The Sunday of Forgiveness 2004
Listen closely and you will hear the hoary hounds of Hell howling their hatred of an event that has not occurred. They cry out not at war or famine, not at injustice or crime. They bare their teeth over entertainment, a film, an interpretation of the last hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
I have tried with small success to avoid the hype and hysteria preceding the release of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". It was my hope to see the film free of self-serving influences. Alas, that will not be the case.
From Mel content to malcontents, the media are full of pre-release hyperbole. Let's be honest, here; Mel Gibson is a highly talented, award-winning actor and director who makes a good living at pretense. We expect Mel to convince us with much sincerity about the merits of his film, in which he has invested up to $30 million of his own money. So, it is natural for Mel to use his charms and powers of persuasion to promote his investment.
At the same time, it is natural to see a counter campaign from the usual suspects, detractors whose raison d'etre is the derailment of all messages that fall outside their ideas of how the world should turn. When Christianity, particularly conservative Christianity, challenges their straw world, they strike out with vitriol and venom.
An anti-Mel/anti-Christian email prompted the column you now read. The email was a copy of an article carried by the online magazine Salon (www.salon.com). It is a classic example of leftist speech and godless commentary, written for the satisfaction of the types of folks Lenin called useful idiots.
Here are some examples.
"Mel Gibson is a Catholic Traditionalist, an offshoot of Catholicism that rejected the papacy and the reforms of the Vatican II in 1965, which, among other things, repudiated the charge of deicide against the Jews." Well, yes . . . and no. Catholic traditionalists (small "t") use Latin masses, shun modern church reforms, practice pre-Vatican II Catholicism, and, as such, are not recognized by Rome. Also, note the not-so-subtle attempt to accuse Gibson of Jew bashing through the statement that he believes Jews killed his God. Not only is that theologically incorrect, there is no record of Gibson espousing that point of view. Such statements serve only to perpetuate centuries of mistakes and mistrust. This is like continuing to blame all Texans for the assassination of President Kennedy. Intelligent folks don't buy it and only the weak minded peddle it.
" . . . a frighteningly well-organized Christian group called Outreach has undertaken a grassroots-style promotion of the film through its website ThePassionOutreach.com." Why, one may ask, is a well-organized Christian group described as "frightening?"
"The Outreach Web site reveals instructions for a church-based PR blitzkrieg for the film . . ." Blitzkrieg? A not-so-accidental use of a German word, designed to evoke fears of Jew bashing, and worse.
"The Web site features 'Outreach tools' and strategies with corporate-catchy names that are intended to aid the faithful in helping proselytize for the film through their participating church." And the problem with this would be . . .?
The rest of the column includes a Q&A with a priest from an Episcopal church in San Francisco who sneers at fellow clergy attending a screening of the film ("male clergy with their wives in tow"); describes Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as modern-day movie makers who tried to force Hebrew scriptures into validating their Jesus-is-Lord agenda; and says Christ's death for the sins of all mankind is nothing when compared to today's diseases and human suffering.
The fact is this: These folks and their ilk are not troubled by Gibson or by his film; they are frightened by the possibility that someone may discover Christianity, or someone else may have his or her faith strengthened.
Another point to consider is the theology behind strength in numbers and how that relates to the power of prayer. This year is one of the occasional times when the conjunction of the Old and New calendars ( www.slocc.com/orthodoxy/oldcal.shtml) allows Eastern and Western Christians to observe Easter, or Pascha, at the same time. As a result, the entire Christian world travels together through Great Lent.
Orthodox Christians appreciate the significance of this. The fathers of the Church teach that a direct correlation exists between a Christian's attempts to pray and worship and Satan's attempts to distract and prevent spirituality.
The fathers would stroke their beards and nod in understanding of "The Passion of the Christ" brouhaha."Is no mystery here," they would say. "Is Satan poking at us and distracting us. He really gets ticked off when we ignore him and turn our minds to God. Do not be deceived."
Mundus vult decipi.
John David Powell, an Orthodox Christian, is an award-winning writer and Internet columnist, professional speechwriter, and contributor to the Christian Millennium History Project.