Here’s a line you wouldn’t expect to find in the pages of a major secular daily: “The Gospel of Mark (10:45) states unequivocally that Jesus died ‘as a ransom for many.'” Well, that settles that, doesn’t it?

Maybe not. The Dallas Morning News has outdone even its normally excellent religion coverage by reporting on the other controversy surrounding Mel Gibson‘s Passion — not whether Jews killed Jesus, or whether Christian movies should be so violent, but whether Jesus had to die at all.

That, writes Susan Hogan/Albach, is “a belief being questioned like never before by some mainline Protestants, particularly the historical peace churches and liberal theologians.”

The “like never before” sounds to us like stretching for a peg, but whether this is a “trend” or a “movement” has little to do with the intriguing questions Hogan/Albach explores. Gibson’s film, she reports, is a brief for “atonement theology,” which holds that the extent of Christ’s suffering on the cross was directly proportional to the value of the sacrifice Christians say he made for humanity. But some theologians claim that such a view leaves us only with a “bloodthirsty God.”

“‘That’s a vengeful God and not a God I want to worship,'” says one Christian skeptic.

Well, yeah. Like it or not, there’s a lot of evidence for a very gory divine. But, Hogan/Albach points out, the case for Gibson’s particular “ransom theory” of Jesus’ death is not quite as strong.

The article raises another disturbing question — if the idea that Christ didn’t have to die ever took hold, would there not be even more fuel for the fire of anti-Semitism?

Peter ManseauThe Revealer‘s collaborator on Killing the Buddha (guess we’re more like Mel than we thought), points out that strictly speaking, there’s not really a Christian argument for the idea that Jews killed Jesus. “We — Christians — were the ones who needed him to die.” Unless, of course, it turns out that he didn’t have to.

Manseau’s observation was prompted by the coverage afforded The Passion by The Daily Press, a paper serving Virginia’s Hampton Roads region. A front-pager on the movie uses Christ’s last walk for a dramatic lede, complete with breathless “reporting”: “A man namedSimon is drafted to help Jesus. Their arms interlock.”

The author, Michael D. Wamble, goes on to offer up findings such as the fact that “most moviegoers don’t understand Aramaic” and the previously unreported notion that much of the controversy arises from a depiction of Mary mopping up Jesus’ blood (?).

This would be nothing but sniping at an overwhelmed reporter were it not for Wamble’s kicker: “‘The challenge to us who are Christians going to see this movie is to caution anyone who would use it as an anti-Jewish rant,’ said [Dave] Rochford. ‘The message of the movie is that we are all responsible for Christ’s death.'”

By closing with that quote, Wamble suggests that it represents a reasonable middle ground. It’s not — unless you’re a Christian. The Revealer doubts that Wamble was consciously trying to sneak a bit of proselytizing into the paper. Rather, his inadvertent evangelism suggests just how much theological ignorance slants coverage of The Passion — beyond the knee-jerk anti-Gibson mainstream, that is — into a Christian corner. The Revealer wonders what a full survey of press coverage of The Passion would find: the secular smirk Gibson supporters accuse the media of, or the kind of blind, cultural Christianity offered up by papers like The Daily Press?