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Christian Snuff Films

I detest the movie “The Passion of Christ.” It grieves me; it makes me feel sick. I would not suggest that anybody, Christian or non-Christian, should go and see it.
As far as movies go I think it's comparable to “Irreversible” a French film that came out about a year ago. “Irreversible” is a movie about rape. It contains a graphic rape scene that goes on for nine minutes and ends with the attacker kicking the woman's face in. The director defended his film saying that all the details of the event had to be displayed in order for the audience to realize the horror of rape. He argues that we have been so desensitized that we need something to jolt us back to reality. I say that he's a liar. It just shows how apathetic our culture is. A friend once said to me,
“It's one thing to know that there are monsters out there who commit such acts, it's another thing to realize that all sorts of people are going to the theatre and paying money to watch those acts performed in front of their eyes.”
If we really cared, we wouldn't watch such movies. After all wasn't the proliferation of violent sex in the entertainment world one of the causes of desensitization? It doesn't make much sense to then use that exact media to try and do the opposite, “let's make it MORE violent so people will start carying”… while charging people money to view the result. If we really cared we would realize the impact that even whispering the word “rape” has; viewing a movie that exposes all the details would be preposterous. But we don't care.
And all this leads me back to “The Passion.” All these Christians that are going to watch Jesus be brutalized, all these Christians coming out of the theatres weeping, “Oh, I didn't realize it was so hard.” For some it's the whipping that really did them in, especially all the parts in slow-motion. It's like some sort of Christian snuff film – all these Christians getting off on the suffering of the one who speaks of himself as their Lover. We just love violence, we love gory details. We love the horror they arouse in us, we love to discuss them over coffee afterwards. Maybe they make us feel like better Christians, “Oh, look at the way I wept over Jesus' death.” Little do we realize that by paying to see such things we are actually doing the opposite. Going to see “The Passion” is tantamount to joining the crowd in yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
So I won't go and watch “Irreversible” to try and understand what it was like for my friends who were raped (oh, and we all have friends who have been raped – look at the stats. We just don't know because they've never felt like they could trust us… probably because we continually betray them by watching things like “Irreversible”…). What I will do is enter into relationship with them as best I can, I will learn from them, laugh with them, and cry with them.
And I won't go and watch “The Passion” to try and understand what it was like for Jesus on the day that he died. What I will do is enter into relationship with Jesus, I will learn from him, laugh with him and cry with him. And I will enter into relationship with those who are being crucified today, with those who are broken, those who are abused, those who are betrayed. I will journey with those people and there I will meet my Lord and my Lover. There I will discover my complicity in their crucifixion. There I will learn true empathy.
You want to get a feel for what Jesus went through? Stop watching Christian porn and start following him.

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  1. True a lot of Christians would disagree… true some would find it offensive that I label it “Christian porn” (and those who know what a snuff film is would be even more offended).
    But so what? A lot of Christians would disagree with a lot of other Christians on a lot of things. Are you trying to say that you disagree with me? In that case it might be a better idea to tell me why you disagree instead of making vague references and what could be an attempt at an ‘appeal to majority.’ So tell me why you disagree, tell me where my argument falls apart/falls short.
    As for the whole offense thing… well, I think people who are striving to be genuine disciples of Jesus will end up doing and saying things that are offensive to a large portion of our apathetic, sold-out Western church. There is a time and place to make such statements. It is “The Passion”, and the church’s embrace of such a movie that is the true offense.

  2. Eh, I was just trying to offer a balancing point. I wasn’t offering an appeal to majority so much as indicating that a lot of people had their own reasons for going to see the movie.
    You attribute many different motivations to a massive group of people, both Christian and otherwise. “We love violence?” Says who? Isn’t that just conjecture, not evidence? Why should I offer a better argument than “No, we don’t love violence”?
    Comparing this a rape film? Why not compare it Schindler’s List instead? Or the opening of Saving Private Ryan?

