February 28, 2004

More on Mel's Opus

I heard from a relative last night who viewed the film. She said that it was accurate to the scriptures, except for the part where Jesus carried the entire cross, instead of the cross beam. I realize that for many of my acquaintances, historical accuracy speaks only to details--the cross beam, or even if they spoke latin or greek--but not to the broader implications.

I think there are reasonable debates about the accuracy of this film--even if we are assuming it is based on the Bible. It isn't unreasonable to wonder about contradictions between the gospels, the addition of the 19th century mystic, and the extensive focus on the beatings. Raising those questions does not make one anti-Christian.

I have been thinking a lot about this film. I can certainly concede that people can see this film and experience it positively. I hope they can. I hope that people can see this amount of pain and suffering and connect it to broader human suffering. I hope they can live their lives with a better sense of compassion.

One of my fears is that Christians do not have much compassion for people unlike themselves and this film will not help that. If they can't find compassion for Jews concerned about anti-semitism, or for non-believers who find the Christian message confusing and arrogant, then what good is their faith? So, if this film helps people be more compassionate, then by all means, go see it. If not, then what good is it?

One of the more frustrating parts of this film has been Mel's sentiment (as well as many of his defenders) that people who have a problem with his film don't really have a problem with Mel, but with God and the Gospels. I have run into this my entire adult life. Disagreement with someone's faith being equated with me disagreeing with God. Pretty arrogant when you think about it--thinking that your interpretation is the same as God's.

It is this smugness that really bothers me. The smugness of Christians who dismiss any concerns about the film, and find the film simply a reinforcement of their own rightness. The smugness of people who see only their own experience and dismiss that of others.

And while I am thinking about it, (and this might be repetitious) I find the way Mel has pushed this offensive. Not only has he done the false "why is everyone angry with this film even though I only showed it to conservatives," but he has, in order to push this film, furthered the us v. them of American Christianity. I hear it at every family gathering--that Hollywood and the media hates Christianity. I am tired of it. It does nothing but encourage a divisive America. And, I must say, it also undermines any sense of compassion that Christians are supposed to have.

February 27, 2004

The Passion and me
This film is really making me mad. I find myself annoyed at those close to me who want to see the film, and that is not a reaction that I want to have. I don't understand all of my reaction, myself. I have said from the beginning that I had no problem with Mel making this film or with people going to see it. And intellectually, that is still true. I am opposed to censorship and would fight any efforts to keep this film out of the theaters.

But the film bugs me. And it isn't the anti-Semitism. The part that has bugged me about that has been the right's dismissal of anti-Semitism as if those concerned about it are completely irrational. Never mind this story from Colorado. This may not be the norm, but it actually proves many of the critics right--that some will use this film for bad ends.

But let's set the anti-Semitism aside for now. I will assume that most evangelicals and Mel himself, are well-intentioned believers who don't actually hold the Jewish people responsible for the death of Christ.

So, why is this film making me mad? I think there are numerous reasons. One is the expectation that Christians should want to see it. After all, if you believe that Jesus suffered and died for your sins, shouldn't you want to go watch it happen? And speaking of suffering, this film appears to be all about that, as if the suffering was the critical issue of our faith. I don't understand that. If Jesus was both God and Man, then how was his suffering any greater than any of the other hundreds of Jews (or others) who were crucified by the Romans? Is the suffering integral to the faith? As I posed in an earlier posting, would his sacrifice for our sins mean less if we were to flash back in time and find that he didn't physically suffer as much as Mel thinks? Or, would it fall apart if he had been killed a different way? There is something dark here about Mel's view of the world and of his faith. He is haunted by something that I don't understand.

There seems to be a super-macho aspect to this, as if we have to prove that we are strong enough to watch this. As I noted in an earlier post, this from people who have often dismissed violence as negative almost regardless of context. I sincerely believe that they would have had a complete opposite reaction to a film about Matthew Shepard.

And what about Mel? Let's assume that his beliefs are genuine and heart-felt. But he has been less than up-front about this film. For all of his protesting about those weighed in against his film (conveniently those are portrayed as part of the dark (read Satanic) forces that oppose God), he has pushed and promoted this film in a way that would make all those Hollywood types that he and his recent fans denigrate very proud. While pretending to not promote it, he screened it for thousands of evangelical conservatives and watched in mock-horror as people objected. Every objection, every claim of "pornographic" violence or anti-Semitic content was controversial, and every controversy spurred free press. Hell, if he were serious about reaching out to people, he would have reached out to them when he started the screening.

