Friday, February 27, 2004

First off, let's talk about pornography and what it means, or else what I'm going to say here might not make a whole lot of sense. Pornography has become synonymous with texts (both visual and written and aural) that are of a sexual nature. But this is not the true meaning of pornography. Pornography is any text that deliberate divorces an element of life (such as sex) from its elemental context in the wholeness of life. In pornography of a sexual nature, we are shown sex stripped away from its natural place in life and even why people engage in it.

But there are other sorts of pornography as well. And what Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" delivers to audiences is pornography. It is Jesus porn, plain and simple. It is a pornography of spirtuality itself.

Let me make myself clear here by saying I am not anti-Christian. I think Jesus's story is quite simply amazing, awesome (in the old sense of that word), and that it is powerful. But Christianity as it exists today has buried Jesus's message in a morass of convulted language, signs and symbols that have no relation to why he even died. It is a shame, because many of those who claim his name and identify themselves with him, have no relationship to his teachings, which are actually quite moving and beautiful.

I went and saw "The Passion of the Christ". Twice. Like Jesus, I am a masochist. The reason why I went twice is because the first time I went, yesterday, I was tipsy on a gin martini from dinner with friends, and I was afraid someone had slipped me something in that drink and that the movie I saw was in actuality a drug induce hallucination. After going completely sober tonight, I find that it was worse than with the gin.

What you get is two hours of watching Jesus being flayed. You see bloodshed and flesh ripping and a corral of Jewish people foaming at the mouth for more. You see "poor" Pontius Pilate in his dilemma over convicting Jesus, as if he weren't the representative of the real evil in this narrative, the Roman Empire, who oppressed a culture, and in doing so twisted its leaders into lap dogs who craved any power they could get. It's typical of what happens in colonized cultures that have been separated from their original identities. And yet we're asked to sympathize with the representative of the oppressor. Interesting take.

On top of this, we are given absolutely no characters to know. We are asked from the beginning of this film till its end to sympathize without context. This is where Gibson's film becomes pornography. He has divorced Jesus's death from the context that surrounds it, from the world and environment that gave birth to this story. He has given us a demonized portrait of Jewish culture, without showing us the humanity and the suffering this culture endured itself, the very reason why Jesus became a martyr is lost because of this. At the end of the film Mary looks into the camera accusingly, as if after viewing her son's suffering you are so low and nothing if you do not believe in what he died for.

I believe in what Jesus died for, but I'm not a Christian as the world has organized it today. What is only touched upon in this film, glossed over in one line of dialogue, is the fact that Jesus was trying to teach his people that no one should separate you from your faith, from your spirit, that no government has power to take this from you. This is why in the Bible he tells people that if they are not allowed into temple to worship, or are asked to pay fees to worship, that they should worship at home. This is why he told his followers not to pay the Roman government taxes to worship their God. He is simply incredible. He is teaching them to regain their faith, and to not allow the Roman's to take away their identities. And to rebel against the religious leaders who have been corrupted by the Roman oppressors.

This entire social history is lost, both in Gibson's retelling of Jesus's story, and also in much of modern Christianity itself. This past year I visited several churches of several different Christian sects, and saw mostly hate in these places of worship, rather than love. In Gibson's film, we are shown very little of Christ's actual teachings. One is allowed, in which he tells his followers to love not only those people who love you, but others who are different from you or are even against you, for if you loved only those like you where is the reward in that? He encourages them to love those who are different, to love even their oppressors, for he sees they are caught up in the machinations of poltically corrupt governments from distant lands. And yet in the churches I spent time in last year, I saw sermons delivered and plays acted out in which the congregations were encouraged to hate gays and people of other faiths in particular. What a lovely thing. I'm sure Jesus would approve.

It sickens me to see such an example for humanity twisted and ruined by the hands of modern religious leaders who use the power in his name for their own purposes. I see very little difference between them and Caiphus and the Pharisees who helped to erect Jesus's destruction.

Watching Mel Gibson's movie, I realized that this must be what it is like to watch a snuff film. The pornography of suffering. He showed us the suffering of Christ, but not why he suffered. And his depiction of the culture surrounding Jesus is a caricature at best.

On top of this, we have, once again, my good friend Orson Scott Card delivering his approval of the film. He also applauds Gibson's choice of using maggots and serpents, decay and deformity in conjuction with Satan. I found it absolutely stereotypical, the most obvious choices, and probably the most incorrect symbology to be associated with Satan, who after all was associated with beauty in all its forms, not deformity.

If Gibson would have given me the STORY, I would have wept. Instead, I was disgusted, because a powerful, empowering narrative has been reduced to one event in the life of Christ. This is nothing more than a passion play. Unfortunately, it did not deliver me into that passion that Christ felt deep down in his bones and blood, the truth about freedom and the inability that any human social form has of destroying our spirits, that we are resilient creatures that will resurrect from our suffering and the various deaths we face throughout our time here on earth. That no one can separate you from your relationship with your idea of God, the universe, whatever it is that is life in this place.


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