Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Passion

Milla and I coincidentally watched The Passion last night at the same time. And we had a long chat about it afterwards.
This will probably be a long post, so bear with me... and it will take me hours to write, and I know my thoughts will be contradictory in places (if not all the time), and imperfect and incomplete... and I regret that because I don't know if I will get across what I really want to tell.
This proves Saussure wrong, in my opinion. (Was it Saussure? Gotta ask Malcolm...) He said that if you are not having a clear thought, you are not thinking. Thinking to me is like taking that star dust that floats around in me, vague and beyond grasp, and forming it into a solid planet of a thought that still carries the essence of star dust. But it never does... language is so limiting, and if part of the essence of star dust is being beyond grasp, how can anything like defined words render its full meaning? My thoughts written down describe that full meaning of IT as well as a 4-year-old's crayon drawing of a man resembles its model.
That film hit me so deep, and my thoughts are like flies buzzing about the room, that I have to catch and set up in the right order without killing them. Talk about difficult birth, dude. Makes writing almost a masochistic pleasure to me. Heh.

There are some people who say the violence wasn't necessary. I disagree. It's not more sick than Saving Private Ryan. It just shows you the reality of it. Sometimes people need gruesome true pictures to be reminded what they make light of. Why should people be spared? Doesn't that dishonour those who went through that? Especially when other people sacrifice themselves for you, the least you can do is watch and be aware what they did for you. But again, that is not an excuse for some of the shit people do... For Jeebus' sake, don't take your kids to see it.
And of course, if you are so against violence, don't go and see it. It's not that people haven't been warned. It's as simple as that.
I think it wasn't the violence per se that turned my stomach. It was the cruelty of man, their pleasure in hurting others, their hatred and ignorance, and the cowardice, and the knowledge that I am probably capable of the same, if pushed to my limits...

Then there is the outrage about its supposed anti-semitism. I watched out for that, but in my opinion that is all bollocks. But in the end, it is all about reception (thank you Mark!). We all read stories in a different way. In my opinion, "The Passion" is not more anti-semitic than Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" is racist. Which again may some take as proof of their point that it is. Reception, there you have it.
The thing is, The Passion doesn't condemn - it merely depicts. I would say it does the opposite, really, because Jesus constantly prayed for forgiveness for those who murdered him. And if Jesus didn't even hate those who tortured him - and in that film just watching the torture was unbearable, how much worse must it have been for him - why should we hate them?
"Heart of Darkness" also just depicted what things were like in the colonies of the British Empire at the turn of the century. You depict it as politically correct and non-racist to avoid offending anyone by using the n-word, you are telling a lie... and that way you dishonour those who suffered by rendering the truth silent.

Of course, I was pissed off in the film. I dunno how often I screamt inside: "You assholes, leave him alone! You fuckin bastards!!!" But that isn't anti-semitism. It is anti-violence. Anti-stupidity. Anti-asshole-icity. And last time I checked, that was one of the grand features that all cultures on this planet have in common.
In that respect that film is anti-German, anti-American, anti-British, anti-insert-any-country-here.
And honestly... what is the fuss? I mean, do I go bananas whenever there is a war movie showing Germans as the bad guys? It's history. And it wasn't all Germans that killed Jews. My great-grandma hid a Jewish kid, was found out and tortured for it by the Nazis. She still cried about it in her 90s, wondering what they had done to the kid. You just cannot condemn a whole nation and their offspring forever for the sins of the few. It's not the trait of Germanness that made them kill people - not their nationality or race or whatever you want to call it. It was genuine bastardiousness. Assholeicity. Cruelty. Megalomania. Stupidity.
You can't even condemn the Jewish council as a group that sent Jesus to the cross back then. A bunch of them considered it a fucked up idea to condemn Christ... but they were silenced. And Nicodemus, one of them, actually liked and defended Jesus a lot.

It totally reminded me of today - people like in that council live today, in any culture. The film accuses a mindset more than a certain group. People like in that council who sent Jesus to the cross are those legalistic morons who think they got their religion all sorted, and they just wont take any criticism, because "if you criticise them, you criticise God". And then you have the stupid sheep that follow out of ignorance and fear, or simply out of mindless mass hysteria.
And then you have the few that actually dare to stand by what their heart really tells them and I think that is the only thing Jesus asks of people who ask about him. In John 18:34, when being confronted with Pilate, "Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?"" (NKJV)
It is exactly because of that sentence why I don't adopt doctrines blindly (anymore). If they are not your questions, your faith is not real, and I'd rather have an incomplete faith that is my own than a learnt one that floats in my brain like a ghost ship. They say religion is a crutch, and that is true. Mere unrooted indoctrination is (I don't want to call it faith). It is a crutch you cling to and you defend from anything threatening it with the bitter fierceness of the desperate. It is just faith that is your own, that is part of your nature, that becomes your real strength, and this is what you can see in some people. This is what I saw in Jesus in that film. It isn't all about glorious sunshine and the make of the supermen, but it is that torn body of Jesus, the Jesus who sweats blood in distress and moans in pain - but still keeps getting up and does not lose what is his nature, which is love. False faith crumbles at its first challenge, at the slightest blow. I had that, and it was painful, and it was a blessing.
So shove the parrot where the sun never shines. Be genuine.