And then there is the issue of historical accuracy. I have some credentials to back me up on the history angle (though my specialty is not Judea or Ancient Rome) and I find the entire discussion frustrating. Most defenders say that the film is accurate because it is based on the gospels which (in spite of having been written 40+ years after the events) are supposed to be historically accurate. This despite the contradictions between the various stories and problems with the non-Biblical scholarship (mostly dealing with the relationship between Pilate and the Jewish leaders). And, and this is big, the fact that Mel admits being heavily influenced by a 19th century mystic's dreams, hardly the gospel truth.

But ultimately, I am frustrated by the right's acceptance of the film while having no sense of the context. No acknowledgment that this film has been sold to them, and that they are, in part, supporting it because of Roy Moore, and the SF Mayor, and ten commandments and prayer in school, and .. Jon Stewart had a great line the other night about the bravery it took to make a pro-Jesus film in America. Wow. Really brave.
=The Hill.com=: "The source, a veteran official of past GOP conventions, said the 50,000 delegates, dignitaries and guests would watch off-site events on giant TV screens. “Now, we’ll go to the deck of the USS Intrepid as the U.S. Marine Corps Band plays the National Anthem,” he said, pretending that he was playing the part of the convention chairman.

“Or, and this is a real possibility, we could see President Bush giving his acceptance speech at Ground Zero,” he added. “It’s clearly a venue they’re considering.”

Holy Jebus! Don't you think that someone might find this objectionable?

February 26, 2004

CNN.com - Marriage amendment: Will it help or hurt Bush? - Feb. 26, 2004: "Railing against Gavin Newsom, whom she called 'a rogue mayor in San Francisco,' for ordering the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Musgrave called Bush's action 'an encouragement to people who believe in the traditional definition of marriage.'"

Let me be clear here. I think the SF Mayor screwed up. By ignoring the rule of law, he is closer to Roy Moore than he would like to be.

But this amendment is just stupid politics. Does anyone really think that this is not a cynical play on the President's part? Would this happen if Bush's poll numbers weren't dropping? I heard Chuck Colson say on his radio show that this was a brave move. I don't find appealing to the religious right that courageous since it might be the only voting bloc that still thinks he is a good leader.

And I think it is bad public policy. It won't stop homosexuality, but it will take away any incentive for loving gay couples to pursue monogamy or stability. Who gains here?
Salon.com News | Clear Channel head "ashamed" of programs: "Broadcast executives cited these and other examples Thursday as evidence they are taking heed of the government's call to clean up the airwaves.

'We at Fox have heard your concerns loud and clear,' said Gail Berman, the network's president of entertainment. 'We sincerely regret that a few incidents of inappropriate programming have overshadowed the good shows we proudly air on Fox each week.'

Does that mean Fox will stop airing stupid reality shows that mock marriage by turning it into a prize?

Several broadcasters endorsed the higher fines. John Hogan, president Clear Channel Radio, said the move would 'serve as a 'shot across the bow' of the industry, putting us all on notice that Congress and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) are serious about cleaning up the airwaves.'

The most dramatic response came from the nation's largest radio chain, 1,200-station Clear Channel Communications. This week it fired the disc jockey known as 'Bubba the Love Sponge,' took the Stern show off the six stations it owns and outlined new standards that include immediately suspending any on-air talent accused of airing indecent material by the FCC.

Hogan said he was 'ashamed' of the 'Bubba' show. The program, which aired in Florida, recently brought a proposed $755,000 FCC fine for sexually explicit content and other alleged indecency violations."

Look, the bigger obscenity is the shrinking number of companies that control the media and the shocking lack of complete coverage of anything non-Janet Breast related.
A New Anglican's Journey

My friend at Anglican Journey has a great post on the contrast between Ash Wednesday and the opening of Mel's latest film.

It has been said that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and here we see another version of this truism. People who routinely criticize violence in film (regardless of context) are now defending what may be the most violent film ever (some reviewers are calling the violence "pornographic") and conservative evangelical Protestants who often deride Catholics are flocking to see a very Catholic presentation of the Gospel.

February 18, 2004

Watched Fox Friends this morning

I know, I know. I shouldn't . Nothing good to come from such an act. This morning, the team of vapid interviewers had as a guest, the great Sean Hannity. He, evidently, has a new book out--something called "Deliver us from Evil." Wow. So glad that this great mind is churning them out. I am positive that this will be an uplifting book.

During his interview this morning, he essentially charged Democrats with politicizing national security, while Bush and his administration were statesmen leaders with great moral clarity.

