Bloggers I greatly respect have offered differing opinions about “The Passion.”
Donald Sensing, more of an expert on Christianity than anyone I can think of in the Blogosphere, after noting numerous inaccuracies in the film, finally concludes with this:

I was filled with a deep sadness – indeed, shame – at the profound deficiency of my own discipleship. Gibson has said that the movie’s answer to the question, “Who killed Jesus?” is, “We all did.” That is not what I felt at the end. Instead, I felt a deep sense of having betrayed the great trust given me by Christ, a enormous awareness of my own sin and sinfulness and my total reliance on God’s gracious mercy.

Here’s Andrew Sullivan:

Gibson does nothing to mitigate the dangerous anti-Semitic elements of the story and goes some way toward exaggerating and highlighting them. To my mind, that is categorically unforgivable. Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, this movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics as well as Jews who are determined to confront that legacy. In that sense alone, it is a deeply immoral work of art.

Here’s Roger L. Simon:

Beneath Mr. Gibson?s insouciant exterior beats a heart all right, but it?s not a brave one. It?s the heart of a ruthless, unforgiving man. He has made one of the most violent exercises in sadism ever put on a movie screen and, unconsciously, the greatest advertisement for atheism I have ever seen. If ?The Passion of The Christ? is about religion? any religion? I want no part of it. And I don?t think anybody should. Instead of adapting one of the magnificent spiritual works of world literature, the Gospels, Mr. Gibson has tossed them aside and made two hours of virtually unremitting gore, taking the ?Son of Man,? ripping him, shredding him, flaying him, smashing him, bashing him, beating him, mauling him, hammering nails in him, and then starting all over again. And again. And then again. No known human being?of divine origin or not?would have survived even a fiftieth of this. It?s the theatrical equivalent of ten years of root canal work.
….was it anti-Semitic? Of course, but what do you expect from a film that treats the whole subject so brainlessly? I think it?s anti-human as well.

Roger Simon’s comments are closed.
Believe me, I understand why, and I think I understand Roger’s feelings about the film (at least I hope I do).
Politically (and this stuff has become political as hell!), Gibson would do well to tell the world he is not an anti-Semite, and not just in a general sense; I think he’d be well advised to state clearly whether or not he wants the Catholic Church to return to its pre-Vatican II policy of anti-Semitism, and whether he agrees with the disgraceful positions taken by his father.
Gibson would also do well to remember that anti-Catholic sentiment can take on a life of its own just as much as anti-Jewish or anti-homosexual sentiment. Here’s an anti-Catholic Protestant fundamentalist site which believes “The Passion” violates the Second Commandment (“a two-hour stream of images graven in celluloid at the rate of 24 frames per second”….” thousands of graven images and likenesses of God’s Son”) and concludes it is the work of the devil:

The Jesus of the movie is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of the movie is not the Jesus of God. You are going to the devil to get a view of Jesus, and you will not undo the damage easily. The Jesus you see is that which Satan wants you to see. He does not want you to see the Jesus before Whom he trembled, and by Whom he will soon be cast into hell.
You will put your trust in another Jesus, another gospel, and another spirit, all of which are false (II Cor 11:1-4,13-15). You will think you know Jesus, when you do not. You will think you know how He thinks of you, but you will not. You will be deceived into confidence of your relationship with Him, without a true basis for that confidence. One day soon you will be very surprised!

Graven images are the work of the devil? Does that mean crucifixes are bad? What about Andres Serrano? Did he do a bad thing? What about early Protestants and their smashing and burning of crucifixes in places like the Netherlands and England? (More.)
Or am I once again engaged in moral relativism?
If I am slouching towards moral relativism, I might as well pose another morally relativistic question. Much has been made of whether or not Mel Gibson is anti-Semitic, whether he is homophobic, whether his father is anti-Semitic, etc.
I think it is important to judge the film for what it is, as opposed to who made it, who paid for it, who promotes it, and what their motivations might be.
My question is, would it make any difference had this film been produced and directed by a known, unabashed anti-Semite? If so, then why?
Would it have made any difference had the film been made in Syria or Lebanon, by a Jew-hating Muslim director?
I don’t know, but it is becoming more and more of a struggle to separate the messenger from the message.
Speaking of “messengers,” there was a film I very much enjoyed called “The Lion in the Desert,” — a biography of Libyan guerilla leader Omar Mukhtar, who fought the Italian fascist occupation forces in the 1920s. I was told that the film was “propaganda” because of the background of the director (Syrian-born Mustapha Akkad) and its funding:

Akkad again faced a somewhat hostile American public because the movie had been funded by Libyan leader Mu?ammar al-Quaddafi, who like Khomeini, was viewed with scrutiny in the West. The movie stared Anthony Quinn as Mukhtar, Oliver Reed as General Gratsiani, the officer in charge of crushing the Libyan revolution, and Rod Steiger as Benito Mussolini.

The problem is, “The Lion in the Desert” is a damned good film!
I am going to watch “The Passion” tonight (at least I think I will, if I can find anyone who’ll see it with me…), and I am wondering whether I have any moral right to see it and judge it as a work of art or not.
In the interest of full disclosure, I enjoyed Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” — which of course was made as the purest form of Nazi propaganda.
It never made me a Nazi!
MORE ON RIEFENSTAHL: Ah, old memories! Years ago I saw Triumph of the Will in a theater in San Francisco, where two clueless American guys were seated with their dates in the row in front of me. The film didn’t even have subtitles, which in some respects made it boring. To the guys — but NOT to their dates! The latter consisted of two cute German girls, who’d obviously never seen the film before, and were in a state of what can only be called shock and awe. Their dates (obviously interested more in scoring with the girls than seeing long speeches by Hitler, Himmler, Streicher, et al.) were trying to drag them away, but the girls were imploring, begging, eyes-wide-open at the screen, to let them stay and watch. I have never seen any two people pay such rapt attention to any film as those girls.
This was around 1980. At the time, it occurred to me that the film had been censored, and in Germany they would not have been allowed to see it.
Not a good thing. Even propaganda is part of history.
So is art.
ADDITIONAL NOTE RE PONTIUS PILATE: The available historical record regarding Pontius Pilate is sketchy and contradictory. Depending on which sources one chooses to believe, a case can just as easily be made for a ruthless and tryannical Pilate as for a waffling politician who wanted to avoid trouble. It is interesting to note that as the early church grew, Pilate’s image seems have been cleaned up to the point that he was actually canonized by the Coptic and Ethiopian churches!
It may well be impossible to ever know the actual historical facts.
My thanks to Sandefur’s Freespace for linking to this excellent discussion (which provided the link above). Superb work — especially for a film considered “better seen than reviewed.”
Of course, I was too late to make it to the film tonight, so I can do neither!