Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Passion of the Christ 2004 Movie Review

 

The Passion of the Christ      

Director

  Mel Gibson

Writers

  Benedict Fitzgerald

  & Mel Gibson




WARNING-- The Film is violent and not suitable for all audiences.

The Passion of Christ is a graphic film that follows a composite story line of Jesus’ final hours that includes some extrabiblical traditions and artistic license. The opening of the film is set in Gethsemane where Jesus is praying, and his disciples are asleep. Throughout the film, the characters speak Latin or Aramaic. The film background explains that the Aramaic is a Syrian version.

Judas has taken 30 pieces of silver from the Temple leaders in Jerusalem. Judas identifies Jesus with the infamous betrayal kiss. Jesus his arrested. Peter attempts a defence by cutting off a guard’s ear, but Jesus insists on putting down the sword and heals the man’s ear. John runs off to tell Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene about the arrest.

Jesus is presented to Caiaphas the high priest who accuses Jesus of blasphemy when Jesus admits he is the Son of God. Peter has come along but is at a distance. When challenged about being a follower, Peter denies Jesus three times.

Judas appears overcome with guilt and tries to return the silver. He is tormented by demon children and hangs himself.

The high priest and others bring Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea. Pilate finds no reason to condemn Jesus and appears worried by his wife’s dream warning against condemning Jesus. Pilate sends Jesus off to King Herod who rules over Jesus’ home district. Herod interrogates Jesus and returns him to Pilate.

Pilate attempts to free Jesus. He tries to offer the crowd a choice of taking one prisoner—Jesus or Barabbas. The crowd follows the lead of the clergy and calls for Barabbas. Trapped, Pilate orders Jesus to be scourged. The Romans appear to specialize in and take delight in mocking and whipping Jesus. He is severely bloodied and beaten almost to death. The crowd insists on crucifixion. Pilate washes his hands in a bowl of water and Jesus is led away to carry a cross.

People follow Jesus as he travels the long path to Golgotha, the hill where he will be crucified. Along the way, the woman known in tradition as Veronica wipes his face. Jesus is constantly beaten by the Romans and becomes too weak to carry his cross. Simon of Cyrene is pressed into reluctant service to manage the traditional large wooden cross.

The brutal ordeal continues as Jesus is nailed to the cross and hoisted into place. He is mocked by one criminal in contrast to the other one who asks Jesus to remember him and receives the promise of entering Paradise.

As time progresses, Jesus utters his final words including a prayer to God to forgive those who are taking his life. One artistic drop of water falls from heaven followed by a powerful earthquake that destroys the Temple. Caiaphas appears terrified. The Satan is defeated.

True to the story, the Romans on Golgotha break the legs of the two criminals but leave Jesus legs intact as he appears dead. A spear is thrust into his side as if to make sure he is dead. Jesus is taken down and his mother weeps.

The film closes as Jesus gets up and leaves the tomb. You can see the wounds in his hands, side, and feet.

**********

The presentation of the story is a close retelling of the traditional Catholic version of the passion story in a physical context that adds a considerable degree of realism. The clothing and props along with the ancient languages adds an other-worldliness amplified by the Satan and demonic.

The brutality is beyond belief to my modern mind. That is, it is hard to believe a man could take so much abuse and still walk up a hill to be crucified let alone carry a cross. The incredible duration and intensity of the violent bloody torture makes the film difficult to endure and calls for strong advice to  adults who wish to avoid a potentially disturbing or even traumatic experience. It is unquestionably not suitable for children.

I found the whole presentation evoking disgust because of the violence. I was ready for it to be over. But perhaps that’s the point. The penalty for sin is death. And death is a painful and ugly curse on humanity. Freedom from death comes at a price.

After watching the film more than once, I read Roger Ebert’s review. He quotes reviewer David Ansen’s feeling of being abused rather than moved by the portrayal of Jesus suffering. Indeed, it is difficult to feel empathy when the visual experience is so-in-the-face bloody violent.

However, in retrospect, after the ordeal has passed, the disturbing presentation caused me to look back on the story this Easter and feel more empathy for the Jesus of the gospels and those who suffer in places where religious expression is stifled by the threat of violence.