I think what this story does is attacks foul politics in general more than it attacks Jews. I think this scene of a religious council getting into a frenzy and condemning someone out of religious hysteria/self-righteousness mixed with a political agenda summarises well why I firmly believe in the separation of church and state. Pat Robertson and "his minions of destruction" (quote SouthPark) making political decisions is my vision of hell.

Apart from that, in biblical terms, you cannot condemn them at all for killing Jesus. It was part of the prophesy, right? If they hadn't killed him, he wouldn't have died for our sins, right? Even though it wasn't right... Yeah, thinking about it makes it a bit too complicated for the blame game, eh?

Some also say that the film guilt-trips people into faith, or rather, religion: love Jesus because he went through this torture for you. Well, there may be people that see it that way, but I just felt inspired by his love. It's this torture, this pain that builds a stark contrast to the love he had. It's the dark that brings out the light. Because then there was this scene that hit home with me. When Jesus preaching the sermon on the mount, and tells you to love your enemies, because it is no big deal to love those back who loved you first. It's the torture scenes contrasted with this that emphasised this. I realised, that is exactly what it is about. Am I allowed to be pissed off at those who hurt J., when he isn't? It was strange... that evening I didn't leave the cinema disturbed and in shock. I left feeling full of that peace that must come from choosing to love your enemies. From being freed from having to hate. I left free of anxiety, which is a rare state in me, so I price that. I left feeling that any form of hatred and arrogance and lovelessness is not justified in me, and I liked that. It means fighting the natural urge to lash out when you get hurt, and frankly, I don't have enough trust in myself to claim that I am changed forever. But I know the goal for me... I know this is what I want. I want to be one of those with whom it all ends, and that sounds perhaps cheesy and arrogant, and I know I will never live up to that, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't keep trying.

What I thought was excellent was the depiction of Satan... his androgynous face that confused you as to what he was, and you can see he is beauty gone bad, goodness twisted and distorted. The scene when he/she is walking around with that demonic baby, that just freaked me out... it takes something utterly pure and good and turns it into something terrifying. That is the way C.S. Lewis described sin, and I agree with him on it. Sin is taking something good and abusing and distorting it so much it turns into something horrible. That is what makes it so terrifying... because you can still see a trace of the good in it, and you mourn it while being terrified and tortured by it at the same time. That is why demonic children and dolls are so bloody scary. It's like biting into a beautiful apple and realising too late it is rotten and full of maggots inside.

I guess some of the more extremist Christians take that as an excuse to completely abandon the whole thing. Sex is the classic example. Sex abused is a weapon of the worst kind. It tastes foul and it hurts.
Is that a reason to consider the concept of sex as filthy and abominable? And getting legalistic and prescriptive about it doesn't make it much better.
Don't have a knife in your kitchen, because you could stab someone? Don't have parents, because they could abuse and abandon you? Don't have a dog because it could bite you? Don't eat because you could get food poisoning?
Stupidity taken to a new level. Ack. Chosen ignorance is a sin in my book.

Another thing I liked was the Pilate scenes. It's the first time I remember they depicted the conflict he was in. And I know there will be a few that say that it defended Pilate and accused the Jews, but I think that is simplistic and just not true.
Pilate, in this film, wanted to save Jesus as he could not find him guilty. It was his fear of Caesar's threat that put him in hot water. So he thought he could save Jesus by using a trick... confront them with an obvious choice: choose the most likely innocent to go free or the notorious murderer. Obvious choice, eh? Surefire way. They can't choose Barrabas.
And then you could see his face fall when they did.
Not that I am defending Pilate. It was a trick to save Jesus, but it was a trick born out of cowardice, because he wanted to save his own hide, and thus refused to refuse openly to hand Jesus over.
It's understandable, to some extent... self-preservation is human nature... but not an excuse, really, is it? All it does is accuse mankind of selfishness - rightly, I think. Often enough, people turn away from those in need because they don't want to be / don't feel responsible. I am not pointing the finger... this includes me as well.

But there is something else in this film that I really needed, and that I can hardly describe other than with the overused words describing the love Jesus had, and the world he carried inside him, the world I have been dreaming to live in since I was a kid without consciously knowing what it was. This innate sense of "this is how it ought to be, and why can't we all be like that and just fuckin love each other? If we all do it, it is not that difficult". I am not speaking of belonging to a certain religion, I am speaking of a state of heart and mind. Of just being, being unspoilt and unbroken. Being innocent. Being whole. Being what you are, unafraid, in your core. I wonder how many of us have forgotten what that is like. I just know I am fighting everyday to not lose that sense, and it is stupid pride, and hurt, and self-protection, and the stupid sense of having to be the tough guy and always on top that kills it... or at least makes one forget it.
Douglas Coupland summarised it well at some point, and while some may be all cynical and shit and say it is overused, it does say something about why I feel I need God:

"I think the price we paid for our golden life was an inability to fully believe in love; instead we gained an irony that scorched everything it touched. And I wonder if this irony is the price we paid for the loss of God.

