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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.


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Thanks for sharing your heart on this, Michele. I am a Christian and I saw the movie on Friday. I am still processing it. If you can't bear seeing the reaction of those who believe in Him with their heart and soul, understand that we also know how this ends - He triumphs over death and sin. And this gives us more joy than anything on earth.

While watching the movie, I kept thinking of how during any of the beating, crucifixion or general cruelty to Him, He could have ended it all and decided that mankind was not worth it. But He did it anyway. That's the paradoxical mystery of the Christ - spit in His face and He returns with love. Steal his shirt, and He will give you His coat. Crucify Him, and He will forgive all.

Now you see, this would be a movie that, if I were to see it, I would HAVE to see alone. Not just alone, but in a theater full of people I don't know and who don't know me. The reason is because, if I do end up in tears, there won't be anyone who could look back on it and remember who I was.

Now I don't break down in public. Period, end of sentence. I'm even able to talk about my trouble with violence in my home with dry eyes; my brother's near fatal car accident -- the same, dry eyed, stating facts. But to see the Christ be whipped and nailed to a couple of boards in front of my eyes...Possible, but only just, and only alone. In the back of the theater.

I felt the same way when Schindler's List came out. It took me a couple of weeks to be ready to see it, and I saw it alone on a weekday afternoon so I could process it before having to try to sleep.

I've been a Christian my whole life, although a lot of Christians would disagree with my current personal theology, and I don't think I can sit thru The Passion. I wish like a lot of others it had more to it than just those twelve horrible hours.

Our cousins across the pond believe government makes a difference.

We believe, even if we don't believe in Christ, one man or woman can make a difference.

I can't help but think, Michele, that if your experience of the Christian faith had been more like my own -- love instead of fear, conviction instead of guilt, sincerity instead of hypocrisy -- you'd still be a believer. So much of your current disbelief seems to be irrevocably influenced by your past, and I'm not sure what you can do about it.

I hope you have gotten to, or can get to, a place where you can forgive your parents, priests, and church for all the crap they handed you. You seem broad-minded enough to realize that your own experience is not normative for a good percentage of those who call themselves Christians. Maybe someday you'll experience something different, something more consistent with the heart and spirit of the Gospel.

I'm going to stay away from this movie. I don't believe in the divinity of this man, and even if I did why would I want to go see this guy get all messed up. I can watch a Friday the 13th movie if I want blood and guts.

"We never sang that ďJesus Loves MeĒ song. "

Oh Michele, how sad. I'm truly sorry.

I'm a Protestant Christian by upbringing and by choice (Disciples of Christ/Baptist/Calvary Chapel--no church now). I haven't seen the movie and also haven't decided "where" to see it, either. The indecision is to some degree, but not so much, about showing my emotions in public and seeing that of others, but, also, whether I should watch the whole thing uninterrupted for whatever "full" effect it may or may not have, or if I should watch it in the privacy of my "prayer closet" as it were, where I would have the chance to stop it and meditate (get a grip).

I have some amount of guilt associated with not seeing it in the theater in that He went through all that, and I can't sit there for 2 hours in an air-conditioned theater? On the other hand, watching it at home would provide a more thoughtful and prayerful attitude towards it.

Still, it is just a movie. As always, the Book, I'm sure, is so much better...

I don't think it has anything to do with which religion she was raised in. I was raised protestant. I got all the good lovey dovery jesus songs and all that jazz and I am still a non-believer. It is a simple matter of reasoning and questioning for me. I asked questions the church couldn't answer. I asked other churches and they couldn't answer either. I read, I studied. I did reports in school on religion and it's followers. I came to the conclusion that he was indeed a living breathing man who was crucified in the style of death penalty they used at the time for pissing people off during a week of celebration. He was upsetting people and making noise and rather than have a riot break out, they captured him knowing full well that people were on his side and that's why they did it at night. What happened after his death, like Michele said, is pure speculation. Do I believe he died for you and me? No. Do I believe he rose from the dead? No. I wasn't even a molecule when he died so how could he have died for my sins? That's the line that aggravates me the most. He died for YOU. No he didn't. Maybe he died for YOU but he certainly did not die for me and that is the guilt that people carry around with them for years. They think he really did die for them and all mankind. It's like they feel they owe it to him to suffer and try to be good and make others feel guilty about a mans death thousands of years ago.

No. I wasn't even a molecule when he died so how could he have died for my sins?

1) God is not bound by time, so He died for all mankind. 2) So you are saying soldiers who fought for your freedom before you were born but did not know your name didn't fight for your freedom? I mean, I know it's not a perfect analogy, but I believe I didn't have to be born to reap the benefits of His sacrifice.

