Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Golden Past Mythos

Was Mel Gibson's film, Passion of the Christ anti-semetic?I've thought about it a lot over the last week or so, talked toseveral people, and have read a number of articles on the topic.First, for those of you who haven't seen it, or are perhaps browsing back tothis from several years in the future and don't recall, his film was aninterpretation of the Christian story of the events immediately surroundingthe death of the central figure in the Christian mythos, Jesus/Yeshua.So, let's visit the topic.. The film has been described as being anti-semitic.Should it be percieved as such? How should we judge? Mel Gibson suggests that,outside of small artistic license, in the form of elaborations or addedstories, he adhered fairly strongly to the Christian myths in their Bible.Based on my recollection of the Christian Bible (yes, I've read the whole thing),this does appear to be accurate -- it is a difficult task because there arefour accounts, none of which line up perfectly with any other, and whathistorical records there are of course record a different story altogether.I suggest we pare the problem into three parts, firstly, is the ChristianBible, in a 'straight interpretation', anti-semetic, secondly, are Mel Gibson'sinterpretations adding or providing an anti-semetic undertone, and finally,well, I'll tell you when I get to it (explaining it now would suggest the firsttwo parts arn't worth doing). For the purposes of the first two parts, I'lltemporarily assume the definition that something is anti-semitic if it portraysthe Jews in a negative light. I'll reopen the fairness of that definition later.Is the Christian Bible anti-semetic? The four stories were written in differenttimes by different people, with different ends in mind. It might be possible to argue that Christianity is a heretical form of Judaism,and while that's certainly an interesting argument that opens up the definition of heresy for some fascinating discussion, that's not for this discussion andfor now let's dismiss it.For the Biblical interpretation, the most relevant scene is probably thatof the crowd deciding to kill Jesus. In Matthew, this is in Chapter 27, startingin verse 11. Pilate is described sympathetically here, and the Jewish crowd isbeing described as being persuaded by the priests to push for Jesus's death. Particularly interesting is 27:25, whereby the crowd indicates that his deathbe on them and their children. In Mark (Chapter 15), the priests are againdescribed as convincing the crowd to push for the crucification of Jesus, whilethe Romans are described in a slightly more negative light than in Matthew. Luke (Ch 22) portrays the Jews more negatively, and the Romans positively, asthe people have a more genuine and less 'pushed' dislike of him. In verse 28,Jesus remarks to some Jews who have come to mourn his condition that insteadthey should cry for themselves and their children. John (Ch 18:29) is unclearon the composition of those before Pilate, suggesting that it may have beenonly the priests and administrators, and not the masses, that participated inthe judgement. It's very clear in each story, the priests have a heavy blame forthe death of Jesus. The notion of blame of the people varies -- Matthew 27:25and Luke 22:28, however, both seem to suggest a hereditary guilt of Jews, orat least those present in judgement, for his death. Is this convincing?The notion of hereditary guilt is very alien to my worldview, and the very ideaof it seems to me unfair. However, with the doctrine of Original Sin, it doesseem to bear weight with at least some Christians, and so for those who acceptthe idea, it would seem fair to consider the Christian Bible's death myth ofJesus to, for those who accept hereditary guilt, be anti-semetic. This opensanother question -- for those who are anti-semetic, is it possible not toaccept hereditary guilt? I should note that I don't consider anti-zionism tobe anti-semitic (especially as several people of Hebrew ethnicity I know areAnti-Zionist). From what I understand, the Arab-Hebrew tensions are largelyunrelated to the Jesus stories, but that's almost certainly very differentin flavour from the traditional, western anti-semitism that we see more often.Anyhow, that'll be something to chew on. Are there other aspects of theChristian Bible that are anti-semetic, many other areas of John pointedly haveJews mocking Jesus's message. In Acts 13:42-52, an interesting commentary onthe 'chosen race' idea in Judaism, and a biting commentary on it take placewith a backdrop of Jews stirring the common folk to expel Christian missionaries.Several instances of similar are in Acts.Investigating Gibson's elaborations, we see the addition of several visits ofSatan, moving through crowds of Jews (which might or might not be symbolic,depending on whether he's there to taunt Jesus or because of some kind ofspecial tie to them). Jesus is portrayed by a Swiss Catholic, which might beseen as symbolic of a suggested perceptual gap between Christians and Jews, andis na klar a historical inaccuracy. Pilate is again portrayed as being anunwilling participant in Jesus' death, which, although contradicted by thehistorical record, is in line with the Christian mythos, and so shouldn't beseen as being any more anti-semitic than Christianity itself is. I don't recallany other elaborations that are particularly relevant to discussinganti-semitism. I'm not certain if anything really conclusive can be said aboutGibson's