Hmm. So by politicizing national security, he means Kerry, Kennedy and Dean. He doesn't mean Bush landing on an aircraft carrier in a pre-campaign photo-op with "Mission Accomplished" splashed behind him. And he doesn't mean the Republican decision to move their convention to NYC and delay it so they can combine it with the 9-11 anniversary. And it certainly doesn't refer to ads run against Tom Daschle comparing him to Saddam Hussein for disagreeing with the President. And it doesn't refer to the GOP savaging Max Cleland over his Homeland Security vote, calling a Vet who lost three limbs soft on security.

Sure, Sean. Democrats are the ones who are soft on evil and eager to politicize terrorism and war. Right.

February 17, 2004

More on Mel

I think that Mel's interview was interesting. In many ways, he wanted it both ways: it is his vision, but the Holy Spirit helped direct; he has compassion for those who fear anti-semitism, but rejects the claims completely.

The other curious thing is his obsession with the brutality of the crucifixion. I am not saying it wasn't brutal, of course, but Mel is obsessing on that for a variety of reasons--many having to do with his own demons. He said at one point that he is one of those people who could get addicted to anything. Maybe his addiction has turned to religion. He wouldn't be the first one.

The other part of that is (and this is not my original thought) he makes suffering the key issue here. Is it? A Salon reviewer said something about other people suffering more than Christ. That might be, but even more so, the suffering of the crucifixion is not really the point. Would his sacrifice mean less if he had been lynched by a mob in the South? Or assasinated by a sharpshooter? Or a firing squad?

If so, I would suggest that Christians need to reevalute their faith.

February 16, 2004

Watching the Mel interview

First, Diane Sawyer sucks. But that isn't really the point. She has actually done worse interviews--it is called her day job!

So, how is it going? Mel makes a great point about how riches and fame are problematic. Says that he has had as much as anyone, and found it to be unfilling. I have no problem with that. He also takes (some) responsibility for this being his vision.

But Mel claims that the Bible is historically accurate--and dismisses the other historical accounts. And he does recognize that anti-semitism is a problem, but he treats it as if it was aberrant, not a bigger part of human history.

I will say that he does something I like. He said that his reaction to the claims of anti-semitism is one of compassion. I would say that if most evangelicals were to respond to that this way, the problem would be less. Jews are not irrational to fear this film. Remember that many passion plays portrayed jews as devils and demons. Hard not to take that negatively.

The film does treat Jews more responsible than the romans. Even at one point, Mel dismisses some of the criticism of the film. If people read this as blaming the Jews, he surmises, then they would have to make that jump from any film where "one group of people" does something bad to another group of people. This, I think, is the heart of the problem. Blaming certain Jewish leaders for their culpability? not a problem. Blaming Jews as "a group of people?" Problem.

Interesting. Mel has just said that he chose to portray Jesus as more verile and strong--arguing that previous treatments have made him more effete. Interesting. Also, his Jesus looks like the paintings. Interesting.

I think his insistence on this film being accurate is the part that bugs me. Here is an aryan Jesus who is killed by evil jews while the Romans kind of fade to the background and Jesus's social radicalism is omitted. That bugs me. And no, I have not seen the film. And probably won't.

Perhaps more later.

February 14, 2004

Online NewsHour: Art and Responsibility -- September 30, 2003: "When one's version of the truth assaults categories of people-- Jews, blacks, or Germans-- one is on very dangerous, not to say murderous, ground. And one cannot claim simply that art is neutral in intention and at the same time claim, as Gibson does, that his film was meant to 'inspire.' If you insist on having it both ways, you ought to concede that's what you're doing. The 'Wall Street Journal's' editorial pages have rhapsodized on how committed Gibson is to his religious vision. That vision derives from a conservative group of Catholics who deny the Vatican, and thus Vatican II, which repudiated the accusation that Jews were responsible for Jesus' death."

My response to this film has been suspicion of motives. I don't trust the film makers, nor those promoting the film. But they have every right to showt the film and I also denounce those who call for the film's censorship.

But I also agree that Christians should respect the history here: the complicated story of the crucifixion that varies among the gospels and in places opposes the historical scholarship; the history of anti-semitism and Passion plays with Jews dressed as devils killing a nice handsome Christian. That is all here, regardless of what Gibson says about the film.

Christians who dismiss those concerns show themselves to be historically myopic and that they lack compassion about those who have been on the negative side of the Christian movement.

February 13, 2004

New feature

Not that everyone will appreciate this, but Streak's blog is now available for syndication. The "Site Feed" link will now allow you to view the blog in many news aggregators (at least those that read the new Atom feed).

