Monday, July 23, 2012

Being beaten, physically and metaphorically

I remember when Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ came out. I mean, it's not like it was all that long ago, but still, it was a huge thing. My best friend's dad is a pastor, so he somehow managed to get several free tickets (I think at the time, churches were selling out theaters so that "The World" would understand how much Christians want movies with family values in them. You know. Like abuse and human sacrifice. The important stuff.) and they wanted me to come.

My upbringing in Christianity was very odd and sheltered, and while it never reached Quiverful levels, there was a lot of "My brother's uncle's cousin's sister-in-law said that Proctor and Gamble are Satanists, so we can't buy [Product] any more!" going on. Like, I wasn't allowed to watch The Smurfs or play with Troll Dolls because these things were Satanic and could possess me with their powers. I was allowed to have Cabbage Patch Kids, though. Go figure. Anyway, because of that upbringing, I tend to be really unaware of Christian trends in my adult life because I didn't enjoy living like that as a kid and I don't want to continue. The fact that I was aware of The Passion was mostly because of mainstream media.

According to The World, The Passion was a ludicrously self-indulgent flick made to stroke Mel Gibson's ego and loudly proclaim to the world at large, "I believe!"

According to the Christian press, The Passion was a cinematic masterpiece underlying the important beliefs of Christians and once and for all bringing Jesus's struggles to life so that we may love Him and serve Him better.

According to The World, The Passion is torture porn on par with the Saw franchise.

According to the Christian press, The Passion makes Christ accessible to everyone.

My issues with The Passion started with Jim Caviezel playing Jesus when Oded Fehr clearly existed and could have done a great job. But then again, how many actors really want to portray Christ in a clearly evangelical movie? Then I found out it was in Arameic, which is the dumbest thing ever since Jesus would have spoken Ancient Hebrew, and then I found out that they digitally changed Caviezel's eyes to brown instead of just having him wear contact lenses.

Or, you know, hiring an actor who is either black, mixed race or Middle Eastern?

 I didn't want to see The Passion. I was embarrassed by it and what it represented. I hated how The World saw right through everything Christians were trying to do to promote the movie and I hated the Christians for subjecting my kind to that sort of scrutiny. I hated Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel and anyone else associated with the movie. I hated people who told me my reluctance about the movie was just The World putting doubt in my mind.

I hated myself for agreeing to see it because my friend wanted me to go and I'd rather be with a friend than alone so it was worth it to me.

I spent a good deal of the movie's end with my head in my friend's lap. The violence was horrendous. I mean, it was epically awful, and as someone who was abused as a child, it was a little too close to home. Here was Jesus, a really good, seemingly fun guy, being beaten and crucified by his Father.

And then the worst part. The very worst part. The end.

There was no resurrection. No hope. Jesus died and then he was in the ground, and that was it.

He didn't return in Glory to reveal himself to the women and then to the men.

It just...ended.

But still, I breathed a sigh of relief because it was over and I had done my Christian duty to promote a movie I didn't care one whit about, but without any money out of my pocket, so that was okay. It was over, and I could get on with the rest of my life.

Or so I thought.

Then the movie came out on DVD.

I was moonlighting at a Christian corporation at the time and was around more believers than I usually am because of that. Every one of them was excited about The Passion available for home viewing. Not only could they worship the movie and Mel Gibson in their own homes (conveniently without needing to actually read their Bibles, because the movie was directly taken from The Bible, right? Just like The Ten Commandments, right?), but they could worship in their friend's houses, and thier churches would also be hosting huge viewings of the DVD!

I did my best to smile and nod, but I realized too late that my relatinship with The Passion was just beginning, and it was going to stalk me harder than Edward Cullen ever stalked Bella Swan.

There was a girl at Christian Corporation. I don't think she was quite Quiverful, either, but she was totally wandering around in long jean skirts (thought she wore pants too) and vests and stuff. She and her family did weird stuff like picketing Disneyland (????) and other corporations, and she seemed to be in church all the time. She would talk about her protesting (like, writing letters to Vons to try and keep them from carrying Maxim Magazine and that sort of thing, or writing to People because their Bikini Issue was distasteful, I guess) a lot. It was sort of a badge of honor for her. Some people brag about volunteering at the animal shelter, she had this.

Anyway, she brought up the DVD while my group was out at lunch one day. Everyone present was going on about how The Passion changed their life and made them appreciate Jesus more. I was quietly wondering if my upbringing made The Passion redundant in my life, since I never had any trouble visualizing the Torture of the Christ on my own, or maybe I'm just that way. I prefer reading because I always get a better picture in my head than movies or TV ever give me, so it could be. Fundie Girl started grilling me about whether I was going to buy the DVD or not. I was surprised because I figured if I just kept quiet, everyone would assume that I would. I was wrong and that annoyed. me.

