23 February 2004

Revealer on Gibson’s Passion

These are the comments I dashed off as I read this comment over at the Revealer.

Two comments about this stuff generally.

You’re right that the idea that Jesus didn’t have to die as
substitutionary, sacrificial atonement is actually not a new one, and
it’s one that the press won’t get. Primarily, I’d guess it’s because
the understanding in Christianity of what that “sacrifice” is supposed
to mean is complex and not at all agreed upon. There’s a freelance,
former Dominican, Catholic theologian named James Alison who advances
very convincingly that the god who died on the cross wasn’t the god-man
Jesus, it was the deity that human beings inevitably try to turn
themselves into. God didn’t need a blood sacrifice, he argues; human
beings did. We didn’t kill God, we killed ourselves, he argues
(infinitely better and more subtly than I just did). But the press
neither has the time not the inclination to be repsonsibly educated
about the fact that Gibson’s (as well as that of many evangelical
Protestants) substitutionary atonement theology is hardly the oldest,
last, or only word on what the passion might mean for Christians and
the peoples of other traditions (’cause, as you point indirectly point
out, there’s a possibility that it means something for people who are
not Christians, but that whatever that is is something very different).
Hell, let’s be honest, most of my fellow Christians don’t know what the
“atonement” means or why there has to be (or maybe does not have to be)
a theory of it.

What really chaps my hide about the above is that it already sounds
like anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a semi-Calvinist, Mel Gibson
“traditionalist Catholic” substitutionary atonement theory (the whole
“God needed a blood sacrifice to satisfy His hearty appetite for
vengeance”) will be painted as a liberal. But there’s plenty
of room for ascribing to other theories of atonement that are hundreds
of years old (and some older than the ideas reportedly in the film)
without being painted as a “liberal.” Again, the press often doesn’t
know what to do with any religious belief in the US that isn’t modified
Puritan-Calvinism or that does not fit in political categories of
“liberal” and “conservative” (which aren’t good categories for
describing much of our politics, and they’re eminently wrong for
working with religion).

Second, the Revealer would find a divide, I think, in terms of the
press coverage. Large metropolitian dailies with national distribution
(I’m thinking of the big three — NYT, LA Times, Washington Post — but
there could be others) will probably take the secular line. Regional
and small city papers will probably take the cultural Christianity tone.

Posted in Rayleejun on 23 February 2004 at 1:01 am by Nate