I wasnít always non-religious. I was raised Catholic, went to church every week, Catechism classes, sacraments, the whole bit. Then there was Catholic high school, Catholic university and a stint in which I became so involved in my church that it consumed my life. That was after my first bout with atheism that Catholic guilt forced me to abandon and before my final admittance that I didnít believe in God.
The church I remember was one based on fear. You feared God, you feared his wrath, you feared the nuns and priests and the gates of hell. There were only two consequences for the things you did in life; you either went to heaven for being good or went to hell for being bad. Bad was a subjective thing. It could be fighting with your siblings (which I admitted to in the confessional every Saturday) or stealing from your motherís wallet or the big, bad sin of taking Godís name in vain. Almost everything we did had some sinful connotation to it. And all those things - the music we listened to, the words we said, the games we played, the jokes we told - were played out right in front of all-seeing Godís eyes and he would punish us severely for everything. Got a sore on your lip? A cold? Trip and fall? Slam your elbow on the table? Surely, it was because God was punishing you for something.
My parents were the typical hypocritical Catholics. They sent us off to church every Sunday but they never went themselves. They werenít even CAPE Catholics, those who go to church on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter. They were what I call FW Catholics - funerals and weddings are the only things that bring them into church.
We got all of the guilt and none of the loving, embracing God that my friends in other offshoots of Christianity got. We got a crucifix, blood, pain, suffering. We never sang that ďJesus Loves MeĒ song. We were pounded with guilt every week as the priests and the Catechism instructors hammered home the point that Jesus died for our sins, that he bled and suffered and had nails driven through his flesh for me. For me.
By the time I had received the sacrament of Confirmation, in seventh or eighth grade, I came to the conclusion that either they were telling myths and legends about this Jesus guy or Jesus was off his rocker.
It was much later on, after I left the church for good, that I went with a little of both those theories. I figured parts of the story of Jesus were like tall tales and legends; elaborated truth designed to make events seem bigger than life. Then there was that part of me that viewed Jesus as a power-hungry evangelist who fell for his own hype, no different than Jerry Falwell or Oral Roberts or that Benny guy who heals people. Jesus was a man. A human, mortal man. That was the conclusion I came to and what I still believe today.
For me, that makes the story of The Passion all the more tragic. Oh, I certainly believe most of that happened - Pilate turning Jesus in, the scourge, the blood and pain and agony, the nailing to the cross. What happened after Jesus died is open to interpretation.
The tragedy of this story is that it could have been prevented. I blame Pilate, mostly. From what I hear, Passion glosses over the fact that Pilate was a treacherous, sadistic man who ruled by oppression. He was not a good leader, not a just man, and history contradicts the face that Pilate is given in most interpretations of the death of Christ. I donít believe for a second that Pilate was torn as to what to do with Jesus. He played the crowd and the Christians like a grand piano. He never had any intention but to turn Jesus over.
Iíve read the Bible, more than once. Iíve read hundreds of articles and various retellings of the stations of the cross and Jesusís crucifixion. And Iíve seen all the movies, even the ones with the liberal interpretations of what happened. And each story, each picture, each film left me the same way; crying. I cannot help but be moved by the story of this man who so believed in his message and himself that he sacrificed his life for what he thought was the good of the people who loved him and believed in him. When Jesus asks why his father has forsaken him, my heart breaks.
For me, the tragedy lies in my belief that it didnít have to happen this way, it didnít have to have such an agonizing ending. But there are others, millions of others, who believe that wasnít the ending; it was just the beginning. And I can see how this ultimate sacrifice of one man can move them to tears and fuel their passion so much that they devote their lives to living according to the teachings of the man who died for them.
What Iím getting at is this; you do not have to be Christian to be affected by The Passion of the Christ. While it may be historically inaccurate, as some are saying, and the blood and violence may be over the top, the message is coming through loud and clear. You can see it on the faces of the people who leave the theaters, you can hear it in the way they speak about the experience of sitting through Passion.
It may not be a message all of us believe in; it may not even be a story some of you believe in. Perhaps, like me, you think that too much blame is placed where it doesnít belong. But I canít comment on how Mel Gibson handled that aspect of the story until I see the movie myself.
And thatís my problem. I donít know if I can bring myself to see it for the simple reason that watching even Jesus Christ, Superstar leaves me an emotional wreck. Sure, there are plenty of movies that have left me in such a state. I was completely overwhelmed at the end of Requiem for a Dream, for instance. But itís different this time. Whether you believe in his power and glory or not, Jesus was a real man, who was really crucified. The fact that his words have touched so many lives makes him powerful in a way has nothing to do with whether you are religious or not. What Iím getting at is this: Iím not afraid of how, if I should go see Passion, how Iím going to feel when the movie is over. I know how I will feel. I just donít think I could bear to watch the reactions of the people in the theater who believe in the story of Jesus with all their heart and soul.
I donít think Iíve made myself quite clear on this - itís something that is hard to put into words. But quite a few people have asked me if I am going to see The Passion of the Christ and I thought I would explain as to why Iím a little wary of doing so.
I donít even know anyone who wants to see it, anyhow, and itís not a movie I will see alone. I will probably feel alone enough as it is if and when I do watch it.