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What Would Jesus Think? Violence and Anger Overshadow Love and Forgiveness in Mel Gibson's The Passion

What Would Jesus Think? Violence and Anger Overshadow Love and Forgiveness in Mel Gibson's The Passion

By Neal Cohen

It took most of my willpower to stay seated till the end of the movie. I had done my best to go to the movie with an open mind. The violence, however, was disgusting. The stereotypical images of Jews were undeniable. The point of the movie seemed to be no other than the arousal of passions. This was The Passion .

From a personal interfaith perspective, it is difficult to write about the film. My wife, a non-practicing Catholic, preferred not to see the movie. However, we did talk about it upon my return. Understandably, she likes the "nice" stories about Jesus--the healing, the peace-making and the "do unto others" language. The Passion contained, perhaps, ten minutes of beautiful and noble things that Jesus said about how to treat others, how to find holiness in the world, and how to honor God. The other one hundred and fifty minutes were grotesquely awful--the capture, torture and crucifixion of Jesus, his interminable whipping by bloodthirsty Romans.

I do not fear for those of us in this community. If you are reading this article, someone you love or someone in your family loves someone of the other faith. What is more intimate than being in love with someone? People in our situation know that their partner or friend is not guilty of murder for the act of an ancestor two thousand years ago. I am not worried about us.

I am worried about the rest of the world. The world that doesn't do the dishes, pay the bills or play board games with a Jewish partner. I am worried about terrible things coming to pass and the setback to the work that people like us are involved in. I am worried that we live in a world where Egypt recently broadcasted a twenty-part mini series of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , where protesters compare Israeli soldiers to Nazis, where Jewish schools are bombed in France and where, even in Brooklyn, there are cries of Christ-killer. I am worried that people in Guatemala and Vietnam who have never met a Jew will believe this film in its entirety. While there are thankfully no pogroms today in Oklahoma, there are increasingly disturbing attacks going on elsewhere from Istanbul to Buenos Aires, Toulouse to Tunisia. Unlike the Passion plays of the Middle Ages in Europe, this Passion play will air worldwide. Anti-Semitism, already on the rebound, will grow as a result of this film.

This leads me to my main question: Why would anyone want to create such a movie? Clearly, if he is risking years of work, his own money and public opprobrium, Mr. Gibson surely has a purpose. Is his purpose as benign as showing that Jesus suffered terribly, even much more savagely than we could previously imagine? What is to be gained by showing graphic detail about Jesus' death, while ignoring the work of his life?

I understand that Jesus' death is important to Christian theology, but I know that his life is also incredibly important. I think that anyone, whether Jew or Gentile, can appreciate and learn from Jesus' core teachings of love for our neighbors and forgiveness for those who wrong us. Today, during such difficult times, these teachings are as relevant as ever. It is for this reason that in addition to being deeply troubled by the violence and negative stereotypes of Jews depicted in The Passion , I also come away disturbed over the film's dearth of information on Jesus' positive teachings. Clearly, Mr. Gibson has not created a film that will advance the ideals of peace and love for our neighbors, a central teaching of Jesus' life.

Hebrew term, synonymous with Jerusalem.
Neal Cohen

Neal Cohen is an attorney in New York City where he lives with his wife, Briana Maley.

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