And I don't feel a bit guilty for what He did for me. I feel eternally grateful. He willingly did it. I am sorry if someone implied they want you to feel guilty or suffer in life because of His death, His death was really to free people from those bonds. Quite the opposite of legalism.


You say:
"I asked questions the church couldn't answer. I asked other churches and they couldn't answer either."

Are you sure that they COULDN'T answer or that the answer isn't something either you couldn't accept, or you didn't like for an answer.

"I read, I studied."

I have read Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" four times and I still get lost in the last few chapters. This is very embarrassing to me; I breezed through all my engineering courses in college and all my post graduate business classes, save for a class in Econometrics.

Does this mean that Hawkings' is wrong or that the advanced statistical theory doesn't hold water? Maybe, but for now I'm going to have faith in these people that have made these studies their lives work before, I can dismiss these theories based on my understanding and logical reasoning.

I grew up in the 80s, so I got the happy Catholicism growing up, and definitely no Latin or terrorizing nuns. Heck, you could barely tell who was a nun. We got to sing "Jesus Loves Me", "Deep and Wide", "This Little Light of Mine", "His Banner Over Me is Love", and even "Kumbaya".

It does seem odd that your Catholic upbringing had only Heaven & Hell -- what about Purgatory? What about indulgences?

And I didn't know any kids who weren't accompanied by their parents to Mass.

Of course, all of this may be a function of me growing up in Georgia, where we Catholics were greatly outnumbered. You kinda had to be committed to the Church in a place where the Baptists all figured you were idolaters.

You may not believe it but.....you are alot closer to the Kingdom than you think.

1) I appreciate what soldiers did but I don't have to worship them or try to live a good decent life for them because they died.

2) Grateful someone was slaughtered. That's just as bad as the guilt people have tried to lay on me. I'm so happy for you that your god was slaughtered. How happy you must be.

3) The questions I asked were simple ones and they had no real answers. I got stuff like because that is gods will or that is the way god wants it. What kind of answer is that? Is it reasonable? No.

4) I continue to read and study and learn and investigate this subject. My whole family is very religious but for me. I used to question myself for not being so devout.

I am still learning and I still have the same response as above. He was a man who was hung on a cross for a crime who had many followers. They worshiped him then and they worship him now.
It makes me no less of a human being on this planet if I am not saved by your god.

"I grew up in the 80s, so I got the happy Catholicism growing up, and definitely no Latin or terrorizing nuns. Heck, you could barely tell who was a nun. We got to sing "Jesus Loves Me", "Deep and Wide", "This Little Light of Mine", "His Banner Over Me is Love", and even "Kumbaya"."

We had terrorizing nuns, but only if you misbehaved in class. Otherwise my Catholic upbringing was fairly benign. I'm only a few years younger than Michele, and our town (in Geneva, New York) was heavily Italian. Odd that our experiences would be so different.

When I was a teenager a priest asked me during confession if I masturbated. At that point I decided that Catholicism had little to offer me.

2) Grateful someone was slaughtered. That's just as bad as the guilt people have tried to lay on me. I'm so happy for you that your god was slaughtered. How happy you must be.

Slaughter indicates he had no choice in the matter. He had a definite choice. He chose to save humanity via His death. He was a willing sacrifice.

It makes me no less of a human being on this planet if I am not saved by your god.

I didn't mean to ever dispute this, and I don't think anyone else did.

Slaughter indicates he had no choice in the matter. He had a definite choice. He chose to save humanity via His death. He was a willing sacrifice.

Knowing he was going to be crucified and wanting to die are two different things.
He was captured and crucified. At that point, the choice was completely out of his hands.

Kat, I think that's where Christians believe something entirely different about who Christ was than what you believe. We believe he was the son of God, and therefore had the power of God in His hands. It's a mystery to me, but I accept He was. With this knowledge, He could have stopped the proceedings at any point. He could have decided mankind was not worth it, the pain was too much or whatever and called down the host of Heaven to stop it all. He chose not to because He loved us all and knew the only way to free us from death was through His willing sacrifice.

I do not want to go around and round about this as it is clear we disagree. Thank you for the time you have put in already.

Okay, I love talking about it. Feel free to e-mail me, and I will try my hardest to answer the questions that are answerable.

Well, it is also not fair to Michele to keep ongoing arguments/disagreements running in her space.
Like I said, I also love talking about it but I feel we will never see eye to eye on this but appreciate everything you have taken the time to write out. I am always open to new views and ideas.

Michele, thanks for writing about your perspective on this...I think you communicated much more clearly than you feel you did.

No need really to go into my thoughts on it, I would say my personal perspective is similar to the first post from Aravis. I saw the film this past Friday evening.

Again, just a thank you.

