February 26, 2004

Jesu Cristo!

Posted by Curt at 01:03 PM in Movies, Uncategorized Current Events | TrackBack

I haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ yet, nor do I plan to, but I think I can fairly safely conclude that any film depiction of the Gospels which insists on playing to American audiences exclusively in Aramaic and Latin for purposes of “authenticity” (evidently even the English subtitles were only grudgingly included) was conceived in a clumsy, enormously literalistic spirit. And yet it is not this species of Renanian pedantry which evidently has provoked the contempt and argument of so many, but this fathomlessly stupid (and endlessly revived) debate about Jewish guilt in the death of Jesus. Of course, I could simply refer everyone once again to Bill Hicks, commenting on the phony controversies surrounding films of dubious merit (“don’t get caught up in the phony hysteria surrounding this piece of shit film”) but this particular debate casts once again into focus the blank denial of realty at the heart of our particular American ideology of victimhood.

What I mean by that is this: whether or not Mel Gibson has it in for the Jews, the contention that the Jews called for the crucifixtion of Christ and essentially forced his execution by threat of rebellion can, by itself, hardly be considered anything other than a literal regurgitation of the Gospels. If Gibson is being condemned for following the Gospels in this respect, then the Gospel writers cannot possibly be exculpated of anti-Semitism and Gibson condemned, because this tacit accusation of the Jews is undeniably present in all of their accounts. Not having seen the film, I cannot say whether he deviates from the Gospels in any important respects, but I get the impression that most of these complaining activists, not having the courage to actually call the Gospels anti-Semitic and illegitimately prejudiced, are simply fixating on this film as a proxy and a scapegoat.

Of course, this activist demand to change the historical record has not been motivated by any actual evidence that Jews were not principally responsible for the death of Jesus, but simply by the unyielding victimist ideology which states that Jews, as a traditionally oppressed and discriminated-against minority, cannot be held guilty of any actions if such judgment could invite further oppression of and discrimination against them. Of course, no moral culpability should connect group actions in the distant past with living members: even if certain Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, Jews living today should no more be held resonsible for that deed than I, despite my ancestral origins in the Rhine valley, should be held responsible for the massacres of the Jews there during the Crusades. Moral responsibility is personal, and is by definition enclosed within a single lifetime.

Were Jewish leaders to acknowledge the possibility of Jewish complicity in the death of Jesus and then demand to know what difference that should make today, I think such a response would expose the basic hollowness and superficiality of any fundamentalist Christian desire to condemn living Jews because of it. And I think more generally that should all of humanity face up to the real truth of the many actions in the past which have led to the current state of the world, neither denying nor hiding the truth, then the injustices of the past could be accepted and learned from without providing incitement to future vengeance. Of course, in the present case, sadly, such openness probably would invite on all Jews a certain degree of malice from at least a few fanatical Christians. But then again, reasonableness is always vulnerable to fundamentalism—that should never be a reason to indulge in an equally irrational dogmatism.

Comments

Thats one of the best posts on this subject I've read shonk.

Posted by: The Serpent at February 27, 2004 12:19 PM


LMMFAO

Ok, dude -- do you usually fucking talk massive shit about something you didn't experience? Do you talk about sex even though you've never had any? Do you critique books you've never read?

Here's a prop for you -- your post is one of the most wordy, pretentious admissions of utter ignorance it's ever been the tears-in-my-eyes-holy-shit-that-guy-is-a-moron pleasures to read.

Good on ya.

Now go watch the movie or shut the FUCK UP.

Posted by: George Potter at February 27, 2004 12:59 PM

Thats one of the best posts on this subject Iíve read shonk.

If you'll notice, the post was written by Curt, not me.

Posted by: shonk at February 27, 2004 02:21 PM

You have a point, George--it certainly is irresponsible of me to mention a movie that I haven't seen, even if it is only tangentially done and only as a segue to a more substantive point. But I don't think I need your permission, or anyone else's, to comment on the controversy surrounding a movie I haven't seen, which has been very public and easy to keep abreast of, and I certainly don't need your permission to talk either about a question of moral culpability which has been raging for the better part of 2000 years or about the particular ethical framework which shapes much of the contemporary debate about it, upon which I venture to contend I have expended more than a passing thought or two. And lastly, though I do apologize for the ad hominem approach, which I consider a suspect mode of argument in any situation, I must say that I find it a little inconsistent when someone who professes libertarian or individualistic social views demands that someone with whom they disagree be silent, rather than simply disagreeing with them. One would think that a respect for another's right to speak as they so choose would be one of their defining intellectual characteristics.

Posted by: Curt at February 27, 2004 04:36 PM


Curt --

I apologize for my belligerant tone and ad-hom remarks.

-G.

Posted by: George Potter at February 27, 2004 06:14 PM

I suppose I should first say what I agreed with in Curt's post. I agree that those who charge The Passion of the Christ with anti-semitism are being inconsistent, and that these charges are fueled by what you call ' unyielding victimist ideology'. I also agree that the group should not be held culpable for the actions of the individual. Further, I agree with Curt that he did not see The Passion of the Christ, that much is made overwhelmingly clear from his post.