elaborations -- it is suspicious that Jesus was played by a westerner,but the footage of Satan, while possibly interpretable as being anti-semitic,also has another reasonable interpretation. This brings us to the final discussion -- what does a story about whatmight've happened about 2000 years ago have to do with character of a peopletoday? We know, for example, that despite the depths that Germany sunk tobefore and during the third Reich, Germans today are not like that, and holdno blame on them for what their predecessors did. Likewise, most, if not all,nationalities have some stain(s) in their past.. the Americans have slavery,concentration camps of Japanese in WW2, treatment of native americans, etc.Much of Western Europe has colonialism, the extreme racism involved in that,and fierce religious wars. Put in that perspective, are the small-scale thingsdescribed of the Hebrew people in the Christian Bible really noteworthy? (note: continuing this the next morning -- network outage interrupted melast night)Not from my perspective -- while I certainly think that the Christian Bibledoes portray the Jews of the time badly, at least those mentioned, even if onemanages to be unfortunate enough to swallow the story whole, it doesn't followthat all Jews bear guilt. Even the two statements, Matthew 27:25 and Luke 22:28,that seem to imply hereditary guilt, should presumably only apply to those presentat the decision between Jesus and the other criminal -- a small minority of peopleof the race and/or faith. So, given my reading of the bible, it's hard to justifyanti-semitism, based on the biblical reading of events, as well as Gibson's versionof things, although Gibson does do some small things that might make it easier toleap to unjustified conclusions. That being said, we're left with two things toconsider. Firstly, racism is often based first on hatred, with the logic whipped upas an afterthought, never subject to the kind of scrutiny that would likelychallenge it. Christianity, and to a degree Islam, was born with an identity crisis -it acknowledges its roots in Judaism, but the continuing existence of its rootsis constantly whispering to it that it's an offshoot or heresy, and challenging itto justify its existance. The failure of its message to convert those who are of whatit draws from, and the seperation they maintain from the Christian flock breedsinsecurity, which easily becomes hatred. This institutional insecurity/hatredcolours the Christian view of Jews, and makes acceptable poor arguments tojustify anti-semitism (just as many Americans blame all Arabs for the WTC bombings,Anti-Semities can blame Jews for the death of their Savior, nevermind the fact thata slim portion of each was involved in the event (if one accepts the Christian Bible'saccount of the thing anyhow, which is at best a propogandized and heavily elaboratedview of history)). Could Gibson's film be seen in an Anti-Semitic way? Certainly.Should it be judged poorly because of that? Initially I would say no, but the naggingquestion of the character of Gibson comes up -- Gibson's father was a holocaustrevisionist, and Gibson is a member of an offshoot of Catholicism that rejectsa Vatican council that, to me, endorsed the only reasonable interpretation of thestory -- that Jews today bear no guilt for the death of Jesus (not that I believe inthe Bible, but it's important to note that one can still draw reasonable interpretationsin fiction (or semi-fiction, as is the case here)). One part of me is inclined tosay that we're here to judge the work, and not the person, but I'm not certain ifone must consider the second to do the first. A thought experiment: Imagine Nazipropoganda about the Jews linking them to Communism (via Trotsky/Marx), the deathof Jesus, destruction of the Reichstag, and various other events. A principleemerges -- the invitation to universalize things that some Jews presumably didinto a universal character of a people is another factor we should take intoaccount when trying to understand the thing. Does the Christian Bible push itsbelievers in this direction? Does Mel Gibson push further? It's hard for me tojudge. It'd be tempting to go with liberal, modern interpretations ofthe Christian Bible, but I've long had a suspicion that the liberal, somewhat morelikable modern Christianity is based on adapting it to the times, which is why Iinsist on reading it myself, as I figure I have little reason to want to twist itone way or the other, not believing that it has any transcendant purpose. Unfortunately,I don't have a way to judge the strength of the push for universalization of theexpressed character of the portrayed Jews, so I'll need to abstain here. Perhaps,reader, you'll be able to step where I don't (yet) feel comfortable judging.Secondly (yes, there was a firstly a ways back, go look for it), we should note thathistorically, religions are anti-(people who arn't part of the religion), with along history of displacement, enslavement, and slaughtering people who don't fitinto their 'destiny of the people/faith'. Seperate from the Judaist-Christianrelation, this remains an important thing to understand in interpreting relationsbetween faiths, especially in history (the Bhagavad Gita, for example, speaks verypoorly of Atheists). So, do we have a conclusion? No. I was hoping to reach one whenI started to write this, but I do think that at least we've had our attention drawn tothe relevant points, what to ignore, and what to explore if we want to understandfurther and come to a conclusion.

