This is the first time I’ve commented on a movie without having seen it. But I’m pretty sure that Laurel and I won’t ever see “The Passion of the Christ,” so I might as well throw in my two cents now rather than later. We’d probably see the movie if either (1) we were Christians, (2) the film had a significant spiritual message, or (3) we relished watching people get tortured. Since none of these things is true, Mel Gibson will have to get along without our $16, or whatever outrageous amount Regal Cinemas is demanding for entry these days.
I have, however, read lots of reviews and articles about “The Passion of the Christ,” the best being David Denby’s “Nailed” in the March 1 issue of The New Yorker. I’d much rather that you read this brilliant review directly rather than any summary I could attempt of it. I’ll simply quote Denby’s last paragraph:
“What is most depressing about ‘The Passion’ is the thought that people will take their children to see it. Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me,’ not ‘Let the little children watch me suffer.’ How will parents deal with the pain, terror, and anger that children will doubtless feel as they watch a man flayed and pierced until dead? The despair of the movie is hard to shrug off, and Gibson’s timing couldn’t be more unfortunate: another dose of death-haunted religious fanaticism is the last thing we need.”
Amen! At its best, Christianity is strangely weird. At its worst, Christianity is insanely bizarre. If Christianity wasn’t a worldwide mainstream religion, but rather was limited to a few villages in some backwater African nation, most of the world would look upon the Christian totems and idols—crown of thorns, nails through palms and feet, ritual eating of a man’s flesh and drinking his blood—as truly freaky. Which is the way Laurel and I see these aspects of Christianity, the aspects Gibson has chosen to focus on in “The Passion of the Christ.”
Having written a book about the spiritual teachings of Plotinus, the Neoplatonist Greek philosopher (“Return to the One,” to be published soon), I’ll share some brief excerpts from the book on how the teachings of Plato and Plotinus had already prefigured Christian theology/metaphysics, leaving out only the person of Christ. Since Greek philosophy emphasized universal truths, rather than individual instances of such verities, the life of one man, Jesus, simply didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. As I say, to 3rd century Neoplatonists, it was the Christians who were putting forth irreligious suppositions that challenged Plotinus’s elevated teachings about God (the One), spirit (nous), and soul (psyche).
After immersing myself in Greek spirituality for several years, I confess that I no longer can even pretend to believe that Christianity is anywhere near to being true, or correct. I don’t mind if a religion doesn’t make perfect sense, as ultimate reality almost certainly lies beyond human logic. But a religion should make some sense, especially its central tenets. Let’s see: Christianity says that God so loved the world he sent his only begotten son, Jesus, to die for our sins. O.K. This is weirdly anthropomorphic, and I find it hard to accept that God has human sons and daughters (since God created the universe fourteen billion years ago, some 13.9999999999 billion years before humans came along). But let’s say it is true.
So God sent Jesus to die, and Jesus died on the cross. God’s will was fulfilled. Hallelujah! Pontius Pilate did God’s will. Judas Iscariot did God’s will. The Roman soldiers did God’s will. The Jewish priests did God’s will. If Jesus hadn’t been killed, the sins of the Christian faithful wouldn’t have been washed away. Why, then, aren’t all of the “bad guys” in Gibson’s movie “good guys”? For if they hadn’t played out their roles as the divine design had written in the script, Christianity would have been stillborn, and sins never would have been absolved.
To Plotinus, as to me, a universal providence guides human affairs. Call it providence, call it karma, call it what you will—the universal prevails over the particular. Similarly, science knows that universal laws of nature guide every niche and cranny of the space/time continuum, from the atoms that make up our bodies to the galaxies billions of light years away. This makes so much more sense than the idea that God intervened personally in human affairs two thousand years ago, after which the course of spiritual evolution changed completely. This is simply superstition, which goes by the name of Christianity.
I had a very bright classmate back in high school, Keith Glentzer, who was fond of saying “Christ was a Jew.” Keith was a good Christian, and back then (circa 1965) this statement sounded shocking. That was because I was ignorant of the fact that Christ was indeed a Jew, as so many articles about “The Passion of the Christ” have been pointing out. Indeed, the March 8 issue of US News and World Report that came in the mail today says this about the early quest for the historical Jesus:
“While of great interest to scholars, the resulting picture of Jesus as a Jewish teacher of his day was troublesome for many Christian theologians, especially in Germany. ‘Scholars said there’s nothing new in Jesus,’ says Susannah Herschel, a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth. ‘So then what’s new about Christianity? Where does it differ from Judaism? It touched a sensitive nerve.’”
Christ wasn’t a Christian. Christianity was cobbled together from many sources, and for many reasons. But Christ wasn’t the real source, and Christ wasn’t the real reason. So I don’t think you can be a true follower of Christ and also be a Christian. I’m quite sure that the “pagan” Plotinus was much more in tune with the genuine teachings of Christ than 99% of modern-day Christians are. So I’m proud not to be a Christian, because this is the only way I have a chance to follow Christ.