"No, I'm not. But it's great that you are."

A few of the ladies talked about how their pastor was going to try and buy out the Wal Mart near them or something, and it made me think of the ticket buying campaign that churches tried to initiate so that the opening weekend would be a record breaker. I must have grimaced, and Fundie Girl must have seen me.

"Why aren't you going to buy it?" she asked, accusatory.

I sighed. I hated bringing this up. "Well, there was a lot of violence in my life when I was growing up, and the movie just really bothered me with how violent it was," I finally said. "I just have a hard time watching that. Like a soldier with PTSD or something. It's really similar."

I felt bare, naked. I felt like a scab had just been ripped off. This was (and still is) information that I only share with people who are close to me.

One of the ladies gave me a smile and sort of patted my arm. I don't know if she saw how embarrassed I was or not, but she at least was supportive. Another lady said, "I understand how you would feel that way. I mean, I've never been through that, but I could see how this would bother you."

Fundie girl and another lady weren't having it. The violence was what Jesus really went through! So that makes it okay! Besides, "You need to buy the movie," Fundie Girl said. "You're a Christian, and you need to show The World that you stand for Christian movies."

And there it was. I had to pay my Christian Dues. It's like being a part of a union, only way more corrupt.

The other ladies tried to admonish Fundie Girl by explaining to her that I had legitimate reasons for not watching the movie. Finally, after asking if I'd even watched the movie in the first place, Fundie Girl said, "Do you know what I'm going to do when The Passion comes out on DVD? I'm going to put it in and watch it ten times in a row!"

I smiled. "That's great," I said. "You do that."

I hated that day. Her smug superiority. The way she felt she put me in my place while completely missing the point, the larger picture. The humanity that I was expressing. The vulnerability in my pain and the compassion in the other ladies that took us closer to Jesus than all of her picketing and pearl clutching could ever do.

My friend's dad, the pastor, says that he hates "Jesus Junk" that Christian stores sell. Testamints and snow globe crucifixes. Dashboard bobblehead Jesuses and erasers shaped like crosses. He didn't buy the DVD of The Passion either.


  1. I'm very sorry for what you went through, but I do feel I should point out that Jesus probably did speak Aramaic as it was the everyday language of Israel at the time He lived. I'm not sure if He would have used the actual dialect of Aramaic they used in the movie, though.

    I've actually had similar experiences with secular friends who have tried to push movies or TV shows on me. One friend became verbally abusive towards me when I declined to watch that Howard Stern movie Private Parts. I did later see the movie on TV and thought it was funny, but the experience will always be linked to how insane my friend got just because I said no.

    I am a Christian, but never had any Christian friends or acquaintances try to force me to watch The Passion or to buy the DVD. I was interested in seeing it, but now that we all have evidence of what an abusive, racist jerk Mel Gibson is, I won't go out of my way to watch it.

    It's a shame some of your coworkers didn't recognize your boundaries and very good reasons for not buying the DVD, but I'm glad some of them did support you.

  2. I enjoyed The Passion, somewhat...however---I couldn't watch the beatings. I just couldn't. I don't know if the ability you and I have to visualize our readings is the cause, or if it's attributable to the almost-nauseating level of sympathy I feel (pain, whether physical or emotional, is something I can conjure rather strongly in my own mind. Given strong enough influence, I can feel genuinely sick at heart and in body). In any case, it was difficult to watch/hear, and the only thing that eased that during viewing was what I remember of the ending: seeing Jesus at the foot of his tomb, standing and walking out of frame.

    (Frankly, I think we should've seen the women that came to the tomb, but it feels like Christianity still treats women as the whores needing redemption, or the ones fit to wash feet and dry them with our hair. God forbid we see the women reach the tomb before the disciples, because someone might think the women were more devoted or something.)

    That said, Fundie should've been ashamed of herself. It's that kind of My Way or the Hell Way attitude that gives Christians a bad rap. We're supposed to be believers, and be kind, compassionate, and good! Not, DO THIS OR YOU ARE A BAAAAAD CHRISTIAN. I know I am! And I know I need to do better. I don't need to buy something or wear something or protest somewhere or repost a FB status to be a "good" Christian. I'm tired of being bullied by my own faith.

    You know what? Fundie sounds like more like the first two that passed the injured man on the road, and less like a Good Samaritan. The other ladies who looked at you, heard you, acknowledged you, AND TOOK THE KNOWLEDGE TO HEART (big, big emphasis), were the Samaritans.


    Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a burning desire to find out if those Easter-time chocolate crosses are still available. 'Cause nothing says "I love Jesus!" like eating a candy instrument of torture.