Now for what I disagreed with. I just don't see the problem with understanding the gospels literally, however it seems that Curt does. I don't know if Curt means to allege that the gospels are unhistorical or completely ahistorical. Either charge can be, and has repeatedly been, disproven. The fact of the matter is that the gospels are exceedingly accurate history. I have seen others complain about this movie because of its reliance on the Gospels, as Curt seems to, and I must say that that line of argument is as 'fathomlessly stupid' as the controversy that is the main focus of this blog. Unlike Curt, and a great many people who have complained about it, I have seen The Passion of the Christ, and I must say, simply as a moviegoer, that this is not a film of 'dubious merit' or a 'piece of shit film', but one of the greatest recent films. Even if we ignore the theological or religious significance, and everything we know about Jesus or the gospels, The Passion of the Christ would still be a great movie. It also seems that Curt is as unfamiliar with the Gospels as he is with this film. Neither the Gospels, nor The Passion of the Christ, say that the Jews, that is the Jewish people as a whole, are responsible for Christ's death. However, what the Gospels, as well as the film, do say on this matter can be shown to be accurate history. And, despite what Curt seems to think, this goes for a large number of events, especially central events, depicted in both the Gospels and the movie. Barely related, I would suggest Curt read up on the Crusades from reliable recent historians (that excludes Steven Runciman or Terry Jones). Finally, Curt seems to forget his own advice when he begins talking about fundamentalism and fundamentalists. I do not see how accepting five points of doctrine necessitates illogic or irrationality. It seems that, in his effort to clear one group of guilt, Curt has only succeeded in blaming another group. I also fail to see how Curt's solution, which sounds good to me, would cause the problems that he thinks it would.

Despite my disagreements though, I think that Curt made some good points that needed to be made.

Aaron

Upon rereading Curt's post, I fear that I may have misinterpreted some of Curt's comments. If so, I apologize. However, since I am not sure that this is the case, and my original reading still seems most likely, I include my comments on those areas.

Posted by: Aaron at February 28, 2004 02:32 AM

I'm pretty sure Curt isn't complaining about the movie being based on the Gospels. Rather, he is saying that, if the movie is based on the Gospels and adheres closely to them, then any criticisms of the movie's content, especially with regard to its supposed anti-Semitism, ought to be, for the sake of consistency, levelled at the Gospels themselves. Critics don't lay the blame for any racism or Luddism present on the Lord of the Rings movies exclusively at Peter Jackson's feet, so why should they lay the blame for any anti-Semitism present in the Passion of the Christ exclusively at Mel Gibson's feet?

Furthermore, I don't think Curt is commenting one way or the other on the historical accuracy of the Gospels (in fact, the first sentence of the third paragraph seems to indicate that he views the Gospels as largely accurate, at least in regard to the particular issue we're discussing). He's merely saying that the Gospels pretty clearly indicate that Jews were largely responsible for Christ's crucifixion. Which isn't to say the Jewish people as a whole, but a large number of individual Jews.

As for the bit about fundamentalism, I think you're entirely misreading what he wrote. Re-read this:

Were Jewish leaders to acknowledge the possibility of Jewish complicity in the death of Jesus and then demand to know what difference that should make today, I think such a response would expose the basic hollowness and superficiality of any fundamentalist Christian desire to condemn living Jews because of it.

He's not saying that fundamentalists _necessarily_ must condemn living Jews because of what the Gospels say, but rather that any fundamentalist who does wish to so condemn living Jews based on the Gospels in engaging in very superficial thinking. Since it is an undisputable fact that some fundamentalist engage in exactly this condemnation, it's a relevant point.

Posted by: shonk at February 28, 2004 12:38 PM

"I would suggest Curt read up on the Crusades from reliable recent historians"

I suppose that I am being accused of historical inaccuracy here for my comment that Jews were slaughtered throughout the Rhineland during the Crusades. I think it has been pretty clearly established that between 5,000 and 15,000 Jews were slaughtered by mobs in the major cities of the Rhineland during the People's Crusade of 1096 which preceded the First Crusade, at the instigation of a number of famous leaders, including Peter the Hermit and Hildegard of Bingen. However, for the sake of clarity and enlightenment here is a list of all the cities that I know of where Jews were massacred during that dark year: Worms, Mainz, Cologne, Neuss, Alenahr, Wevelinghoven, Xanten, Moers, Dortmund, Kerpen, Trier, Metz, Regensburg, Prag. Here is an account of the massacre in Mainz by a contemporary Jewish historian and here are two accounts by Christian historians. Here is a partial list of secondary sources on these events. And once again, I really do apologize for ad hominem tactics, but Aaron, in the future please do not patronize my knowledge of a subject which I have been reading about since the fourth grade without having the forthrightness to actually accuse me of inaccuracy and identify precisely what that I have written you consider inaccurate.

p.s. I also consider it to be rather presumptuous to accuse me of not having read the Gospels. As a matter of fact, I have read all four in their entirety within the last nine months, but I think Clay has already sufficiently addressed that complaint. Suffice it to say that I certainly did not mean to imply all Jews, or even most Jews, are implicated by the Gospels in the death of Jesus, though it remains an open question whether the Gospel writers wanted to subtly insinuate greater aspersions on Jews in general or not. It is indubitable that all of them accused some Jews for having incited the death of Jesus, and if called upon I can cite the relevant chapter-and-verses.