Unlike so much of scripture, which is best interpreted as metaphor, or viewed through a lens of ancient understandings of history and science, the passion story in the gospels portrayed in The Passion of the Christ jarred me into recognising that sometimes a literal reading of the old texts can be justified.

I suppose one could say, The Passion of the Christ is violence with a purpose.


 Note

I watched the widescreen version of The Passion of the Christ on a DVD.

 Movie Trailer from YouTube



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Saturday, March 27, 2021

JESUS AND JOHN WAYNE - a book review

 

JESUS AND

JOHN WAYNE

How White Evangelicals       

Corrupted a Faith and

Fractured a Nation

By

   Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

 

Kristin Kobes Du Mez begins and ends her assault on militaristic white American evangelical men with their contemporary sociopolitical leader, former president, Donald Trump.

In the Introduction we learn the short doctrinal list of what it means to be a Bible-believing evangelical, but the author posits that American evangelicals are more than a set of theological statements. Instead, since the early 1900s they have embraced a John Wayne view of what it means to be a Christian man—a powerful warrior for country and God—a man who leads his troops into battle to uphold the values of God’s chosen people, the Americans.

It was the title, Jesus and John Wayne, that was off-putting. I didn’t grow up with John Wayne films or a love of American westerns. I was after all British and even after arriving in America we were more likely to watch sitcoms. But my Canadian friend kept mentioning Jesus and John Wayne. I’m glad he did. Here’s my review.

**********

As we follow the evangelical troops through history—mostly the last 50 years—we learn about the power of high-profile white men whose vision of American Christianity has dictated the distinctive roles that ordinary evangelical Christian men and women should play if they want to make America great. According to Du Mez, the current state of Christian America has been long in the making.

We saddle up in Chapter 1 when Americans are off to fight in World War I for God and country bolstered by the powerful voice of Billy Sunday and his contempt for pacifists. After a few more pages, we learn that a group of fundamentalists (her label) formed the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942. America was of course at war battling evil empires, which fits well with the image of what makes America Great. So far, I don’t see a problem. We British were fighters too and American troops and fire power saved the day. What’s not to like?

Soon, evangelicals would embrace a handsome “All-American” man, Billy Graham, as an unofficial leader. His rise to prominence was fuelled by the media and the conversion of cowboy Stuart Hamblen. Graham supported a growing evangelical network that included Wheaton College, Fuller Seminary, the National Religious Broadcasters, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to name a few well-known evangelical outposts.

Billy Graham hardly seemed like an extremist. True, his views on women are outdated but they weren’t unusual for the 1950s. And even looking back, he hardly seems like an aggressive religious bully. I’m not riding with the same posse yet.

Graham’s entry into politics had a rough start with President Truman, but he encouraged WWII hero Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president. He did. And Ike invited Billy to help with religious support, which he did. Thus, early on, we see the link between white evangelicals and conservative politics. I get this as an important connection.

Our author pauses to backtrack a bit to trace the rise of John Wayne as his movies showed boys how to become swaggering men with a funny accent and led them to embrace a fierce anticommunist conservatism. Now I remember my friends trying to walk and say stuff like John Wayne did. I don’t know what they said but one old quote captures a lot of meaning:

“If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”

Du Mez brings Jesus and John Wayne together in a quote from Baptist Alan Bean:

“The unspoken mantra of post-war evangelicalism was simple: Jesus can save your soul; but John Wayne will save your ass.”

 

We’re in the 1970s now and learning about women.

Marabel Morgan writes a best seller defining evangelical womanhood in The Total Woman. I remember that book, but I never read it. Apparently, evangelical women learn the secret of a happy Christian marriage, which involves treating their men like kings, catering to their needs, and admiring his masculinity. The biblical fix for marital strife: wives living in submission to their husbands—including sex. My wife says she had a hard time with the old vows in 1973—that bit about “to obey.” Anyway, we pledged our troths and we're still married.

**********

Du Mez takes us on a rough ride through the manifest destiny of evangelical history. Story after story reveals generation after generation of white evangelical men preaching a gospel of male headship in the home, in the pulpit, and in society. Of course, men as preachers is normal in church, where men have ruled for nearly 2,000 years.

