a priori eliminated it from his “creation design.” (Also, any deity that would punish its creations in infinitely eternal Hell for a finite crime, is on the face of it unreasoning and cruel.)

3) Even if sin could be proven to exist, all Biblically-aware Christians should know that Jesus in his ministry paid remarkably little attention to sin (especially the “hot” sins), and such Christians cannot logically interpret his work as chiefly “anti-sin.” To so interpret Jesus’ career is to fall into a fundamentalistic-evangelistic paradigm that does not go back to the historical Jesus, and even in many aspects is a misinterpretation of John’s and Paul’s respective soteriologies. It tends to turn Christianity into “Crossianity”.

4) Significantly, as with most other issues, the New Testament is ambiguous concerning sin. The Letter of James “Buddhistically” conforms to the definition of sin previously described: not as an affront against a hypersensitive-and-angry Creator, but as a normal function of human psychology. And there are many NT passages in which Jesus speaks of obtaining salvation by means completely unrelated to his (purported) “saving death on the cross.” These include salvation by works and by Torah-adherence.

Therefore, the film represents a case of Gibson’s morbid imagination running wild, compelling him to “doctor” the biblical passion narratives with his own dark, twisted vision.  For example, Gibson contrives to stage a slow-motion brawl in Gethsemane, bi-and-homosexual party-goers in Herod’s court, Jesus jailed in an underground dungeon not mentioned in the Gospels (where his telepathic mother senses him to be, Judas chased by child demons, Jesus tossed off a bridge and nose-dived into the dirt when soldiers push over the cross, a compassionate Pilate’s wife who kindly dispenses towels to mop up Jesus’ blood, a raven that plucks out the eye of the “bad” thief, and other cinematic modifications.  Obviously, the Gospels’ stark passion narratives are not good enough for Gibson; so he covered over their plain canvas with some very grotesque colors of his own.

The “Bashin'” of the Christ might be sentimental fodder for many in the fundamentalist-evangelical camp, but it utterly fails to serve the Gospel. In fact it resembles nothing so much as a live-action version of a panel in a Jack Chic crucifixion comic book.