In responding this way to the film, the audience is getting
the message those responsible for the film intended. Jim Caviezel,
the actor who plays Jesus, explained this view: “We’re
all culpable in the death of Christ. My sins put him up there.
Yours did. That’s what this story is about.”
When Diane Sawyer asked the film’s director and co-writer,
Mel Gibson, who killed Jesus, he replied, “The big answer
is, we all did. I’ll be the first in the culpability stakes
here.” And as if to leave no doubt that this is his considered
view, Gibson’s only on-screen appearance in the film is
in the form of the hands that drive the nails into Jesus’ body.
It is frightening that so evil a message could receive so welcome
When charges of anti-Semitism, denied by the producers, surrounded
the film before its opening, there was outrage from many circles.
But when the principals behind the film tell us openly that
its message is that not only Jews, but also all men are implicated
in the death of Jesus, the voices of moral outrage fall silent.
(In what follows I leave aside the question of how successfully
the film conveys its intended message.)
So, let us ask some questions no one is asking. Why is it immoral
to ascribe guilt to all Jews, but not immoral to ascribe guilt
to all mankind? How can anyone know, without first considering
our specific choices and actions, that you or I are guilty?
How can you or I be responsible for the death of a man killed
2,000 years ago?
To make any sense of the accusation, one must recognize that
one is dealing here with the same collectivist mentality, albeit
in a more sophisticated form, as the racist’s. For the
anti-Semite, to be Jewish is to be evil. For the devout Christian,
to be human is to be evil.
The denunciation of man as a creature befouled by, in the words
of St. Augustine, a “radical canker in the mind and will,” infuses
the Christian tradition. Every essential attribute and virtue
of man is attacked.
To possess an inquisitive mind, a mind eager to explore the
world and gain knowledge, is to commit the first sin. Remember
story of Eve?
To painstakingly study nature and unlock her laws, thereby
paving the way for man’s mastery of his world, is to
court imprisonment and torture. Ask Galileo or a scientist
studying human cloning.
To concern oneself with producing the wealth and material goods
life requires, is to invite condemnations of “greed” and “materialism.” Read
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
To cherish the pleasures that the earth and one’s own body
afford, including one’s sexual capacity, is to be denounced
as “selfish” and even depraved. Consult the Puritans
or the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae.
To take pride in one’s curiosity, in one’s growing
knowledge of the world, in one’s successful actions in
it, in the resulting joy and pleasure these bring—this
is branded by all as the height of sin.
On this anti-man approach, to remain alive is to sin. To fully
purge oneself, one must die. Only such an account of man can
begin to explain the charge of collective guilt for the death
of Christ, whose undeserved suffering at man’s vicious
hands is, somehow, supposed to help alleviate our innately “sinful” nature.
If the anti-Semitic view of the Jewish race as inherently corrupt
is irrational and evil, how much more irrational and evil is
this view of the human race?
Will The Passion itself play a role in spreading this conception
of man’s nature? Of course not. But the audiences and
acclaim the film is enjoying speak to just how prevalent this
has already become.
If there is an idea behind the film worth opposing, it is this,
its intended message. Teach man to regard himself as a loathsome,
despicable being, and he becomes ripe for any mystical dictator
who will wield a whip that will help man atone for his “transgressions.”
Deprive man of self-esteem, teach him to spit in his face,
and one paves the way for another Dark Ages.
But to oppose this conception of human nature, one must first
come to understand that man—man at his best, man the rational,
productive, selfish achiever —is a noble being.
Send reactions to Onkar Ghate, Ph.D., at reaction @aynrand.org.