February 12, 2004

Memphis Flyer :: Issue 781 :: BUSH A NO-SHOW AT ALABAMA BASE, SAYS MEMPHIAN : "MEMPHIS – Two members of the Air National Guard unit that President George W. Bush allegedly served with as a young Guard flyer in 1972 had been told to expect him and were on the lookout for him. He never showed, however; of that both Bob Mintz and Paul Bishop are certain."

Interesting story. These two say they remember this story well, because they were looking forward to meeting this hotshot with political connections. The number of pilots there was under 30, so it seems unlikely that Bush slips under the radar (sorry).

I imagine that Karl Rove and the White House people are just hating this. The story won't die. They try to kill it and say it is old news, gutter politics, etc., but it just won't die. Every news cycle, here is some mention of Bush and the National Guard.

February 11, 2004

Yahoo! News - Guard Records On President Are Released
: "In a contentious White House briefing yesterday, McClellan repeatedly said that the documents show the president 'fulfilled his duties,' as reporters asked for specifics not indicated in the documents."

This is interesting. The White House press corps attacks McClellan. After three years of pandering, they finally woke up. Weird. Why about this? Why not the WMD controversy, or the Valerie plame controversy? Does this indicate a level of frustration by the press for being shut out and controlled by this administration?

February 8, 2004

Salon.com News | CNN says it overplayed Dean's Iowa scream: "Feb. 8, 2004  |  NEW YORK (AP) -- It probably means little now to Howard Dean, but CNN's top executive believes his network overplayed the infamous clip of Dean's 'scream' after the Iowa caucuses."

Yahoo! News - President Revises Rationale For War
: "The new rationale offered by the president and vice president, significantly more modest than earlier statements about the deposed Iraqi president's capabilities, comes after government experts have said it is unlikely banned weapons will be found in Iraq and after Bush's naming Friday of a commission to examine faulty prewar intelligence."

In another time, this kind of behavior would be called "waffling" and the President would be belittled for such behavior. Obviously, a different time.

February 6, 2004

President Jesus, Part 1

I am really trying to laugh. I was in such a bad mood yesterday that I almost punched someone, and I am pretty sure she could have beaten the hell out of me. :) I still think you Republicans are being fooled by someone who I don't think shares your values. But when I point out things like, oh, lies, or Bush's unbelievably racist tactics in South Carolina in 2000, all I hear back is "that is politics. Everyone does that." Evidently, even someone who says Jesus is his favorite philosopher. Hard to imagine Jesus doing that, but who knows?

So, here is President Jesus (as Bush seems to see him). Warning: Sacrilegious essay follows.

Scene 1. (President Jesus scans the Washington Times in the Oval Office) "I am sure glad I don't read the paper that often," President Jesus says to himself, "this thing is huge. Oh, look, nuclear plants are not as protected as I said they are. Hmmm. Is it nukular or nuclear? (Shoulders shake with laughter) I can never get that right! Oh, that is funny."
(Secretary calls from outer office) Disciple Rice is here to see you, Mr. President Jesus.
(President Jesus) Smiles and thinks how good it is to have a woman disciple. Disciple Cheney and Mom are right, I am truly the best president ever. "Send her in."
(Disciple Rice) "Mr. President, what are we going to do about Palestine and Israel?"
(President Jesus) "Well, of course, Israel is my people, and I don't like that Yasser Arafat. Man is he ugly. Let's just let Ariel take em out."
(Rice) "Just wondering. You were quoted as saying something about loving your enemy or turning the other cheek."
(President Jesus) "Darn media. Can't ever get anything right. Just like that time they quoted me as saying "blessed are the poor." Never said it. You won't find it anywhere. I did say things about how rich people are better and should be helped out since they are so deserving. What I said was bomb your enemies into submission. Let my Dad sort it out. If you aren't with us, you are against us. "
(Rice) "Ok. Thank you Mr. President. (Leaves)

(Door opens again, this time with Disciple Ashcroft) "Mr. President. You know that thing the Romans did to you? With the cross and everything? Well, we want to do more of that here at home. Not with a cross--takes too long and is messy. But we can zap 'em or kill em with drugs pretty quickly."
(President Jesus) "Sure. Let's do more of that. If they don't like it, they shouldn't have shot that 7-11 clerk or been mentally ill. 'Please don't kill me,' (makes mocking face). Give me a break. Just do it. Oh, and cut any of those programs aimed at prevention. If they can't learn morality in Sunday School, then they had better watch for the needle! "

(Secretary walks into office with a message pad) "Mr. President, Former Disciple O'Neill called and wondered why your tax cuts were primarily for the rich."
(President Jesus) "Disciple Ashcroft, you thinking of him with this program? No? Oh, that's right. We use the needle mostly on the poor and minority. Anyway. I told the Former Disciple when he was a Disciple that we are giving more money to the rich because they are already rich. If you are rich, it is a sign that my Dad really likes you a lot. So, we will reward those that Dad likes. Not GHWB, you know, but the Big Guy."
(Secretary nods, leaves room quickly.)

