With perhaps one in five Americans already having seen it, The Passion continues to rack up attendance records. Would you like to hear an amazing statistic? In spite of dire warnings by some Jewish groups, no American Jews wending their way homewards from the synagogue have been set upon by crucifix-wielding Christians intent on wreaking revenge for the death of Jesus.
I am not being sarcastic. This truly is an amazing statistic. According to Boston police reports, the Oliver Stone-Quentin Tarantino 1994 Natural Born Killers inspired several imitation murders including a firefighter killed by a man who claimed to be fascinated by the film.
Nathaniel White claimed that Robocop showed him how to kill five women and one girl in a year-long murder spree. Four young gunmen embarked on a killing spree, murdering four after watching the TV movie Helter Skelter, a film about the Manson murders. The annals of American crime are filled with instances of the unbalanced and the demented acting out silver screen slashing extravaganzas.
Back in February, when The Passion was released, would anyone have been willing to guarantee that out of millions of theater-goers, not one lunatic would emerge with mayhem on his mind? I would have offered no such guarantee. Yet, nothing of the sort happened. What did happen is that several criminals were inspired to confess their crimes and submit to trial and incarceration after experiencing The Passion.
Even the most hostile critic must concede that just as depraved films stimulate degenerate imitation, so do uplifting films stimulate noble behavior. That is certainly what has been happening with The Passion. Wouldn't it be uplifting and even noble were the Jewish groups who earlier had insulted The Passion, its maker, the Gospels that inspired it, and indeed all Christians, now to issue an apology?
Wouldn't it be refreshing if those who earlier warned of anti-Jewish violence because "Gibson is spouting classic anti-Semitism" would now say contritely, "We were just plain wrong?" How about a "We're sorry" from those who threatened, "Mel Gibson's mouth has turned into a lethal weapon." Instead, what they are now saying is, "Just wait till those Muslims see The Passion."
What exactly can we expect now that a few Moslem communities are screening the film? It seems to me that we can anticipate only three possible outcomes.
Possible outcome number one is that Moslem viewers decry the movie for at least two of its premises that flatly contradict Koranic doctrine. The first is that Jesus was crucified. According to the Koran, Jesus was merely a prophet and was certainly never crucified neither did he rise from the grave. The second is the movie's stubborn depiction of a temple in Jerusalem. Islamic propaganda vehemently denies that any Jewish presence ever existed upon the Temple Mount. It is chiefly for these reasons that the movie is not gaining wide exposure among the world's Moslems. Those that do see it are quite likely to denounce it as sheer fabrication.
Possible outcome number two is that Moslem viewers react to The Passion by waving their arms, shooting their Kalashnikovs into the air and yelling, "Yes! We knew it! Those Jews are just no good. Did you see this? They are even implicated in the death of Jesus." Presumably the consequence of this discovery would be that Moslem audiences then shake their heads sadly and say, "Okay, that's it! No more mister nice guy!" Does anyone seriously suggest that Moslems in the Middle East were just about to denounce homicide bombings until they saw The Passion? Or would all those studious Islamic poets and software architects see the movie, abandon their work and sally into the streets of Marseilles and Islamabad to attack Jews? How could Mel Gibson's movie possibly add to the already frenzied Islamic anti-Semitism?
Finally, we must confront possible outcome number three. Moslems experience The Passion, find it profoundly moving, and in large numbers convert to Christianity. Many would consider this outcome to be rather improbable but they could be the same people who were also wrong in their predictions of how The Passion would impact American audiences. In any event Moslem authorities are not quite as sanguine which is precisely why so few are allowing The Passion into their societies in the first place.
And, should one billion Moslems convert to Christianity, does anyone really believe that the world be a worse place?
Rabbi Daniel Lapin, is president of Toward Tradition: The American Alliance of Jews and Christians, a bridge-building organization providing a voice for all Americans who defend the Judeo-Christian values vital for our nation's survival.
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