For the last week or so, I've had what I believe are allergy-related unpleasantness.My sinuses are draining, and I have a cough that becomes quite unpleasant at night.My doctor gave me a pill for the second (that seems to help, at least a bit), andsome syrupy stuff for the second (that seems to help a little bit, but not as muchas I'd hope, and has *REALLY* strong side effects -- dizziness, odd sensations, andgenerally bad feeling). I hope it gets better soon -- I'm not sleeping very well.

A bridge builds valleys too.. pointing out a difference, and constructing somethingto try to cross it, often makes the difference more real, and the bridge oftenspoils people who don't mind the hills, and makes them expect even milder hills toneed bridges, until our gently rolling land is all bridge.. Yes, a bridge buildsvalleys too.

I'd like to see a port of E/EPM, from OS/2, to Unix/X.I just grabbed the sources out of CVS, and will see what it'd take, and fired off anemail to one of the remaining mailing lists for OS/2 to see if anyone else isinterested or if it's already been done. Such passion a text editor can stir..

In other news...Virgins have the same rate of STD transmissions as non-virgins..Well, not quite, but that's a funny way of putting it, and of course it pointsto a very real, and amusing, effect -- the people who pledge to abstain fromsex don't, they're just irritatingly self-righteous for a little bit, untilthey learn about the joys of a healthy sexual relationship.

NASA continues to do interesting things with Hubble,making a statement at the same time.

And here's a piece about the polarization that BushJr is causing.Jingo nationalism has always been a fault of the right (not that the left doesn'thave its own stereotypical problems), and BushJr plays them like a fiddle.Apparently the polarization is record-breaking. Personally, I think BushJr belongsin prison for being singlehandedly responsible for one senseless war, andfor another with only limited justification. Speaking of polarization, theAmerican Family Association, a really conservative group ("family" is amagic keyword you should always pay attention to in politics, indicatingthat the group that is keen to talk about it, unprompted, is interested inputting women barefoot, pregnant, and voteless, in the kitchen, back in thedark ages when raping women meant the woman was blamed, taking away importantcivil liberties, and cheering when gays are killed by lynch mobs) is conductinga poll askingwho should be president. Of course, the internet is full of educated people, generallyliberal, so people like me love to forward things like that to friends, and so BushJrhas pathetic rankings on the thing, below Nader and far below Kerry. Not likeinternet polls really have any meaning anyhow -- good polling practice has ways tocontrol for selection bias, while groups like the AFA that send out their newsletterto mostly conservative folks take great delight in selection bias.

I don't know much about the Haiti situation. However, the U.S. has made a big dealout of propping Aristide up, and so I'll hand you another view.Again, I have no real opinion, and very little knowledge on this conflict.

Tags: philosophy, tech

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