The mainstream press periodically discovers that institutional Christianity is actually pretty good at marketing. And then it forgets. Megachurches, Christian rock, Christian comic books, Bibles made to look like teen magazines — they’ve all been covered to death, but every time some Christian company rolls out a new product, the press gasps at the savviness of the Bible thumpers. Aren’t they supposed to be singing hymns in a wooden church in Alabama?
Now here we go again. Mel Gibson — combining the awesome power of Hollywood know-how with the even awesomer power of God — has unleashed the mother of all marketing plans, and the press not only bought it, they’ve been selling it to the rest of us ad nauseum.
The Revealer resisted. We really did. But we’ve been swept away by The Passion, its presence in every news outlet in America, the luscious moral outrage it affords its opponents, the ecstasy mainlined by its most fervent supporters, the deer-in-the-headlights confusion the movie and its press has created in just about everyone else — from those who resist reviewing movies we haven’t seen, to those who think Mel Gibson is cute, to those who think he’s a bore, to those saying, “Wait — isn’t there a Jesus movie every few years?”
As a daily review of religion and the press, The Revealer recognizes its responsibility. Forthwith, we will devote ourselves entirely to The Passion, and the important, complex questions swirling around it: “Is it Good, or is it Bad?”
But first, one last gasp of attempted sanity — a new original Revealer feature from Laurel Snyder, the Jew of Iowa. Well, that’s not her official title — she’s Student Life Coordinator at the University of Iowa’s Hillel House — but for small town newspapers all across the state, desperate for The Jewish Response, Laurel found herself called upon to pass judgement on a movie she had not seen. Now, for The Revealer, she passes judgement on the press that gave her a gold star.
And now, release the critics!
From one of the most dispassionate and fair-minded movie reviewers around, Kenny Turan: “…without belief, this film does not add up. Without training in or exposure to Christianity, you are likely to feel as flummoxed by what you’re seeing as Western missionaries did when they observed pagan rituals to which they lacked any emotional connection.”
— The Los Angeles Times
“The critics turn out to have been right. Gibson is guilty of some serious mischief in his handling of these issues. But he may have also committed an aggression against Christian believers…” — David Denby, The New Yorker
“…there is no getting around the fact that the parts of “The Passion” that are the most unflattering to Jews — the bloody-minded and hateful Temple priests, the Judean mob howling for Jesus’ death — come straight out of the Gospels. I shudder at those depictions and reject them as historically false, but I cannot call a Christian anti-Semitic for believing in the truth of his Bible. I will not smear Gibson as a Jew-hater…” — Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe
“Over the past months when people learned that I had seen the movie, they generally asked two questions: Is it really anti-Semitic? and, Does it end with the Resurrection? I could honestly respond “No” to the former question and “Yes” to the latter, but instead I hem and haw…” —Patton Dodd, Killing The Buddha
“Unlike Mr. Gibson’s film, evangelical Protestantism is inherently non-visual…” — Kenneth L. Woodward, The New York Times
“The Passion is a thinly veiled form of bullying. It intends to evoke the response kids often have to the spectacle of another kid being beaten up: a simple gratitude that they are not the ones getting abused…” — Thomas Beller, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood
“As a cinematic matter, the boldest innovation in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is its use of language and subtitles to create, in a religious film, the illusion of documentary…. I speak and understand Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew, and so belong to the over-educated sliver of the audience for The Passion that can hear both “original” languages with a measure of comprehension…” — Jack Miles, Beliefnet
“The Passion of Christ, after all, reminds us of the many ways that power can go wrong…” — an essay on the pitfalls of The Passion for ambitious Christians, by Andy Crouch, in Christianity Today
More to come as we churn through it all…