  3. Upon reflection, I think I spoke up mostly because of the incendiary nature of this post. Why would I offer logical arguments when the post and the following comments include generalizations, prejudicial language, insults and name-calling?
    “Let’s fight.” “Them’s fightin’ words.”

  4. This sounds a lot like a “does the end justify the means?” question.
    “Okay so that movie is what you say it is, but what about people that get converted watching it?”
    Well, if conversion occurs from watching “The Passion,” I think that just shows how God is capable of bringing good out of evil and redeeming all things. But it still doesn’t make watching (or producing) “The Passion” right.
    Think of September 11, 2001. A lot of people become Christians after the planes flew into the WTC, a lot of people started focusing on “things that really matter,” so does that mean we should continue to go around and commit acts of terror in order that more people might become Christians? Of course not. In these situations the end does not justify the means.

  5. I am intrigued by your passionate hatred of this movie. It leaves me to wonder if you feel similarly about other “Jesus films”, or if you object more strongly to this one due to the realism of its portrayal of events. Now, I haven’t seen this film, so I really have no business commenting on it. I did however have some initial thoughts based on what I’ve heard from people that have seen it. In a culture where many people won’t pick up a book, let alone a Bible, I figured this might be an ideal way of getting the gospel message to the masses. Also, in a culture that is so far removed from the time that Jesus lived, where a lot of Christians have a vague, romantic notion that Jesus suffered on their behalf, I thought this film might be a good kick in the ass to make people realize just how much Jesus loved them and was willing to go through to bring them life. Conversely, I spoke with a teenage girl who saw the film and came away terrified by the Devil character in the movie. I would have hoped that the movie would have the opposite effect, with people coming to the realization that Jesus has conquered sin and death, and we do not have to fear Satan’s power. I also wonder about Mel Gibson’s motivations for making this film. I don’t know much about his life, but he does claim that he went through a very dark time as he dealt with alcoholism and suicidal urges, and that it was his faith in God that ultimately got him through. I get the impression that as a self-professed devout Roman Catholic, he was using his profession and his celebrity status to share the good news with others. Or perhaps he merely saw a good opportunity to make some money.
    As I said, it would be very presumptuous of me to try and argue any of your points without having seen the film. One thing I can perhaps compare it to is watching the Band of Brothers series. It was a very graphic and realistic portrayal of some true events during the second world war. I feel that it un-glorified and un-glamourized war, and since watching that series, I have difficulty viewing movies that contain gun violence in particular. Watching that series made me sick at the extent of pain and suffering that human beings are capable of inflicting on their fellow man, and increased my passion for peace in this world. Those are certainly positive things, but to be perfectly honest, my main motivation for watching it was entertainment. And that comes right back to your main point, which I agree with, that we are constantly saturated with scenes of violence on TV, in the theatres, and on the news, and we seem to get a sick pleasure our of it. And that is definitely sad.

