Some Thoughts on The Passion of the Christ
by Norm R. Allen Jr.
The film The Passion of the Christ
has aroused great passion throughout the world. The movies’ supporters
and detractors have heaped great praise and criticism respectively.
One critic referred to the film as “The
Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.” Indeed, the bloody torture of Jesus is
difficult to watch. Ironically, conservative Christians such as Bill
O’Reilly and Cal Thomas praised the film for its “realistic”
depiction of Christ’s suffering. These are the same religionists that
constantly rail against violence in films, including some of those in
which Gibson has starred. Furthermore, these critics routinely blast
hard-core rappers for “keeping it real” in their videos, even though
not one drop of blood is shed. Conservative Christians obviously have no
problem with violence in cinema as long as it is used to defend and
glorify their anti-intellectual worldview.
Some have charged that the movie perpetuates
stereotypes. Many Blacks have voiced outrage that Gibson decided to
portray Christ as a White man. The Reverend Paul Scott, founder of the
Messianic Afrikan [sic] Nation, advised Blacks to bypass the film. He
argued that “the image of a White Jesus is more dangerous to Black
children than gangsta rap.”
Not only does the film figuratively demonize
Jews and literally demonize women, Gibson takes a shot at gays. He depicts
King Herod as a flamboyant homosexual, though there does not appear to be
historical evidence to support this view.
None of these characterizations should be
surprising. Gibson is a Catholic, but he does not accept the reforms of
Vatican II. His father is a Holocaust denier, and Gibson has yet to
publicly acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred. Furthermore, Gibson has
harshly criticized gays in public.
A Large Dose
Fans of the film insist that it is not
anti-Semitic, i.e., anti-Jewish. But how could it not be? The entire
Christ story is anti-Jewish, and the Bible makes this clear. As it turns
out, it is good for Gibson that he did not rely strongly on Scripture.
Otherwise, he might have quoted Jesus as he reportedly spoke to
“Abraham’s offspring” in John 8:44–45:
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do
the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does
not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he
speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the
father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.
The New Testament also speaks of Jews as
belonging to the “Synagogue of Satan.” Moreover, in 1 Thessalonians
2:15–16, Paul says the Jews:
. . . both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and
drove us out. They are not pleasing to God. But hostile to all men,
hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with
the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath
has come upon them to the utmost.
In Gibson’s film, Caiaphas, the Jewish
high priest, is a frighteningly hateful figure.
He wants Christ to be mercilessly tortured, and the unreasoning mob
of Jews joins him in hysterically screaming for Christ’s blood.
As another slap in the face to Jews in
particular and non-Christians in general, Gibson displays a biblical
passage warning viewers to come to Christ before it is too late (John
14:6). As long as this kind of religious arrogance exists, there will
never be peace in the world.
It is amazing that many Christians do not
understand why it is irrational to blame Jews for killing Christ. If this story
is true, they should be thanking
Jews. In a satirical Internet response to The
Passion, Crispin Sartwell says Jews killed Christ because:
It was God’s will. Jesus predicted his own betrayal
and death, and we didn’t want to embarrass him by making it look like he
didn’t know what he was talking about. . . . He died for you? Then we
killed for you . . . without us, all that’s left is the Easter bunny.
You’d all be prostrating your[selves] before Odin.
Because religious fanatics generally do not
understand the logical implications of their beliefs, they are among the
last to get irony, if they get it at all.
It seems unlikely that The Passion
will incite violence against Jews in the United States. According to most
polls, most U.S. Christians do not blame Jews for the death of Jesus.
However, in European and predominantly Muslim nations, the story could be
quite different. Anti-Jewish bigotry and violence are on the rise
throughout Europe, especially in France, Belgium, Germany, and the United
Kingdom. Moreover, intolerant Muslims are using the film to instigate
A leading Shiite cleric in Kuwait urged his
nation to show the film because it “reveals crimes committed by Jews
against Christ.” Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Mehri, who heads the
congregation of Shiite clerics in Kuwait, requested that the nation’s
information minister show the film. A state company owns the nation’s
movie theaters, and the Information Ministry has the power to approve and
censor films. Kuwait does not usually show religious Christian movies, but
many Kuwaitis are buying pirated copies of The
Hanan Nsour, a veiled, twenty-one-year-old
Muslim Jordanian woman, left a viewing of the film in tears. She said the
movie “unmasked the Jews’ lies and I hope that everybody, everywhere
turns against the Jews.”
Although most Muslims do not believe the
prophets should be portrayed in literature, film or on stage, many have
made an exception for this film. One viewer said, “The Jews are the most
upset with the movie because it reveals their crimes against the prophets,
the reformers, and whoever contradicts their opinion.”
At Odds with
Fans of the film have asserted that it
accurately reflects the last hours of Christ. However, is there any truth
to this extraordinary claim?
According to Joe Nickell, the leading
investigator of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims
of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the film was based upon a book published in
1833, The Dolorous
Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Anne Catherine Emmerich, a German
“psychic” nun, authored the book and based it on “visions” she
supposedly had of the suffering Christ.
