Monday, March 08, 2004

dispassionate

A lot of ink has been spilled on the Mel Gibson movie, and I haven't wanted to bother commenting about it (after having shown that very idea of making such a movie is so inherently self-contradictory that Gibson is even stupider than you imagined). Notwithstanding the fact that Gibson is an anti-Catholic "catholic" and, of course, an anti-historical moron, most reactions that I've seen have been to explain why the movie is theologically and/or historically wrong. Noble, and true, but dignifying this trash with such explanations ends up lending it legitimacy -- as if it constituted a coherent poisition that was defensible on some ground and therefore had to be rebutted.

That, of course, is not the case except to the extent that people are so credulous and ignorant of actual NT history that you have to explain it to them very slowly. So in the interest of dispelling whatever lingering confusion there may be, here is Elaine Pagels explaining very slowly to David Remnick exactly why the "interpretation" of this movie is wrong, even though it is in no way a legitimate text that deserves to be considered an interpretation. Should you wish to read the contemporary historical texts: Josephus, Ant. 18.55-89 (18, chapter 3 here); Philo, Leg. 299-306 (here, scroll down). Bonus: Pliny and Trajan discuss the proper way to handle Christians. (Answer: execute them. duh.)

You may also wish to consult the gospels, although they have about as much eyewitness credibility as I would writing about Sacco and Vanzetti.

also, the choicest irony of this situtation may well be the oft-maligned repressiveness of the ancient Catholic church to which Gibson claims to belong, which was specifically intended to prevent the very situation we have here, of illiterate ranters claiming the authority to interpret sacred texts. These ranters had various goals, but it is worth noting that a popular one was the incitement of anti-semitic mobs, and that the medieval Church itself was the greatest, and sometimes only, protector of European Jews against them (not always for the most altruistic reasons). I'm no apologist for the medieval papacy, but after this debacle you have to concede that they had a point (i.e.: keep stupid people from reading the bible). A further irony is the rather more nuanced theology, and historical accuracy, of those poor benighted medieval peasants, or rather their confessors, as revealed in these real passion plays.

update: Slavoj Zizek has a characteristically brilliant take [In These Times via lbo-talk], which nevertheless evades the movie's historical and religious double-banckruptcy:

The structure of the �chocolate laxative,� of a product containing the agent of its own containment, can be discerned throughout today�s ideological landscape. Consider how we relate to capitalist profiteering: It is fine IF it is counteracted with charitable activities�first you amass billions, then you return (part of) them to the needy. The same goes for war, for the emerging logic of humanitarian militarism: War is OK insofar as it brings about peace and democracy, or creates the conditions to distribute humanitarian aid. And does the same not hold true for democracy and human rights? It is OK to �rethink� human rights to include torture and a permanent emergency state, if democracy is cleansed of its populist �excesses.�

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