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July 01, 2004

The Passion of the Oliver Stone

Remember back when the left was so furiously anxious that The Passion of the Christ would inflame worldwide passions against Jews?

For my part, I sympathized with those concerns -- which were, and remain, quite real.

But it's a difficult call-- can one say that the most important part of the Christian religion should never be filmed because of the tendency that it might inflame anti-Jewish feelings?

There seems to be a lot of misinformation about the Christian religion floating around out there, most of it offered in condemnation of Gibson's film. For example, NY Post reviewer Jonathan Foreman asked why couldn't Mel Gibson make a happy, uplifting story about "Christ's teachings and philosophy," which he deemed, without any evidence, to be the "true" message of Christianity.

With all due respect: Christ's teachings are not, in fact, the "true" or central part of Christianity. His sacrifice and death on the cross in order to redeem mankind is the central story of Christianity, and that's simply not going to change, no matter how many times it's asserted that "being kind to your neighbors" or "protecting the environment" is the religion's central message.

Not even Christ's Resurrection is as important as his death, theologically speaking. The Resurrection is evidence (if you believe in that sort of thing) that Christ was the Son of God. But humanity was offered salvation by His death, not by His resurrection. The death is the climax of the plot, in fiction terms. The teachings are a preamble and the resurrection is an epilogue. Either could be deleted without compromising the main point of the religion.

So that presents us with what the lawyers call a "hard case." Undeniably, a film featuring Jews as accomplices in Christ's death cannot help but to inflame anti-Jewish passions among the more troglodytic citizens of the world.

On the other hand, we're not talking about a minor little part of the Christian religion here; we're talking about the sum and entirety of it, the big magillah, the sine qua non. The whole ball of wax.

The question is squarely presented, and it cannot be nicely finessed by postulating that there's no reason to film this particular episode of Christ's life: It's the most important episode of His life. To what extent, then, should a religion ignore or edit its central teachings in order to spare the very-real and unavoidable effect that teaching might have on Jews, or any other minority?

Taxi Driver had the potential to incite madman to commit assassinations (and, actually, that potential was realized); but can we say this film shouldn't have been made because of that predictable consequence?

It's a difficult question, for me at least, balancing the value of art against genuine human misery and death. But it wasn't a difficult question at all for the left or for Hollywood, which was quite insistent that The Passion should never have been made.

Now comes the Crusader film and two Alexander the Great pics. Both will inflame Muslim passions against Westerners, just as surely as The Passion of the Christ inflamed Muslim passions against Jews. And yet Hollywood doesn't seem to have any reservations about making these films, now does it?

What accounts for this? And no-- I'm not making any kind of anti-Semitic suggestion here; I'm as pro-Jew as a non-Jew could possibly be.

I'm not saying Hollywood is controlled by Jews, nor, even if it were, that would there be anything objectionable about that. (And it's not, by the way.)

I am, however, saying Hollywood is largely controlled by people who don't have any particular affinity for the security or interests of the United States of America, or even for the Western civilization that makes them multimillionaires.

The difference between the treatment of The Passion -- blacklisted by Hollywood -- and the current crop of pro-jihadi films can only be explained by one simple fact: Hollywood is sensitive to the safety of and regard of the world's Jewry-- which is quite proper and laudable. Hollywood can be proud that it was so concerned about the likely anti-semitic passions that would be inflamed by Gibson's film; all thinking people should be so concerned. (Which is not to dictate one's ultimate opinion on the film; it's just to say everyone should be concerned about, and aware of, the likely effect of the film on Jews.)

Hollywood, however, is not sensitive at all to the safety of and regard for Americans. If there are a lot of producers balking at this crop of feel-good "kill the Infidels" blockbusters, I haven't heard of them. Frank Rich was slamming The Passion in pre-production; I don't think I've read him similarly condeming these anti-Western movies.

I think Frank Rich can be praised for being concerned about anti-semitism. I think his tactics were noxious, but his basic concerns over anti-semitism aren't something he can be fairly criticized about.

I just wonder why he doesn't have anywhere near that level of concern about anti-Americanism.

And don't tell me I have to "wait to see the movies" before passing judgment. I already know the Crusader film features its viewpoint character/hero killing the Western infidels; that sort of clues me in that the Western infidels aren't going to be portrayed particularly sympathetically.

And besides-- Frank Rich didn't wait to see The Passion before condemning it. He knew the basic plot, and that was enough for him.

If The Passion of the Christ is to be condemned for subjecting the world's Jews to additional hatred and violence, at least that condemnation is mitigated by the fact that it presents a story that is at the heart of one of the world's greatest religions, and that story is difficult to change for purposes of avoiding anti-semitic responses. I'm not sure how one could make it less inflamatory against Jews, other than setting it in a fictitious, mythical land, like Shargri-La or Xanadu.

But I do know that there's no equally potent reason to make an anti-Crusader film at this parlous moment-- unless anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism have also become two of the world's great religions, which, sadly enough, I think they just might now be.

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posted by Ace at 06:52 PM

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