  6. 1- “[I]wonder if you feel similarly to other “Jesus films”, or if you object more strongly to this one due to the realism of its portrayal of events.”
    No, I don’t have similar feelings about the other “Jesus films”. To be honest I haven’t thought too much about them. My objection here is specifically to “The Passion” but not because of “the realism of its portrayal of events.” In fact I think the “realism” of “The Passion” is very deceiving. Once again the porn analogy comes into play: Porn movies are notorious for having bad plots and even worse character development. What you do get from a porno is graphic sex… but if you were to base your understanding of sex upon a porno you would come up with a terribly warped understanding of what sex is, or should be. So “The Passion” doesn’t give as an understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry, message and aims, it doesn’t really even develop Jesus’ character. Just as important, it doesn’t draw out the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. What you do get from the passion is a graphic portrayal of Jesus’ death… but, just like a porno, it leaves us titillated but with no genuine understanding of what this is really all about. The whole thing has been perverted.
    2- “In a culture that is so far removed from the time that Jesus lived, where a lot of Christians have a vague, romantic notion that Jesus suffered on their behalf, I thought this film might be a good kick in the ass to make people realize just how much Jesus loved them and was willing to go through to bring them life.”
    Notice that I am not suggesting that the movie doesn’t provide some sort of “kick in the ass.” What am I doing is suggesting that it is not an appropriate kick in the ass. Let’s go back to “Irreversible.” When that movie was shown at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’ several people walked out because they couldn’t handle viewing it, some people even threw-up. That movie really kicked some peoples’ asses but it still doesn’t make it a good movie. The same can be said for “The Passion.” I object to graphic violence, as portrayed by the entertainment industry, being the appropriate means by which we discover the depths of suffering… of Jesus or anybody else (especially in a culture so entertained by violence!). Once again I suggest that we need to learn to journey with people who are suffering and in that way we will genuinely learn about the depths of Jesus’ suffering. I no longer watch movies that are violent, not because I watched “Band of Brothers” but because I know kids who have been shot, I’ve seen girls lift their shirts to reveal a mass of scars on their stomach, I’ve seen the scars from cigarettes on their arms and legs. That’s part of the problem with things like “Band of Brothers”, although they reveal violence they do not lead us into community with those who have suffered under violence… in fact they often have the opposite effect.
    Oh, and I don’t think “The Passion” does anything to bridge the gap between the ‘Jesus of History’ and our contemporary romantic notions of Jesus. This builds on my comments under quote #1. In “The Passion” Jesus is divorced from the historical context of his life and ministry (and resurrection and impact). By doing that “The Passion” ends up giving us another romanticized Jesus.
    3- “I also wonder about Mel Gibson’s motivations for making this film.”
    I’ve never wondered too much about Mel’s motivations. In fact, I suspect that his motivations where pretty high-minded. He payed a lot of his own money to make the movie, he took a big risk, and I think he sincerely wanted it to be a presentation of the gospel. But, as they say, “the road to hell is paved with good-intentions.” Just because he may have had good intentions doesn’t mean I should support the end result. Oh, and I should mention that I think he completely misunderstands what the gospel consists of. The gospel is not the statement that, “Jesus died to save us from our sins.” Freedom from sin through Jesus’ suffering is a part of it but definitely not all of it. I think the gospel is better summed up in the statement, “Jesus is Lord”. From what I can tell, that message, and a true understanding of its implications, is certainly lacking in “The Passion.”

  7. You know kids who have been shot, and I’m the one who picks them up right after they’ve been shot, and tries (not always successfully) to keep them alive until we get them to the trauma centre. I think that one result of constantly being bombarded with scenes of violence and death in things like movies and video games is it has cheapened the value of life, and somehow made it seem more disposable. So many people are quick to resolve conflict with a knife or a gun, just like their heros on the screen. Life is fragile, yet so precious. It’s a shame that “The Passion” was so focused on Jesus’ death and not on his life or his message.

  8. This movie was supposed to be focused on Jesus’ death, that was the intended purpose.
    To say that the filmmaker should have done otherwise is like saying, “The Mona Lisa is all right, but what’s the point? Why did Leonardo focus so much on the superficial beauty? Didn’t he know that it’s a person’s inner beauty that counts?”
    That’s not to say that it wasn’t really bloody. It’s just that we could make one hundred different movies about Christ that show 100 different aspects of his life. This is just one of them, and it was never supposed to be otherwise.

