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Lee Siu hin
Herbert P. Bix
Eleanor J. Bader
William e. Alberts
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The Passion of the Christ-Makers Recreating Jesus
T he current stirring of religiosity is not about “the passion of the Christ,” but about the passion of the Christ-makers—those who have recreated Jesus in the image of their own need for certainty, security, rightness, power over others, and domination. It is especially about correct theological belief and not about just, ethical behavior; about having the right belief, not doing the right thing; about a personal, other-worldly destination, not about an interpersonal journey with others—unless they are like- minded; about believing in Jesus, not doing what he believed in.
To the Christ-makers, Jesus died for the sins of the world, and whoever believes in his sacrificial act of atonement, as the only Son of God, will not perish but inherit eternal life. Thus, may an otherwise hell-bent humanity escape the eternal damnation of an otherwise loving God.
centrality to Christianity of belief, and of such a belief in Jesus,
is the enthusiastically received message of Mel Gibson’s
Passion of the Christ
. From the film’s biblical introduction—(“He
was wounded for our transgressions,” Isaiah 53:5a) through
the almost movie-long violent scourging (that would have killed
Jesus many times over), to the piercing of his side with a spear
after he was already dead—comes the resounding message of vicarious
suffering for everyone’s inherently sinful human condition
and that accepting him as one’s personal savior is the key
to everlasting life.
What Jesus actually believed in—and died for—is effectively, if not intentionally, obscured by the passion of the Christ-makers. He did not die for a theological abstraction, i.e., for “the sins of the world,” but because of the sins being committed against his Jewish world. He died to liberate the Jewish people from the Roman Empire, which had violated their national sovereignty, occupied their country, and crucified thousands of Jewish “insurgents” and bystanders—for whom belief in a Messiah was grounded in the political realities of Jewish nationalism, freedom, justice, and peace.
The anti-Semitism of The Passion of t he Christ is seen in its distortion of historical reality; in its portrayal of brutal Roman administrator Pontius Pilate as agonizingly sympathetic to a would-be liberator of Jews from Roman domination; in Pilate washing his hands of responsibility for Jesus’s death, even though he had the power of life and death over Jesus (John 19:10).
The ahistorical violence the film does to Jewish reality is also seen in a “whole battalion”-backed, yet uneasy, Pilate giving in to the “will” of subjugated, powerless priests, elders of the people, and other Jews who repeatedly cried out, “Crucify him” (Mark 15:12-16). Portraying the Roman empire in such a favorable light, in New Testament books written 50 to 100 years after the fact, may have advanced the evangelizing of Romans by the early followers of Jesus; but it cast a horrible curse on the Jewish people by putting into the mouths of their oppressed descendents, “His (Jesus’s) blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25).
The argument that The Passion of t he Christ is true to the gospels’ accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion does not make it any less anti-Semitic. The New Testament has been used not only to justify anti-Semitism, but also the enslavement of black people (Ephesians 6:5ff), patriarchy’s subjugation of women (Ephesians 5:22ff), physical and spiritual violence against gay and lesbian persons (Romans 1:26, 27), and world domination in Jesus’s name. Enter President Bush.
When asked during the 2000 presidential campaign, “What political philosopher or thinker do you most identify with and why?” George W. Bush replied, “Christ, because he changed my heart.” When asked later how Jesus changed his heart, Bush responded, “When you accept Christ as a savior, it changes your heart, it changes your life” (“60 Minutes II,” April 14, 2004).
President Bush’s belief-centered faith in Christ apparently provides him with the spiritual blinders needed to remain oblivious to the behavior of the U.S. and his own administration’s behavior.
To violate another country’s national sovereignty and impose “freedom” on its people and call it an historic spreading of “democracy” in the Middle East, is to turn reality inside out. Here behavior defies belief. Never mind reality—the overwhelming evidence against “mission accomplished”; the warning of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, “a major Arab ally,” who “said yesterday that hatred of Americans in the Arab world is stronger than ever because of the war in Iraq” ( Boston Globe , April 21, 2004). That hatred intensified with revelations of the torture, desecration, and murder of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel, though President Bush has tried to dissociate his Administration from the culture of abuse its pre-meditated war policy and his “bring ‘em on” mentality have fostered. But the far greater abuse is the U.S. invading and occupying Iraq in the first place.
President Bush is “staying the course”: not guided by reality, but by his “strong belief that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world but the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in the world” (news conference, April 13, 2004). In the violent wake of “staying the course” have come pre-emptive war-supporting, evangelizing carpetbaggers, carrying Bibles and water, calling Islam an “evil” religion, ( St. Petersburg Times , April 20, 2003), and intent on converting Muslims to Christ.
The interpretation of history by the passion of the Christ-makers does violence to the reality of oppressed people—Jewish and Iraqi—and obscures what Jesus was really about. He was not about dying for the sins of the world so that believers could inherit eternal life, but about setting at liberty the Jews, who were oppressed in his world (Luke 4:18). In fact, he emphasized an often overlooked way to eternal life: by behavior, not by belief. When a lawyer tested him by asking, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus confirmed that the two greatest commandments were the way: love of God and one’s neighbor as oneself (Luke 10:25-28). When tested further to define who one’s neighbor was, Jesus said any person stripped of life and in need of a Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
Jesus used the very institution of religion, the sabbath, to emphasize the sacred worth of every human being: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The democratic spirit of these words should be the foundation of Christian organizations and might also help guide the mission statements of political, economic, and social institutions as well.
In teaching love of one’s neighbor as oneself and in intervening on behalf of his oppressed Jewish neighbors, Jesus set an example for the behavior of those who would follow his pathway to eternal life. It is here that the dynamic of belief may come into play.
It is much easier to worship what Jesus did than to do what he worshipped. It is safer to believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world than to join in seeking to rid the world of political, corporate, and military sins that deny neighbors’ their birthright of freedom and fulfillment.
Institutionalized religion often immortalizes its saints in order to immobilize them. A way to neutralize the threat posed by the example of prophets and patriots is to turn their liberation movement into a monument and worship it. Vicarious identification with their struggles may be substituted for involvement in similar ethical struggles today. The stature is found in the statue. The right is remembered in the rite. The power is in the prayer. The radical footstep is encased in a freedom trail. The ethic is observed as a memory and avoided as a model.
Belief in Christ as one’s personal savior can also invite a narcissism that encourages self-centeredness rather than identification with one’s neighbors. Such narcissism may even reinforce obliviousness to the neglect or unjust treatment of neighbors by the government, for example, in our name. The aim of belief is certainly to affirm, comfort, and empower—but not at the expense of one’s neighbor.
Religion is about behavior not belief—just as the truth is reflected in what one does. Religion is about setting people free, not imposing sectarian or political beliefs on them. It’s about empowering people, not gaining power over them. It’s about people’s inalienable right to believe as they choose and be who they are. It’s about honoring people in calling them by their own name, in experiencing their reality not interpreting it. It’s about loving one’s neighbor as oneself—here and on any Jericho road.
Rev. William E. Alberts is hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center, Newton, MA. He is both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister. He has written essays and articles on racism, war, politics, and religion.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.