Here’s the genealogy in the gospel according to Du Mez. In the beginning, God called Billy Graham and he begot Franklin who lived as a fundamentalist leader unto the present. Jerry Falwell begot Jerry Falwell who declined in influence after the book was published. James Dobson dared to discipline and created a family-values empire characterized by strong men, disciplined children, and loving wives. Bill Gothard begat a decades-long ministry promoting men as leaders in a godly chain of command. By the 1980s, Tim and Beverly LaHaye joined with Jerry Falwell and they created the foundations for the Religious Right. The Moral Majority was born at the end of the 70s in time to support the highly popular Hollywood Cowboy, Ronald Reagan and the Christian conference warrior favourite, Oliver North.

And that’s not all. Some golden oldies from the 80s were: Phyllis Schlafly, R. J. Rushdoony, Howard Phillips, Gary North, Pat Robertson (God told him to run for president), D. James Kennedy, Tony Perkins, Bill Bright, Ken Starr, Michael Farris, Jesse Helms, John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, Richard DeVos, Elsa Prince, Erik Prince, Wayne LaPierre, Richard Viguerie, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer, Paul Weyrich.

This is the era of the televangelists and their sex scandals: Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Marvin Gorman. I guess their moral failures required a mention. Perhaps Du Mez wants us to see a preview of evangelicals gone wild, which will come later.

You might recall that the Clintons weren’t the kind of Christians loved by the evangelical juggernaut. But Bill does provide justification for the Religious Right to call attention to the need for men of character when choosing a president. You can tell Du Mez is setting us up for a “go-figure” moment with The Donald.

In the 1990s, the Christian culture war gets some powerful support from the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and the cast at Fox News. Bill McCartney kicks off Promise Keepers and a revival of Christian manhood. On the clergy front, John Piper and Wayne Grudem explain “complementarianism”—that’s God’s design for the two sexes who are equal before God but different when in comes to their gender roles. (In case you did not know, evangelicals generally believe God created only two sexes and each matches their gender.)

Another component of the evangelical good news is that God has given his people sex to enjoy. So, purity evangelists Josh McDowell and Josh Harris become popular. Sex also gets a boost from the likes of Mark Driscoll on Mars. Stay tuned, the purity ball will get tarnished by the end of the book.

Through the decades, high profile white evangelical men have one target or another to galvanize the troops’ hunger for an enemy worthy of righteous anger and godly hate. You know the phrase, “hate the sin” to which some add, “and love the sinner.” Two persistent top ranked sins are abortion and same-sex relationships. These two have stood the test of time.

Somewhere along the line, anti-abortion becomes pro-life. And, in one form or another, the evangelicals in this litany will remind America about homosexuality—it’s a word with considerable purchase unlike the preferred letters LGBTQ+. Du Mez repeats the abortion and homosexual issues, perhaps because they occur so frequently in the ongoing culture war, which has not yet ended. By my Kindle count, abortion = 51 and homosexual = 32 occurrences.

After 911, Islam replaced communism as the major threat to Christian America. Socialism is in there somewhere too but Du Mez doesn’t make much of the socialism taunt.

The evangelicals are rocked by the election of president Barrack Obama—no surprise there.

All this history leads up to the red-capped Donald Trump 2016 election triumph for white evangelical Christians. Du Mez traces his rise in the primaries and the powerful defences evangelical leaders deliver to cover outlandish comments and hypermasculine sex-infused juicy stories in the media. We are reminded that 81% of white evangelical voters carried Trump into the White House. What about his immorality…his foul mouth, divorces, and Stormy’s sex? Du Mez recaps the evangelical defence. I refer to John Wayne: “Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.”

In the final chapter, Du Mez leaves the presidency and focuses on the demise of hypermasculine clergy. One after another man loses his position of authority. They are tagged for their aggressive leadership or their sexual abuse. Du Mez strips so many men of their moral robes that it seems like a sexual pandemic. They stand before us naked as their violations of women, girls, and boys appeared in the media.

Du Mez concludes her cultural critique:

…understanding the catalyzing role militant Christian masculinity has played over the past half century is critical to understanding American evangelicalism today, and the nation’s fractured political landscape. Appreciating how this ideology developed over time is also essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might also be undone.