  9. I agree with JAG insofar as Gibson self-consciously used the word ‘passion’ in the title – clearly it is meant to narrate/illustrate the final hours of Jesus’ life on earth, not to be a commentary on Jesus’ teachings or ministry. To discredit it for not addressing issues that are, as far as the film as encapsulated narrative is concerned, outside of the scope of the piece is a bit unfair I think. My other objection is to your use of the phrase ‘getting off’ re. the supposed prime motivation for Christians (or presumably non-Christians) to see the film, although in its masturbatory allusion it does fit in with your ‘porn’ theme. Are the majority (or even significant minority) of people going to see this film in order to elict some sort of illicit pleasure? Possible I suppose, but probably unlikely, and I think this demonstrates a certain cynicism of contemporary Christian culture that perhaps impedes your analysis (although we probably share it). Perhaps I can only really comment on why I saw the film, but then I realize that I’m not sure… I saw it as a movie, not a polemic or tract-on-film, Gibson’s take on the Passion story, and while he’s a committed Christian, he’s also a talented film-maker and artist, and I think he wanted to use that gift (and the resources and connections that came with it) to honour and acknowledge the central tenet of Christianity, the most fundamental thing that makes it unique, namely the God-man sacrifice. And holy guacamole, that was a run-on sentence to end all run-on sentences…

  10. Notice that in my original post I didn’t seek to discredit Mel’s movie by arguing it leaves too much out. That wasn’t important to the point I was trying to make. It is a point I raise later in dialogue, but not in my central argument. That said, it is important to recognize what we do to the person of Jesus when we make an “historically accurate” movie that dwells almost entirely on a single, albeit climactic, moment. JAG argues that we could make a whole bunch of movies about a whole bunch of different areas of Jesus’ life, which is true, but I believe that, if we don’t take the big picture sufficiently into account, we will end up with a whole bunch of misrepresentations of Jesus. Make a thousand movies about a thousand moments in Jesus’ life and you will end up with a thousand different Jesuses (what is the plural of Jesus?). Now, there are some people worth getting into a written dialogue with, and some people not worth getting into a written dialogue with, which is why I didn’t feel like I needed to address this point until now… if you know what I’m saying (JAG is a friend of my little brother who somehow got onto my journal).
    That said, your second objection cuts closer to the heart of my original argument. I’m not suggesting that Christians are deliberately seeking to elicit some sort of illicit pleasure from seeing “The Passion” – I’m saying that may be the result, whether we’ve recognized it or not. “The Passion” is entertainment. It seeks to be sincere faith, maybe a sort of misguided evangelism (as I mentioned earlier when I talked about defining the gospel), but ultimately it’s entertainment. Why do we go and see movies? I think we go to arouse some sort of emotional response within ourselves, to amuse ourselves – whether the emotions that are stirred are joy, or sorrow, or some sort of religious feeling. Neil Postman, in his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” argues that TV and movies aren’t threatening when they produce fluff, they are threatening when they try and address issues like religion and politics and philosophy. He argues that, just as smoke signals are a form of communication that cannot engage in complex debate, so also a form of communication that is primarily used for entertainment cannot actually be used to properly or adequately address those same issues. It’s an argument worth looking at.
    Lastly, I reiterate my statement that I’ve never questioned Mel’s intentions or motives, or even his talents as a film-maker. But as I’ve been saying a lot these days, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Judas, after all, could quite possibly have the best intentions for getting Jesus handed over to the Romans. I mean, Judas was one of Jesus’ best friends and closest followers. He performed miracles in Jesus’ name just like the rest and journeyed with him for three years. But, just like the other disciples, Judas misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ Lordship and so when he tried to force the conflict (which he probably thought Jesus would win by defeating the Romans) and ends up seeing Jesus killed he is so overcome with remorse that he kills himself. Good intentions, but he misundertands Jesus and the consequences are fatal for more than one person. After all what does Isaiah say? “Because of their lack of knowledge my people go into exile.” Or Hosea: “My people are destroyed because of their lack of knowledge.” The prophets are saying that we all just need to be smarter. They are saying that we need to truly understood who we are and the way that relates to the world we live in.

  11. Sorry, that second last line should read, “The prophets are NOT saying that we all need to be smarter.”
    As well, I wonder if the area in which you and I disagree may have more to do with the censorship of art than it has to do with “The Passion”.