But then I must remind myself we are living creatures--we have religious impulses--we must --and yet into what cracks do these impulses flow in a world without religion? It is something I think about every day. Sometimes I think it is the only thing I should be thinking about.

Some facts about me: I think I am a broken person. I seriously question the road my life has taken and I endlessly rehash the compromises I have made in my life. I have an unsecure and vaguely crappy job with an amoral corporation so that I don't have to worry about money. I put up with halfway relationships so as not to have to worry about loneliness. I have lost the ability to recapture the purer feelings of my younger years in exchange for a streamlined narrow-mindedness that I assumed would propel me to "the top." What a joke.

Compromise is said to be the way of the world and yet I find myself feeling sick trying to accept what it has done to me:the little yellow pills, the lost sleep. But I don't think this is anything new in the world.

This is not to say my life is bad. I know it isn't...but my life is not what I expected it might have been when I was younger. Maybe you yourself deal with this issue better than me. Maybe you have been lucky enough to never have inner voices question you about your own path--or maybe you answered the questioning and came out on the other side. I don't feel sorry for myself in any way. I am merely coming to grips with what I know the world is truly like.

Sometimes I want to go to sleep and merge with the foggy world of dreams and not return to this, our real world. Sometimes I look back on my life and am surprised at the lack of kind things I have done. Sometimes I just feel that there must be another road that can be walked--away from this became--either against my will or by default.

Now--here is my secret:

I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God--that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love."

I nearly cried when I read this for the first time, because that is EXACTLY how I feel. It's like Coupland grabbed that star dust in my head and turned it into words that are alive with essence.

But The Passion reminded me why I am Christian. What I have been looking for when I first became one (and thinking back, I think I was a Christian long before I knew it) - The Prayer I have just not spoken until a specific date. It was just a formality, more or less.

I needed this story because I am so sick of churches, so sick of institutional religion, commodified faith of the "How to become a good Christian in ten easy steps"-kind-find-out-for-just-29.99-and-you-get-this-crucifix ornament-for-free... the whole bloody fingerpointing moneymaking temple circus it has become, and the problem that it often just takes human pride and arrogance and the need for being the tough guy and puts a religious spin on it.

On a side note, C.S. Lewis wrote something interesting:
"When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask [no offense to anyone who did, mind you! Patty], as somebody once asked me: "Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?"
The better stuff a creature is made of - the cleverer and stronger and freer it is - then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man still more so; a superhuman spirit best - or worst - of all."
(Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 3)

I recommend that book to anyone who is asking such questions. C.S. Lewis is a genius.

If I return to the church, then only if I have a good reason. I won't go out of the sense that this is what a good Christian does, because that is not true. I won't go because there is the evangelical pressure of "being with the right kind of people who will help you grow in the right direction", because that is not true either. I have heard a lot of bullshit preached in churches, and I have heard a lot of wisdom from the fiercest atheists. Funny enough, "The Passion", presented to you by Catholicism Inc., reinforced me in my being a post-evangelical. You've got to choose your teachers wisely, and as Pilate's wife said, you will recognise the truth... but only if you want to. Some people just don't want to hear it. And with truth I don't mean the Christian dogma per se. Truth is what makes my heart feel like I have tuned into the right channel.
Truth is what makes me grow into a spiritually healthy person, not what hammers me into an armor of dogma. And what is spiritually healthy, you may ask. Well, you just know it. You know it like you know that you are healthy physically, and excuse the profanity, says the Pat Robertson in me, you know it like you know it when you had an orgasm. ;) You just do.

The only way is undemanding love, non-manipulative (which is something Evangelicalism needs to bloody pick up on!), not goal-oriented other than loving for love's sake, for a person's sake. When Jesus broke the bread, it hit me why he went to the cross. It was not to pay a debt so we will never sin again (which is the sense you get in some congregations sometimes), but because we can't help but sin. We're fallen and imperfect - sin is in our nature because we are imperfect and in many ways ignorant and fearful. Sins are mistakes that hurt what is perfect and pure, and purity and perfection don't exist because of sin.
Ack, I dunno how to put it in words. Am I making sense?
But the point is to keep trying. Not not to sin, but to seek goodness, to make the choices that our conscience tells us, even sometimes against our self-interest. We are the sum of our decisions.
There is this theology about sinning by accident and on purpose, and that notion that people may think that Jesus's sacrifice frees them to sin. But that is retarded. If sins are mistakes, why would anyone want to make mistakes on purposes, seek damage on purpose? I think one purpose of J's sacrifice was to free us to move on, to learn from our mistakes and be smarter next time.

If I return to the church, it has to be my reason, and if God wants me to go, he will show me why, and that is good enough for me. But as long as being in a church hinders my growth and instills nothing but unnecessary guilt trips, I am not going back.

Sorry, that was a madly long post. And as a full read, it will probably be jumping thoughts and bits and pieces wildly scrambled together... it is as much as I could piece together of the big fuzzy picture that is in my mind.

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