**********

Du Mez writes in an easy-to-read style as she weaves together quotes, survey data, and historical events to show the close connection of white evangelical male leaders and Republican politics, which culminated in their greatest moment in recent history with a friend in the White House who served four years as a John Wayne-like cultural warrior for their agenda. Like knights at the proverbial round table, evangelicals finally had a king they could follow. They won a major battle and they remain in charge of vast cultural, religious, and geographic territory.

I recommend Jesus and John Wayne to anyone who wants to understand the powerful connection between militant white American evangelicals and their champion, former Bible-carrying President, Donald Trump. However, I think she overlooked a few things along the way.

1.  Du Mez is a historian, and I am not. I won’t pretend to critique her work as history. However, I am aware that the biblical authors praised the ancient warriors who, credited God’s leadership as they killed the inhabitants of Canaan and reached their promised land. And thanks to the evangelical’s American president, Israel’s capitol at Jerusalem was finally recognised with an embassy move. The history of the warrior God is thousands of years old. And anyone familiar with Christianity knows Jesus will come again to ride a crimson tide of sinner’s blood in the final battle of humankind.

So, I think what’s missing from Du Mez castigation is an appreciation of the way fundamentalists read the same sacred text known to Du Mez. John Wayne is a crusader by another name. True, the gun is mightier than the sword. But in the hands of fundamentalists, the sacred text is a powerful two-edged sword dividing truth from error, right from wrong, good from evil. The sword cuts in two-ways.

I doubt we would have a Jesus and John Wayne moment if Christianity did not have a warrior God who, according to classic theology, never changes. 

And I doubt we would have a large militant evangelical force if American clergy learned to read the sacred text in a less fundamentalist manner.

Psychologically, fundamentalism is quite appealing. A clear-cut narrative separates good from evil, fits ancient traditions, and reduces the need for that slow cognitive effort (see Kahneman) needed to find nuances in old texts and contemporary issues. (More on the psychology of fundamentalism.)

2.  I don’t see a lot of women either. Du Mez does not ignore women’s voices. And of course, she is a woman with a strong voice. Perhaps it’s not her fault. I mean, the point is that evangelical women were good women if they submitted to a man’s authority. However, there are evangelical women, many of whom are in the Pentecostal and Charismatic tribes, who believe in equality. If Du Mez revises her work, I’d suggest she consider giving more time to evangelical women.

3.  Her perspective on moral virtues is too narrow for my liking. She has exposed the considerable downside of slavish support for the moral virtues of authority, loyalty, and that which is sacred and pure without a consideration of the importance of such virtues to a well-ordered society. Her focus on the harm done to women and society as well as the damage caused by inequality is noteworthy and should not be missed. I suggest a broader moral sense (see The Righteous Mind) and a recognition of the depth of emotion giving rise to the powerful motivations she documents would provide a basis for considering how we might undo the damage of an extremely divided society.

4. The conclusion leaves us wanting a solution. Consider this quote from the conclusion:

Appreciating how this ideology developed over time is also essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might also be undone.

I agree that a cognitive appreciation of what happened is important to undoing the harmful effects of vicious rhetoric, misguided “all in” obedience to self-styled authorities who rob us of freedom even as they claim the banner of freedom, and a shameful call to uphold that which is sacred and pure while supporting immoral conduct with excuses and misplaced loyalty; however, understanding does not lead to change as any psychotherapist knows. Galvanizing action requires a strategy that recognizes a deeper understanding of the human emotions that give rise to unrighteous minds and the concomitant violent behaviour that threatens the foundations of democracies.

For now, it seems evangelical culture has been bifurcated. Fundamentalists have captured more and more cultural territory including evangelical colleges and universities. Many elites have escaped to find a home in progressive Christianity leaving behind an unarmed remnant to anxiously survive in no man’s land.

About Du Mez

Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of A New Gospel for Women. She has written for the Washington PostChristianity TodayChristian Century, and Religion & Politics, among other publications. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

About this reviewer

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a psychologist, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, and author of A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures and over 100 publications.

Reference

Du Mez, K. K. (2020). Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Liveright: New York. AMAZON LINK

Book -- technical notes:

Introduction + 16 chapters + conclusion in 304 pages followed by acknowledgements, notes, end matter for 356 pages.

Related posts

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures (Reviews)

The Better Angels of our Nature

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy

The Righteous Mind


Please check out my website   www.suttong.com

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

Dr. Kristin Du Mez on Jesus and John Wayne