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Mel Gibson's Passion By: Paul Greenberg
Townhall.com | Wednesday, February 25, 2004


Work at not needing approval, and you will be free to be who you really are.
- Reb Nachman of Breslov

Rule No. 1 - Never write about a movie till you've seen it.

Rule No. 2 - No. 1 doesn't always apply, especially if the movie is somebody's dream, something he had to do - no matter who approved or disapproved.

Consider Mel Gibson's "The Passion of The Christ." The movie opens Ash Wednesday. That's today. And only a relative few have seen early versions of the film.

But that hasn't stopped critics from spilling more ink on Mel's Jesus than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John combined. (The apostles wrote tight.)

Result: The actor/director/proselytizer's publicity tour has been more like one long opening statement for the defense. The other night he was being interviewed by ABC's Diane Sawyer, who never met a question she couldn't make sound like an accusation - though in the nicest, most cloying, soft-lensed, airbrushed way.

Mel looked a little nervous, sounded a little paranoid and acted a little conspiratorial - like anybody else under suspicion. He could have been wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. Most of all he looked and sounded like . . . a believer. Somebody who can't help himself, someone who's been, as they say, convicted.

In Mr. Gibson's case, the conviction is Roman Catholic. And he's pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic at that. (Latin mass, priests facing the altar, no altar girls.) Which, for people like Diane Sawyer, must make Mel Gibson something of . . . a freak. Or at least an archaeological find. She could have been interviewing a Zoroastrian or Aztec. You could almost feel her attitude: Gosh, do people like this still exist?

By the end of the hour-long, prime-time interview, it wasn't anything Mel Gibson had said that stuck in the mind but (unfortunately) the demeanor of Ms. Sawyer. She is so typical a product of this secularized age, she could be on NPR.

Has she never encountered a devout Christian outside those cliches about the terrible Religious Right? Has she never read the Gospels? And we mean read them, not analyzed them for a course in Comparative Religion.

Diane Sawyer really ought to get out more. Then she might meet more folks like Mel Gibson out here in Flyover Land.

The reason people are supposed to get a liberal education, and study "dead" languages, and learn about cultures that no longer exist outside museums and within the hidden depths of our own psyche, is to discover . . . ourselves.

But all of that, it was undeniably, painfully, amusingly clear, was terra incognita for Ms. Sawyer. Bless her heart, she was a stranger in a strange myth, too sophisticated to get anything that simple.

In case you haven't been keeping up with the passion over "Passion," the crux of the accusation against the Mel Gibson is that he's made a movie that blames The Jews for the crucifixion of Christ. That he's anti-Semitic.

Or, if he's not, he's played into the hands of the anti-Semites - the kind of Bible-thumping bigots who will use the film to further their own hateful designs. Although if all of us were held responsible for what others would make of our words, no word might ever be uttered.

Mr. Gibson told Diane Sawyer that he's no anti-Semite, that anti-Semitism is "un-Christian," and a sin that "goes against the tenets of my faith."

So who's to blame for the Crucifixion?

To ask that question not for rhetorical purposes, or to alert the Anti-Defamation League, but to ask it humbly and rightly, in faith, hope and charity, would be to render any answer unnecessary. We all know who crucifies Him daily.

Mel Gibson has opened the door to faith in his way. Is it the right way? If the viewer doesn't judge him or anyone else, but just opens himself to Possibility, then Mr. Gibson will have done well. Just thinking about that Possibility fills one with hope, even for Diane Sawyer. Even, most improbable and miraculous of all, for oneself.

Know this: You should judge every person by his merits. Even someone who seems completely wicked, you must search and find that little speck of good, for in that place, he is not wicked. By this you will raise him up, and help him return to G-d. And you must also do this for yourself, finding your own good points, one after the other, and raising yourself up. This is how melodies are made, note after note . . . - Reb Nachman of Breslov.


Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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