The Fashion of the Priced
A friend told me this weekend that she had gone to see The Passion, Mel Gibson's act of faith movie. "Did you see it?" she gushed. "Are you going to see it?"
I said, "No. I read the book. I already know how it comes out."
She shifted away from what seemed to be the lead-in to a discussion of the religious aspects of the film, instead talking about how intense the scenes were. "I left stunned by the movie," she added quietly. "There's so much violence in it."
Her husband offered "It struck me that in 2000 years, we haven't changed much. We are still vicious animals."
That's when a thought hit me, answering a nagging question I had lurking about the back recesses of my mind about why Gibson's popular and very profitable movie, now with an announced sequel in the works, disturbed me so much even though I hadn't seen it. But now I could see what bothered me so - the movie celebrates, through a focus on the brutality and not on the real message of Jesus, the triumph of the Old Testament over the New.
My friend's husband was right. We are still animals - sadistic animals who celebrate brutal violence and the joys of inflicting pain, fobbing off any responsibility because "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven".
I have no specific issue with anyone's religion as long as you practice as you believe, so let's not go there. I do, however, have an issue with those who would corrupt their religious belief for their own economic gain, their own political power, or to dominate and subjugate other people for exploitation. The history of Christianity is rife with such examples, and there are some whose final chapter has yet to be written. All of these examples can be shown to be following the dictates of the Old Testaments and not those of the New.
Lest I be accused of being anti-Christian here, that is not the case at all. I'm sure if I was to research any religion long enough, I could find something to make a case for stating support for violence. Just for an example, take the Wahabi sect of Islam (to which belong the Saudi royal family), which preaches death to non-believers. but I digress. My focus today is Mel's Movie.
Jesus promoted a message of peace and acceptance, neither of which seems in vogue with too many Christians today. Take for instance Ann Coulter's oft quoted diatribe about how we need to take over the Muslim countries, kill their leaders, and force the people to convert to Christianity. I can see the Israelite leaders of the Old Testament espousing such an action for there are many examples, but somehow the Man Who Accepted The Outcasts As Equals doesn't strike me as someone who would. Can you see Jesus preaching for the passage of the Marriage Amendment like so many of the conservative televangelists are? Can you really? The man who touched the lepers and dined with prostitutes?
The Passion covers the twelve hours during which the political and religious conservatives of that period chose to deal once and for all with what they perceived to be a serious threat to their sense of order. Certainly, they felt that their power and control of the population were being threatened by a man who counseled love over hate, peace over war, acceptance over prejudice. These principles are alluded to during the movie, for without them the story wouldn't hold so much emotional power. There would be no logical reason (leaving aside the theological) for the political power structure of the day to take the actions that it did against a man who had little political power [PDF} as understood by the elites of the day. Unarmed, peaceful people who "render unto Caesar" would hardly have been seen as a threat to the legions of Rome who enforced the law in the region. Some historians, religious and non, suggest that it was the religious authorities who tended to see Jesus as a threat and wished him silenced, publicly, as a warning to anyone else who might stray from and challenge their authority (Q5-8). Thus, those empowered by the traditions of the Old Testament triumphed over the teachings of the New.
"Wait a minute!" you protest. "Christianity has been one of the world's dominant religions for two thousand years! How can you say that the Old Testament won?"
Simple. Look at how Christianity is practised today, largely defined by fundamentalism and its "Eye for an eye" Diety. Look at how many sects have a large central control structure that requires a large amount of capital to operate. Ever note how well-gilt the churches are in the poorest countries? Look at the politics some denominations support - discrimination against those of other faiths, discrimination against those whose relationships violate precepts laid down in the Old Testament, or discrimination of whose economic, social, ethnic, or racial situation is considered beneath that of another. And another thing - I only find using the act of war to take something away from another people, such as their land, in the Old Testament. Jesus never advocated going to war to take control of crude oil supplies, water resources, or anything else. He would only allow defensive warfare if one was attacked. Did he not say "Do to others as you would have them do to you"?
I have read nothing in the New Testament advocating discrimination, using war to benefit one tribe at the expense of another, or the violent forced conversion of people of other religions as Good Christian Ann Coulter desires. So why are these Old Testament principles espoused by too many Christians today instead of the message of the Christ?
Because there's no money in it.
The New Testament for these denominations is just the pretty cover, the interesting come-on, the persuasive sales job. It serves as the excuse when the excesses of the Old cause complaint. It is held up as the hope when the Old becomes oppressive. But never does it supplant the Old.
The Old presents dominance as a right, killing the Other as an obligation, ignoring the law (see especially King David) when convenient acceptible, as long as the end is justified. I'm sure these precepts appeal to the fundamentalism of George Warmonger Bush, for these three examples sure cover a lot of his actions over the last three years.
Maybe the Jews are right. Maybe the Messiah hasn't come yet. Maybe it's about time he did. Maybe our repetition of killing in the name of our god will continue until Christians begin practicing the New Testament instead of the Old.
Maybe this is what the Millenium was supposed to be about, and not just a date on a calendar. It may have meant that it might take a millenium for people to get the right ideas into their heads. It may also have been a metaphor for never.