Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The Passion's impact 

Joe Carter has a post at the Evangelical Outpost on whether or not The Passion can be considered great art. I haven't, and won't, see the movie, for reasons spelled out earlier. So I can't comment on the art aspect of it. But here's an interesting quote:
My own take is that the movie was a viscerally powerful and emotionally draining work. The movie works as a form of propaganda (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) but it never reaches, in my opinion, the level of a great work of art. While watching “The Passion” I felt a sense of detachment even as I was being emotionally pummeled by the images on the screen. Within days after leaving the theater the effect had faded away. Weeks afterward I realized, to my dismay, that the controversy and discussion the film had sparked had a more lasting impact on me than had the film itself.

My question is, why did this result cause dismay in you? If you go to just any movie, and it fails to live up to hype, does this cause dismay? I hope not, because movies fail to live up to their potential or their marketing all the time.

The answer, of course, is that to the Christian, this isn't just any other movie. This is about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And what Joe is relating here is the disappointment in realizing that a movie failed to be the religious experience he was looking for. This, in my mind, is proof positive that the movie is idolatry, in the way that an awful lot, probably the huge majority, of people are viewing it. I'll demonstrate this through the use of a dilemma- either it's just a movie, or it's not just a movie.

It's just a movie. Just another film. Granted it's about a subject matter that we resonate with, perhaps more than Saving Private Ryan or Braveheart or the Patriot, perhaps not. So the question of its quality can simply be a dispassionate study of the quality of its cinematography and narrative technique and so forth.

But nobody, and I mean NOBODY, talks about this movie as if that were true. Even unbelievers react viscerally to the movie. Believers mostly talk about the opportunity for witnessing or the opportunity for greater spiritual depth in their own life.

That is to say, It's not just a movie. No movie about Christ could ever be just a movie. It is, in fact, a religious experience. It is worship. And what you are worshiping is a dramatic interpretation of the Gospel, teaching a Catholic view of the atonement, loaded with extrabiblical accretions and Catholic visions. That is to say, you are worshiping the imaginations, and placing your trust in the artistic abilities, of Mel Gibson.

The movie, with its intense focus on the physical sufferings of Jesus, teach a Catholic view of how the atonement is applied to us. The intention of the movie is to make us feel dramatically and intensely how much Jesus suffered for us. One of the things I hear people say over and over is that the point of the movie is that 'we're all culpable.' We're all guilty of Christ's crucifixion. Which is true, but knowing that is not the way that the sufferings and death of Christ are applied to me for my salvation. The sufferings of Christ were not primarily directed to us, to make us pity Christ and really feel, vicariously, what He went through. His sufferings and death were primarily aimed at God, to satisfy God's justice. The worst torment He went through was the alienation from His heavenly father, which no movie could ever portray. But the Catholic mindset is that we gain the benefit of Christ's death by our constant reflection on His sacrifice, by having it constantly held before our eyes.

Look at this quote, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The perpetual priesthood of Christ in heaven, which occupies a prominent place in nearly all the writings we have examined, is even more emphatically insisted upon by Origen. And this deserves to be remembered, because it is a part of the doctrine which has been almost or altogether dropped out of many Protestant expositions of the Atonement, whereas those most inclining among Catholics to a merely juridical view of the subject have never been able to forget the present and living reality of a sacrifice constantly kept before their eyes, as it were, in the worship which reflects on earth the unfailing liturgy of heaven.

The perpetual priesthood of Christ- what they mean by this is that Christ is continually offered up for our sins, over and over and over. This is what the Mass is, a perpetual re-sacrificing of Christ. The Protestant doctrine, on the other hand, is that Christ was offered up once for all. His one sacrifice and death was sufficient for eternity, and does not need to continue.

But if the sacrifice is continual as the Roman Catholics teach, continually before our eyes, then the devout need to know that. The devout need to have that sacrifice held before them constantly. And therefore devotion will be marked by continuously experiencing His sacrifice, 'feeling the nails', as I've seen on the marquis of theaters showing this movie. The very devout Catholics go to Mass every day, fast, inflict physical sufferings on themselves, and even go so far as to crucify themselves, all in the attempt of being united to Christ in His sufferings, the better to feel what He did for us. And so every time you walk into a Catholic Church, you will see Christ on the cross.

But we don't need to feel the nails. Christ took the whole punishment for us. We need to respond with thankfulness for the completed work that He did for us, but any suggestion that we need to experience or participate or understand what Christ went through is to cast doubt on the sufficiency of what He did. We could never understand what Christ went through.

This is why Christians are not to use images of any kind. God may not and cannot be imaged in any way. And although Jesus Christ did become human, that humanity can never be separated from his divinity. You can no longer look on Jesus as simply a man. And the reaction to this movie, the way evangelicals approach it, proves that they don't.

Open your eyes, Evangelicals. This movie is about Catholic piety and making Catholic converts. Sure, it's well-done. It accomplishes its goals of giving you an intense religious experience. Addiction to that experience will lead you straight to Rome.

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