Nickell closely compared Emmerich’s book
and Gibson’s movie and concluded that the two were very similar in
content. Despite Gibson’s insistence that his film was based on the
Gospels, he obviously took many liberties.
For example, there is nothing in the Gospels about the appearance of
Satan in the form of a woman, yet this devilish woman figures prominently
in the film. Moreover, the Bible does not go into gory detail about the
alleged violence inflicted upon Christ after his arrest in the Garden of
According to the Bible, Christ could not
have had long hair. One passage states that it is common sense for a man
to know that “long hair is degrading to him.” Yet Gibson’s Christ
has long hair.
There have been some thoughtful critiques of The Passion in the
mainstream media. However, few, if any, of the major critics have raised
the question as to whether the Resurrection was a historical event.
The Gospels were not written until decades
after the supposed Resurrection. Eyewitness testimony can be extremely
unreliable just minutes after the occurrence of an event, let alone
decades. However, many Christians take a tremendous leap of faith and
assert that, for some mysterious reason, God simply decided to wait until
decades after the supposed event to finally inspire the Gospel writers. In
any case, it seems odd that an omniscient God would wait so long, knowing
very well that highly educated skeptics would one day challenge the story.
Why would he have intentionally made it more difficult for people to
Many Christians are easily impressed by
Paul’s claim that there were five hundred witnesses to the Resurrection.
But all we have are Paul’s word. Who were these supposed witnesses, and
how reliable were they? Most important, should we blindly believe the
outlandish claims of supposed unnamed witnesses who lived during a time
when the world was steeped in superstition and gullibility? As easy as it
is to fool people today, how much easier would it have been to fool people
in biblical times?
Christian apologists routinely claim that
legends do not spread almost immediately after they are started. But this
claim can be easily countered. In recent years, there have been urban
legends about well-known figures. For example, shortly after his death,
many Bruce Lee fans believed that the martial arts film star had faked his
death. He instead was reportedly on a secret island making the greatest
martial arts film of all time. After the death of Elvis Presley, many
people reported having seen him in shopping malls, at gas stations, etc.
Some people still believe that the late hard-core rapper Tupac Shakur is
still alive and making music. Why, then, should it be so difficult to
believe that a myth would have arisen regarding a resurrected savior?
Today we know where Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy,
Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and other great historical figures are
buried. Why, then, can we not locate the actual burial place of Christ?
According to philosopher Keith M. Parsons, the early Christians would have
commemorated the burial site of Jesus had the Resurrection occurred:
No place could have been more sacred for the earliest
Christians than the very spot where the Resurrection occurred. They
certainly would have honored the site if they had known where it was.
(Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate, edited by Stan W. Wallace, p.
Why should anyone be terribly impressed by the supposed empty tomb,
anyway? Religionists are always making outrageous claims that do not stand
up to critical scrutiny. For example, according to Minister Louis
Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam (NOI), the late Elijah Muhammad, the
group’s former leader, is alive and well and thriving aboard a Mother
Plane in outer space. Farrakhan claims that, if people search for
Muhammad’s body at his
alleged burial site, they will not find it. If this turns out to be true,
would most Christians conclude that a genuine religious miracle has
occurred? Or would they look for a more plausible explanation for the
disappearance of the body? If they would pursue the latter course, why
would they not do likewise when examining the truth claims of the religion
What about the supposed “sacrifice” that
Christ made for humanity? As it turns out, the Crucifixion was not much of
a sacrifice. In fact, it was no real sacrifice at all. On the contrary, if
it occurred, it was the greatest power play in the history of human
civilization! Christ had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Why would
a person refuse to “sacrifice” himself for power, prestige, influence,
fame, glory, unimaginable happiness, etc.?
That is not a sacrifice—that’s a bargain!
Finally, many Christians—including Gibson—claim that “we are all
responsible for Christ’s death.” If Christians want to go on a guilt
trip, so be it. However, why should non-Christians feel in anyway
responsible for an alleged crime they did not commit? That is about as
ridiculous as blaming all human beings for the alleged sin of Adam and
Eve. It is time to do away with this absurd and unfair notion once and for
all. When people relieve themselves of the burden of undeserved shame and
guilt, that can only improve society.
The Passion is ultimately another
weapon in the ongoing culture wars throughout the United States. Before
the film was released, President George Bush voiced his desire to see the
film. (It is rare for a U.S. president to lend support to any film.) Two
conservative Christian groups offered two free tickets to all 535 members
of the U.S. Congress. Highly influential conservative pundits praise the
These supporters, of course, are those who wish to reelect Bush to
another term and hope to see a predominantly conservative Supreme Court.
They oppose abortion, comprehensive sex education, gay rights, same-sex
marriage, and numerous social programs. They are in favor of U.S.
imperialism and war against real and perceived enemies of the state. The
Passion has helped to reinvigorate their efforts to dominate U.S.
politics, and this could be only the beginning. Many people have suggested
that Gibson should consider producing more films with Christian themes
that resonate with conservative Christians.
Norm R. Allen Jr. is the executive director of African Americans for