(Ashcroft leaves the office and the President Jesus retires to the nearby residence to watch television. A John Wayne movie is on. The President watches with interest as on the screen John Wayne walks across the room to talk to Jimmy Stewart. The President gets up and practices that same walk. "Duke, you were the greatest," he says to the television.
(Staffer comes in) "Mr. President Jesus, it is time for your press conference."
(President Jesus groans) "Not again. Ok."
(The President Jesus walks to the Press briefing room, using the walk he has just been working on. Listens outside as his Press Secretary introduces him, then swaggers in.) "I will now take your questions"
(Fox News reporter) "Mr. President Jesus, how much do you love God?"
(President Jesus with feeling and emphasis) "Mucho. Good question."
(Actual reporter) "Mr. President Jesus, what will your administration do to address the concerns of global warming?"
(President Jesus with smirk) "That is bad science. (Turns laughing to rest of room) Poindexter here probably doubts that we can shoot down missiles from space or turn the moon into a Hooters. Man, just wait until we have armed satellites in space! Then we will show the evil ones! And even if global warming were true, I am going to end the world soon anyway, so don't sweat it! No pun intended" (Misses warning looks from Disciple Judas Rove who is making the cut signs from the side) "Make no mistake about it, this world is for you to make money. I should know, I created it! Wasn't that hard, either. So you just have fun cutting trees and digging up stuff. And driving. Don't forget driving. The next limo for me is a Hummer!"
(Disciple Judas Rove called Disciple Cheney who makes a call to his friends in the Energy business. The power is cut to the press room. End of press conference.)
Feeling less need to rant. Maybe the rage is subsiding a bit. So, in the spirit of "desert island lists" here is my top ten things I would do as ruler of the Universe. That may sound arrogant, but I think some of them would be outside the reach of a mere king or president. Unless I just said they all had wmd.......

As Ruler of the Universe, I would.....

10. Band the DH and Astroturf. Astroturf for all sports and the DH, well, only for Baseball. Depending on my mood, baseball may be banned just for starting to be annoying. Tennis, Bowling, Olympics and the NBA are all gone. NBA can come back if they start enforcing traveling. Tennis and the Olympics are just gone. Football season will now be 3 months longer.

9. Ban George Steinbrenner from owning anything larger than a hot-dog stand. Same goes for any sports owner who likes wearing fur, or goes on freakish diets, or lives in Arizona.

8. Eliminate the death penalty except for a very small select number of crimes. Those are a) moving a team or threatening to move a team to get a bigger stadium, b) being named Pat Robertson, c) fake apologizing for flashing your breast or the breast of your dance partner at a SB half-time show, or d) speaking nostalgically for the old Confederacy. As RotU, I maintain the option for revising this small list--mostly to add offenders. Can't see any reason to remove any yet.

7. Establish sport salaries that are well above the average, but then are tied to performance. You win games as QB, you get more money. You lose games, or hit .210, you have to pay a public school salary. You win games and hit .325, you have to pay 3 public school salaries. While I am at it, comparing a NFL player's life to slavery puts that person in the list for Rule 8.

6. Every televangelist or annoying preacher type will have to serve as male prostitutes in Haiti. The women will just be moved to Washington as interns. Or should I switch those? Pat Robertson may be glad he falls under Rule 8.

5. Depending on my mood (RotU are notoriously capricious) the American South may or may not be allowed to remain in the Union. And by "remain in the Union," I mean remain attached to North America and above water.

4. All reality shows will be canceled immediately (unless they can be used to torture those from #6) and replaced with The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Seinfeld.

3. Speaking of Television, 24 hour news shows would only be allowed to broadcast news. That means something has to change, not just rehash the same, oh, say, Michael Jackson news while ignoring the substantive concerns of, oh, say, why our intelligence was hijacked by rogue neo-cons! Oh, and Fox News is now a toxic waste dump. And they have to stop broadcasting.

2. The State of Texas will be banned from sending anyone to the White House for the next 100 years.

1. Dick Cheney will be forced to marry Antonin Scalia in a public ceremony. Unless being married to Lynn Cheney isn't enough of a punishment.