Having ?Passion' for the subject - Clay Wilson

I could point out that with its recent attention to "The Passion of the Christ," the media was simply doing what it always does: latching onto a perceived cultural phenomenon and running it into the ground.

Or I could simply jump on the bandwagon. And since I've got a few observations to get off my chest, I guess it'll be the latter.

Admitting up front that I haven't seen "The Passion," there are a few things about the buzz surrounding it that puzzle me. First, this movie seems to have reversed traditional ideological stances on cinematic violence.

Usually, conservatives n many of whom are evangelical Christians n are the ones who are critical of ultraviolent films. Some won't watch R-rated movies.

Yet with "The Passion," which by many accounts is a highly graphic, disturbingly violent film, evangelicals are literally flocking by the churchload to watch.

On the other hand, as my film-savvy colleague, Zach, pointed out, entertainment critics often hail violent movies as "cutting-edge." "Pulp Fiction," one of the most gratuitously violent films I've ever seen, was a critic's darling.

But with "The Passion," many reviewers are wringing their hands, saying the movie is just too violent. Some even felt it necessary to warn moviegoers.

For what my opinion is worth, I have ambiguous feelings on this subject.

Certainly, crucifixion was a violent event. The reality might even have been worse than the film portrays. And as someone with an evangelical background, I can understand how Christians find value in witnessing a representation of Christ's suffering.

On the other hand, I don't think it's necessary n or even desirable n to expose oneself to graphic depictions of violence. Reality is violent enough, and humans can imagine plenty of horrible things to do to one another without seeing them portrayed on screen.

The second thing I don't get is all the furor surrounding the film's supposedly anti-Semitic overtones.

It would indeed be unacceptable if "The Passion" portrayed Jewish people as a whole in a negative light (the reviews n mostly depending on the reviewer's ideological stripe n are mixed on this).

But much of the controversy has centered on whether the film makes it seem that the Jews, instead of the Romans, bear the most responsibility in Jesus' death.

The media seems to have made it its mission to try and determine who really was responsible. The television networks have aired specials on Jesus' life and death; and Newsweek magazine featured a cover story a few weeks ago entitled "Who killed Jesus?"

My question is, after some 2,000 years, why should we be concerned with who (from a historical perspective) killed Jesus? What would we do if we knew? The ones directly responsible are long dead, and well beyond the reach of any earthly justice.

Besides, as comedian Jay Leno recently joked while exhibiting a copy of Newsweek, "Who killed Jesus? We don't even know who killed Robert Blake's wife!"

And to me, it seems much more important to know not who killed Jesus, but why he was killed.

Orthodox Christianity holds that Christ died as a sacrifice for mankind's sins. Some historians and even some liberal Christian theologians think he was a social revolutionary whose ideas were so dangerous to the power elite of his day that they killed him.

Either way, I agree with Mel Gibson's response to Diane Sawyer's question about who killed Jesus: "The big answer is, we all did."

Even if one doesn't accept that Jesus died for humanity's sins, in a sense we're all still responsible, because we're all susceptible to the dark human passions n greed, envy, anger and even complacency n that caused that first-century mob to clamor for his execution.

To reappropriate the words of English poet and preacher John Donne in 1624, "Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind."

And I say that if "The Passion" n whether we even see it or not n makes us think about that, it can be considered a masterpiece of film.

Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.