Somewhere on A1A...

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Mad Mel

In an earlier post on Gibson’s new artistic project I received this comment:

Isn't it a bit funny, the ADL lecturing Christians on how to interpret scripture? Not to deny past wrongs to Jews by Christians, but Jews were involved in Christ's crucifixion. If Gibson paints all Jews as being guilty of deicide and goes of onto the old blood libel riff then he will be wrong. Similarly if he absolves the Jewish hierarchy of their complicity with the Romans in the death of Christ he will be equally wrong. I suspect Gibson will portray Christ as he was. A practicing Jew in first century Palestine who was judicially murdered by the Roman government and members of the Jewish priestly hierarchy.
First of all, I don’t believe the ADL is lecturing anyone on interpreting scripture. Gibson is presenting his film as a factual account. It is troubling, to me, that he is marketing his film as an accurate account, even painstakingly accurate. On that point alone he has opened himself up to question. It is entirely proper to question him on points of fact, and to point out any inconsistencies that he apparently refuses to acknowledge. If he wants to present his beliefs, fine, but don’t expect everyone to accept your view as fact. When he goes out of his way to seemingly ensure the project’s historical accuracy, he and his defenders ought to expect honest criticism and questioning of his version of the truth. It appears that he is not very accepting of scholarly criticism or questioning of his motives.

The subject of his film is a tenant of deeply held faith for many. It is an emotionally charged issue for both Christians and non-Christians. It is, according to the few reviews available, a deeply moving work of art. Surely Gibson sees the possibility that such a powerful work might have unintended consequences. It seems prudent, then, that Gibson would encourage some of the skeptics to view the same version others have seen. Instead, he has been defensive if not disingenuous when confronted by those questioning his work and motives. Gibson has fueled the controversy through his dealings with scholars and critics. My guess is he enjoys the controversy and is happy for the attention it is bringing to his project. The problem I see is his cavalier attitude regarding others’ fears.

Am I overly sensitive to have already been offended by well-meaning people defending Gibson's art as truth? On an intellectual level, many of the films viewers will be blissfully ignorant of any points of contention of the historical record. The danger lies in a powerful work of art moving powerful emotions.

The danger lies in the reaction of those with strong faith if and when their beliefs are questioned. Far too many bad things have happened to those who lack the same faith that those who assume they have the purest understanding of the truth, the only truth. The danger lies in attempts to impose those beliefs on others. The danger lies within those reasonable people who see an obligation to convince me to see their version of truth.

The film is months from being released and already the emotional pot is simmering. It’s up to Gibson to either turn the heat up or down. If he’s presenting fact, then let his facts be subject to scholarly evaluation. Let the work be a focal point for open and honest study and debate of the history. For therein lies the controversy.

Gibson appears to assume his work is fact, even claiming divine inspiration. Many see faults and mistakes in what he’s allegedly presenting. Many are defending Gibson.

If you are defending Gibson’s right to say what he wants to say, you are preaching to the choir. If you are defending Gibson’s version of the truth, please be prepared to be questioned. There’s danger in not knowing the difference. I fear many do not and will not understand the difference, and that many of those who do will have closed minds.


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