A Belated Review of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”

Four years seems long enough to wait before writing a critical review of a movie that the church for the most part praised.  It was thought to be a great vehicle for evangelizing, a great way to bring the Passion of Christ alive.  I called it at the time “spiritual pornography,” and I stand by that judgment.

First lets deal with the obvious way someone will try to vitiate this review, “Did you see the movie?  If you didn’t how can you even review it let alone call it pornographic?”  Well,  I call X-rated films pornographic though I don’t see them either.  It’s the use they make of the human body and sexuality that makes them pornographic.  Gibson’s use of the Passion of Christ is spiritually pornographic

Pornography, whether spiritual or physical, must be more and more graphic, base, and evil to produce the same effect.  If you go away from The Passion with what you think is a favorable spiritual reaction, you will need more of what it showed you for the same response.  How much more is there?  The next step will be doing what a sect in the Philippines does each Good Friday.  Members have themselves crucified literally for 3 hours.

This exposes yet another fallacy: that the physical torment of our Lord is the sum total or even the height of His Passion.  He cries out, “My God why have you forsaken Me,” not, “My God it hurts so much.”  Millions of people in history have been crucified most taking days to die not hours.  We get more of a sense of what Jesus endured when we experience the guilt and shame of our sins, when we’re despairing of God’s mercy, or when the Anfechtung has a hold of us than we do by viewing the physical aspects of crucifixion.  Moreover, a World War I author said this about trying to write about the war he experienced, “‘Horror, truthfully described, weakens to the merely clinical'” (The Great War and Modern Memory, 174). Repeated viewing of The Passion will leave a person as emotionally unattached to the events as the 1953 book A Doctor at Calvary does.

What about a one time viewing?  True, the most common reaction people who have seen the movie express is an emotional one.  How can you not have an emotional response to such a violent movie?  However, if we are not to weep for Jesus but for ourselves on Good Friday, then no one who merely says, “Lord, Lord I feel so bad for You” will enter into the kingdom on the last day.  Isaiah 53:10 says, “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him.”  The KJV and NASB translate, “It pleased the Lord.”  Unless we say, “Amen,” to this we completely miss the point of the Passion of the Christ.

People who advocate seeing The Passion want you to have the experience.  I don’t want an experience that adds to my worship.  It has been in the name of adding experience to worship that the most harm has been done to worshipping.  What the Lord gives not my experience of His giving is the proper focus.

But wait; if Paul can be glad that Christ is preached even from evil motives, shouldn’t I be glad about The Passion?  Is Christ really preached in the movie?  According to the law His Passion is pictured, but not according to the Gospel.  I suppose if pressed, you could get me to say that if even one sinner is turned in faith towards Christ the movie is worth it.  But then you must acknowledge that the movie is worth millions upon millions of dollars to those who made it, and that’s why it was made.

It seems to me that the church in endorsing this movie is falling into the trap that Hollywood is where the real experts are.  Actors who play struggling farmers are brought before congress to testify about the plight of the American farmer.  Actresses who play abused women testify about abuse.  Going to Mel Gibson for information on the Passion of Christ is like going to him for information on being a cop (his Lethal Weapon series) or on the future (his Mad Max series).  I watch movies to be entertained not informed.  Should anyone be entertained by the Passion of Christ?  Furthermore, I believe it is as foolhardy to think you’re informing people about the true Passion of Christ by the movie The Passion as it is to think you’re informing kids about volcanoes by showing them the  movie Dante’s Peak.  This is what my local high school claimed when I complained about them showing my son that movie during science class.

Okay, do I think you sin by watching this movie?  No, but I am not sinning for not wanting to see it, nor is it sinful for me to tire of people implying I should.  I don’t go around telling doctors they ought to see Patch Adams, mathematicians they ought to see A Beautiful Mind, or kids they ought to see School of Rock.  Wouldn’t you think me silly if I did?  For crying out loud they are all just movies!  The Passion of the Christ, however, is much more than a movie, and to reduce it to such seems in this reviewer’s mind tragic.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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