Posted by: Curt at February 28, 2004 02:51 PM

I must first say, as indeed I did before, that I agreed with many of the points that Curt made in his posts, especially the charge of inconsistency, an argument which I have made on a number of occasions. I understood his point in this respect, and I thought my original post made that plain. Apparently that was not the case.

shonk: 'I'm pretty sure Curt isnít complaining about the movie being based on the Gospels.'

In my comment I said that such seemed to be the case, and I stand by that. Curt's very first sentence seems to imply just this: '[B]ut I think I can fairly safely conclude that any film depiction of the Gospels which insists on playing to American audiences exclusively in Aramaic and Latin for purposes of ďauthenticityĒ... was conceived in a clumsy, enormously literalistic spirit.' Later he says that the events depicted in the movie 'can... hardly be considered anything other literal regurgitation of the Gospels'. At another point he seems to contrast what he terms 'Renanian pedantry' with what he calls a 'fathomlessly stupid... debate'. Rarely do I see the term 'regurgitation' being used in a positive sense. It seems from these comments that Curt does not agree with the decision to base the movie on a literal interpretation of the Gospels. In fact, in context it seems that Curt's use of the the words 'literalistic' and 'literal' are both to be taken negatively. This leads us to shonk's next comment:

shonk:' I don't think Curt is commenting one way or the other on the historical accuracy of the Gospels'

Again, these the comments quoted above seem to imply the opposite. Curt seems to take issue with those who take the Gospels literally. That makes me wonder, as I mentioned, how Curt would have us take the Gospels? Are they unhistorical or completely ahistorical? Curt's comment, quoted above, 'can... hardly be considered anything other literal regurgitation of the Gospels' is false. The events referred to in that sentence are cited in non-Gospels sources.

shonk:'[T]he first sentence of the third paragraph seems to indicate that he views the Gospels as largely accurate...'

Perhaps read alone this would be true. However, in light of what is quoted above, I don't think such an interpretation is very probable.

shonk: '...Which isnít to say the Jewish people as a whole, but a large number of individual Jews.'
Actually, I should have been more specific in my original comment. The Gospels are clear on this point. It was not a large number of Jews, rather a relatively small number of Jews who were among those culpable, and the Gospels are quite clear that it was not only this small number of Jews, but others as well.

I don't think I did misread the section on fundamentalism, however I was referring to a different part of it than you are, shonk. Curt's final sentence includes, 'reasonableness is always vulnerable to fundamentalism' as well as another comment saying fundamentalism is irrational and as I said in my first comment 'I do not see how accepting five points of doctrine necessitates illogic or irrationality.' I do not take issue with Curt's condemnation of certain persons who hold all Jews responsible for something that very few Jews actually did. What I disagree with is Curt's allegation that fundamentalism, and by extension all fundamentalists, is necessarily irrational. As a fundamentalist, I take extra offense at such. Now if he could back up such a charge with actual argumentation or evidence, I would gladly ignore any offense I took, and answer his charges.

Again, and this time I hope that it is clear, I agreed with many of the points that Curt made in his post. And I am glad that he made them.

Aaron

Posted by: Aaron at February 29, 2004 12:43 AM

Both the "clumsy, enormously literalistic spirit" comment and the "Renanian pedantry" comment are directed at the decision to present the film exclusively in Latin and Aramaic, not at the decision to base the movie on the Gospels.

Curtís comment, quoted above, ĎcanÖ hardly be considered anything other literal regurgitation of the Gospelsí is false. The events referred to in that sentence are cited in non-Gospels sources.

Although they are cited in non-Gospels sources, it's pretty clear that Gibson is not working from non-Gospels sources with this movie. The word "regurgitation" may have been unnecessarily negative, but if you replace it with "interpretation" I don't see how you could disagree with the quoted sentence.

What I disagree with is Curtís allegation that fundamentalism, and by extension all fundamentalists, is necessarily irrational.

Okay, fair enough.

Now if he could back up such a charge with actual argumentation or evidence, I would gladly ignore any offense I took, and answer his charges.

Curt, if you choose to pursue this argument, I'd encourage you to do so in a separate post.

Posted by: shonk at February 29, 2004 02:16 AM

I respond to one of Curt's conclusions here.

Posted by: John T. Kennedy at March 4, 2004 07:31 PM