Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Tue Mar 9 23:29:09 2004
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 to several 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 to this from several years in the future and don't recall, his film was an interpretation of the Christian story of the events immediately surrounding the 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 added stories, 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 are four accounts, none of which line up perfectly with any other, and what historical records there are of course record a different story altogether. I suggest we pare the problem into three parts, firstly, is the Christian Bible, in a 'straight interpretation', anti-semetic, secondly, are Mel Gibson's interpretations 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 first two parts arn't worth doing). For the purposes of the first two parts, I'll temporarily assume the definition that something is anti-semitic if it portrays the 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 different times 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 and for now let's dismiss it. For the Biblical interpretation, the most relevant scene is probably that of the crowd deciding to kill Jesus. In Matthew, this is in Chapter 27, starting in verse 11. Pilate is described sympathetically here, and the Jewish crowd is being described as being persuaded by the priests to push for Jesus's death. Particularly interesting is 27:25, whereby the crowd indicates that his death be on them and their children. In Mark (Chapter 15), the priests are again described as convincing the crowd to push for the crucification of Jesus, while the Romans are described in a slightly more negative light than in Matthew. Luke (Ch 22) portrays the Jews more negatively, and the Romans positively, as the 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 instead they should cry for themselves and their children. John (Ch 18:29) is unclear on the composition of those before Pilate, suggesting that it may have been only the priests and administrators, and not the masses, that participated in the judgement. It's very clear in each story, the priests have a heavy blame for the death of Jesus. The notion of blame of the people varies -- Matthew 27:25 and Luke 22:28, however, both seem to suggest a hereditary guilt of Jews, or at 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 idea of it seems to me unfair. However, with the doctrine of Original Sin, it does seem to bear weight with at least some Christians, and so for those who accept the idea, it would seem fair to consider the Christian Bible's death myth of Jesus to, for those who accept hereditary guilt, be anti-semetic. This opens another question -- for those who are anti-semetic, is it possible not to accept hereditary guilt? I should note that I don't consider anti-zionism to be anti-semitic (especially as several people of Hebrew ethnicity I know are Anti-Zionist). From what I understand, the Arab-Hebrew tensions are largely unrelated to the Jesus stories, but that's almost certainly very different in 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 the Christian Bible that are anti-semetic, many other areas of John pointedly have Jews mocking Jesus's message. In Acts 13:42-52, an interesting commentary on the 'chosen race' idea in Judaism, and a biting commentary on it take place with 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 of Satan, 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 of special tie to them). Jesus is portrayed by a Swiss Catholic, which might be seen as symbolic of a suggested perceptual gap between Christians and Jews, and is na klar a historical inaccuracy. Pilate is again portrayed as being an unwilling participant in Jesus' death, which, although contradicted by the historical record, is in line with the Christian mythos, and so shouldn't be seen as being any more anti-semitic than Christianity itself is. I don't recall any other elaborations that are particularly relevant to discussing anti-semitism. I'm not certain if anything really conclusive can be said about Gibson'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 what might've happened about 2000 years ago have to do with character of a people today? We know, for example, that despite the depths that Germany sunk to before and during the third Reich, Germans today are not like that, and hold no 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 things described of the Hebrew people in the Christian Bible really noteworthy? (note: continuing this the next morning -- network outage interrupted me last night) Not from my perspective -- while I certainly think that the Christian Bible does portray the Jews of the time badly, at least those mentioned, even if one manages to be unfortunate enough to swallow the story whole, it doesn't follow that 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 present at the decision between Jesus and the other criminal -- a small minority of people of the race and/or faith. So, given my reading of the bible, it's hard to justify anti-semitism, based on the biblical reading of events, as well as Gibson's version of things, although Gibson does do some small things that might make it easier to leap to unjustified conclusions. That being said, we're left with two things to consider. Firstly, racism is often based first on hatred, with the logic whipped up as an afterthought, never subject to the kind of scrutiny that would likely challenge 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 roots is constantly whispering to it that it's an offshoot or heresy, and challenging it to justify its existance. The failure of its message to convert those who are of what it draws from, and the seperation they maintain from the Christian flock breeds insecurity, which easily becomes hatred. This institutional insecurity/hatred colours the Christian view of Jews, and makes acceptable poor arguments to justify 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 that a slim portion of each was involved in the event (if one accepts the Christian Bible's account of the thing anyhow, which is at best a propogandized and heavily elaborated view 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 nagging question of the character of Gibson comes up -- Gibson's father was a holocaust revisionist, and Gibson is a member of an offshoot of Catholicism that rejects a Vatican council that, to me, endorsed the only reasonable interpretation of the story -- that Jews today bear no guilt for the death of Jesus (not that I believe in the Bible, but it's important to note that one can still draw reasonable interpretations in fiction (or semi-fiction, as is the case here)). One part of me is inclined to say that we're here to judge the work, and not the person, but I'm not certain if one must consider the second to do the first. A thought experiment: Imagine Nazi propoganda about the Jews linking them to Communism (via Trotsky/Marx), the death of Jesus, destruction of the Reichstag, and various other events. A principle emerges -- the invitation to universalize things that some Jews presumably did into a universal character of a people is another factor we should take into account when trying to understand the thing. Does the Christian Bible push its believers in this direction? Does Mel Gibson push further? It's hard for me to judge. It'd be tempting to go with liberal, modern interpretations of the Christian Bible, but I've long had a suspicion that the liberal, somewhat more likable modern Christianity is based on adapting it to the times, which is why I insist on reading it myself, as I figure I have little reason to want to twist it one 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 the expressed 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 that historically, religions are anti-(people who arn't part of the religion), with a long history of displacement, enslavement, and slaughtering people who don't fit into their 'destiny of the people/faith'. Seperate from the Judaist-Christian relation, this remains an important thing to understand in interpreting relations between faiths, especially in history (the Bhagavad Gita, for example, speaks very poorly of Atheists). So, do we have a conclusion? No. I was hoping to reach one when I started to write this, but I do think that at least we've had our attention drawn to the relevant points, what to ignore, and what to explore if we want to understand further 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), and some syrupy stuff for the second (that seems to help a little bit, but not as much as I'd hope, and has *REALLY* strong side effects -- dizziness, odd sensations, and generally 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 something to try to cross it, often makes the difference more real, and the bridge often spoils people who don't mind the hills, and makes them expect even milder hills to need bridges, until our gently rolling land is all bridge.. Yes, a bridge builds valleys 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 an email to one of the remaining mailing lists for OS/2 to see if anyone else is interested 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 points to a very real, and amusing, effect -- the people who pledge to abstain from sex don't, they're just irritatingly self-righteous for a little bit, until they 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't have its own stereotypical problems), and BushJr plays them like a fiddle. Apparently the polarization is record-breaking. Personally, I think BushJr belongs in prison for being singlehandedly responsible for one senseless war, and for another with only limited justification. Speaking of polarization, the American Family Association, a really conservative group ("family" is a magic keyword you should always pay attention to in politics, indicating that the group that is keen to talk about it, unprompted, is interested in putting women barefoot, pregnant, and voteless, in the kitchen, back in the dark ages when raping women meant the woman was blamed, taking away important civil liberties, and cheering when gays are killed by lynch mobs) is conducting a poll asking who should be president. Of course, the internet is full of educated people, generally liberal, so people like me love to forward things like that to friends, and so BushJr has pathetic rankings on the thing, below Nader and far below Kerry. Not like internet polls really have any meaning anyhow -- good polling practice has ways to control for selection bias, while groups like the AFA that send out their newsletter to 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 deal out 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.