Friday, March 31, 2006

Da Lawd Gets Da Beat Down (Part Two)

If you didn’t read yesterday’s entry you ought to before moving forward.

What struck me about Odie's story (aside from the obvious) is that the woman’s gut reaction was such a Southern Baptist take on a deeply Catholic piece of art.

As a kid attending Catholic mass with great infrequency, I was always freaked out by the gruesome imagery that peppers Catholic architecture. In a way, going to mass is like seeing a disturbing horror movie every Sunday. Catholicism is the one religion obsessed with suffering. This isn’t a criticism – it’s an observation. As my staunchly Catholic friend Don often points out, some of the greatest art ever created comes from suffering – and he’s right. Without suffering, I can only imagine how dire art would be…but I’m also forced to contemplate if there’d even be a need for art were there no suffering.

I’ve still never seen The Passion of the Christ and I’m less interested in seeing it now than ever before. The phrase “it’s just a movie” isn’t typically part of my vernacular, but in the case of this film, which so many people seem[ed] to take as gospel, I’ve really gotta say it: “It’s just a movie, folks”. It had a script [1], it was shot by cameras, Jesus was played by an actor named Jim Caviezel, and the crew that worked on it likely engaged in the same sort of hedonistic behavior that befalls many a film set. It’s basically one man’s vision of how he believes shit went down. God had nothing to do with this film – con yourself or others into thinking otherwise, but you’re just plain wrong. And I'm not going to hell for saying that, this much I know.

But these facts didn’t stop people from reacting to and treating the film as if it were scripture. Maybe it is a powerful film (I wouldn’t know), but I’m sure back in its day people trembled before the awesome might of The Ten Commandments – you know, the movie where Edward G. Robinson pronounces “Pharoah” as “Fay-row”. (Speaking of The 10C, it’s getting a spiffy miniseries redux on ABC in a couple weeks and I’ve been told the Fay-row version will play on ABC the week after.)

There are numerous reasons I’ve never seen The Passion. A big one is the alleged brutality. I just don’t want to see that. I saw Pasolini’s Salo many years ago and have regretted it ever since. And I don’t have fond memories of I Spit on Your Grave, either. I get that Christ (according to legend) suffered. I get that having one’s hands and feet nailed to planks of wood is torturous. I don’t need to see it visualized on film. I get it – I really do. What amazes me is that so many people took the film as some sort of sign to rediscover their inner Jesus. I’m not a religious man, but I do respect other people’s right to believe - however I’m not so good at respecting people’s right to be ignorant. What’s hard for me to wrap my brain around is that such a huge cross-section of church-going folk were so out of touch with these basic teachings that this movie was a sort of revelation to them. You know, as if “I’d never thought of it like that before.”

I don’t even subscribe to the magazine and I’ve never thought of it as anything but. Check out the stained-glass windows people – it’s all over the place.

The brutality thing isn’t even a real complaint – it’s not a reason to dislike the film, it’s just a reason I don’t want to see it.

Offensive on more levels than can be counted is the "Share the Passion of the Christ" website. I vow that as long as this site exists, I will never see the movie. You know that Biblical line about Jesus driving the moneychangers from the temple? I’m no Bible scholar, but if you can justify the purpose of this website alongside that quote, maybe we can talk. When Curb Your Enthusiasm recently mocked the Christ nail necklace, well, the vindication I felt upon viewing that episode cannot be measured. Can you grasp the sheer amount of money that was made by a certain individual (who directed the film)? And that website is still up there, peddling its cheap wares...

Must. Take. Deep. Breath.

You know what sucks? I never intended for this to be some angry, bile-fueled rant. Odie’s story – which really was notably sweet considering where I’ve ended up – is what inadvertently jump-started it and now I’m in this place of frustration and piss and obnoxious vinegar.

This may be hard to see, but I respect the idea of faith so much that I want people who believe to respect and honor the faith they claim to follow and turn away charlatans and ne’er-do-wells attempting to taint or take advantage of their beliefs. It hurts me deeply when they don’t (or at least don’t appear to) and I lose my faith…my faith in humanity, which - being a non-believer - is the singular faith I’ve got to hang onto. Understand - I don't prance around, overjoyed by my atheism...or agnosticism, or whatever it is I am. I wish I had faith in something higher, but I just don't. I envy those that do and I'd imagine it's a bitchin' way to go through life.

We’ve all got our religions and they don’t always involve churches and prayer books. This is admittedly a silly example, but right now Doctor Who is like a religion to me. Go ahead and giggle. No – seriously – heckle me (if you haven’t already). It’s something that’s been with me since I was a teen and I’ve always “believed” in it and here in America, it’s finally getting some cred. This wasn’t always the case, and I’ve spent many an hour attempting to “convert” people. For some, religion is football. For others it’s (sadly) shopping. Many assert that politics is the new religion, and that’s difficult to argue, especially in these times in which the two frequently intersect. I don’t get most people’s religion and they rarely get mine. This is all fine. This is what makes us human. This is what should keep us going.

If you believe strongly enough in something, you don’t need to sell it – it's fulfilling as is. When people begin suffering the delusions that everybody else needs to be on the same page they are, we run into big problems.

Ever seen The Last Temptation of Christ ? It’s a movie that’s been almost forgotten by most “regular” people, even though it was reviled and protested by many upon its release. It’s a Martin Scorsese film, starring Willem “The Green Goblin” Dafoe as Jesus. It’s based not on scripture, but on a book of pure fiction, written by some dude, and it’s a beautiful piece of work that keeps the violence at a bare minimum (and it’s a Scorsese flick!). There was no Last Temptation merchandise. People didn’t come out of the film crying and feeling guilty. I think they came out contemplating and feeling alive (well, I did anyway). Part of me hopes there are people out there who mistakenly rent it at the video store thinking it’s The Passion. If so, I wonder how they feel when it’s over. And right now I’m especially wondering how the “they beat his ass” lady would feel – if not about Last Temptation, maybe about my words.

I bet she'd beat my ass.

NEXT TIME ON "SLAP PALS": Something vacuous and lightweight!

[1] Does anybody remember that brief period of time when IMDB actually had an entry for “God” and he was credited as the screenwriter of The Passion? It was on there for a couple weeks, I kid you not.