First off, let me say that I am looking forward to seeing The Passion of the Christ when it comes out on Ash Wednesday. Based on what people I respect have said after seeing it, I think that for me it will be a moving spiritual event, like a two-hour retreat.
Okay, that said, let me tell you about my reservations about how people are reacting to it. For one thing, there’s the celebrity worship factor. I have seen in a number of places around the Net, people who turn dewy-eyed at the mention of Mel Gibson or Jim Caviezel. Many people just love Mel, they liked his movies, and the fact that he’s some kind of traditional Catholic (although whether he’s actually in communion with Rome remains in doubt) is icing on the cake. I have to wonder if the reaction would be the same if some liberal Catholic, say Martin Sheen, made the same movie. What if the director was some dumpy foreigner with crooked teeth and weird accent? How much of the automatic adulation is due to Mel’s star power?
Second, I think some of the reflexive approval is the pent-up desire by many Christians for something in the mass culture that we can call our own. We desperately want a victory in the culture wars. We want something that validates our beliefs. In a way The Lord of the Rings does that, but it’s a tainted victory, since there are many people, including the filmmakers, who claim it for themselves because they don’t truly understand it. Yet there’s no mistaking the pedigree of The Passion. But is it wise to seek the approval of the culture? Does it really mean anything that a movie, however spiritual, gets good box office?
Again, I am not making any judgment about the movie, just some of the reaction to it’s impending release. I am not conceding anything to the run-of-the-mill critics of the movie, including Bill Cork. I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic or inappropriate, because people I know who have seen it and whose theological judgment I trust gave it their approval.
I just want to caution people to examine their own motives, to realize that most of them have not seen the movie, and that they should go to the theater with an open mind, willing to accept or reject it own its own merits, and not treat it as if it were handed down from on high, or transmitted to us as a new revelation. Let’s not replace sola scriptura with sola cinema. I think if you follow those guidelines, you may appreciate it even more, not less.
(Of course, I have to say that I expect my remarks here to be misintrepreted to mean I am against the movie, even though I have written several times in this blog entry that I do look forward to seeing it and think it will be a good movie.)