Jesus HAD to die. That's why he came in the first place.

He could have stopped the whole crucifixion thing at any point, but he didn't. He had a choice, in spite of the imperative of his mission.

His message is not one of guilt, but of forgiveness and love. And, yeah, I do need to be forgiven, because I mess up a lot.

I believe this, in spite of some church folks who are legalistic and seem to peddle guilt trips. But they don't know him. The Bible says, "God didn't send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." Some church folks seem to have missed that point.

Hang in.


It's good of you to keep an open mind concerning these things. I am a Christian and even pursued becoming a minister and still I wrestle with doubt. In the same way I am glad that you aren't afraid of the possibility that you may be wrong about athiesim. It seems to me that it's fear that causes people to totally shut themselves off to doubting what they've chosen to believe in. The doubt is always there- we only weaken ourselves by denying it.

Just to be clear, if you "sacrifice" something, you have to give it up. Getting it back in three days isn't a sacrifice -- it's a temporary inconvenience.

If I knew with absolute certainty that I'd be alive and more powerful than ever in 72 hours, I'd let you treat me like that episode of "Family Guy" where Death breaks his ankle and has to stay on Peter's couch. Poke me, prod me, stab me, behead me, shoot me, whatever.

I am once again moved by your honesty and thought process (even on this delicate subject) and so many people above have said the perfect thing I fear I will, myself, detract from these fine responses to your post. 

I liked what, Leno I believe, had to say, of all people. He said he heard the movie was so good they might do a book. 

I too grew up in a strict church environment. Not my parents so much, but the private denominational schools they paid extra for me to go to (not Catholic). 

At some point I had to put aside all the control freaks and all the force fed stuff and read and analyze the whole Bible for myself and see if I believed this or if I was just another brainwashed one of the sheep. 

I also had rebelled in my teen years and early twenties--and even then I had to find out if I was really angry with God or just angry with a few people that played God at church or school or in my life at some point. It's amazing to me that the church itself (Christians) are the ones that often drive more people out of the church than any other single detractor could ever dream of. And if you think their is a battle between atheists and Christians just wait until you get a load of the battle between the Christians and Christians.

Anyway, yes, it is an emotional story, but it is far more than that in the Bible and that is why I will probably just stick to that version of it. Emotion only goes so far in conversion, or motivation to stay converted anyway. I may see it. But I have this terrible vision of sitting there watching it with some guy stuffing popcorn in his pie hole five feet away from me. Something about that doesn't fit to me, so I might just wait for a private home viewing one day.

I know Mel has done a fine job, by what I have read, and has put out an emotional box office smash, but I prefer the plain old version the Bible offers. It tends to temper the emotion in places when it feels the reader needs it and tends to spare some of the details of Christ's horrific pain and suffering and instead chooses to focus on how Christ overcame this, even death and all just for every single one of the people that have ever walked the face of the earth. Besides, this is a story to me that goes far beyond sensory perception, it is not logical, it is not something that can be totally explained. That is why Christians are considered crazy by many to believe in it, I suppose.

Yes Christ suffered immensely in those few hours and I realize that was Mel's point (i.e., The Passion of Christ)  but according the the Bible he also rose again and continues to work on behalf of little old me. The Bible also points out the many reasons why Christ did what he did as the entire story of the Great Controversy between God and Satan is presented. That is why not just what happened at Calvary should be considered but what happened from the very beginning (Genesis) and what will continue to happen at the very end (Revelation). I guess, what I am saying is the Bible
pbvioudly does a better job of giving us the important background to this incredible story and goes on to tell us what it all means for each and every one of us should we choose to accept Christ's mission.

The entire Bible points to this man and this
mission--Christ. The Jewish people or Pilate did not kill Christ any more than I did. He died, according to the Bible from the weight of the sins that I myself have committed, so that I would not have to die (permanently) instead. The Bible also does an excellent job of laying out what it means to us right up until its prediction that He will return for all that have chosen to believe in it. 

I know Mel Gibson only had three hours or so...but the message of the Bible can be studied for a lifetime and never be fully comprehended, to me. It's not something for me to consider one day or one week in passing or when there is a buzz in the media to do so, it is presented instead as a decision I should take very seriously each and every day. Again, I appreciate what Mel is trying to do, but any old Bible can tell the story much more effectively.

One final piece of advise--if I may-- for anyone  that decides to read the Bible or to study further on these things. Ask first for God (I know this may be difficult for an atheist especially) to give you an open mind before reading. Just say, "God, if you do exist, send your Spirit to lead me in these readings. Help me to put aside my pre-conceived beliefs for the moment and have an open mind." Even a Christian should never read the Bible without first asking God to lead him or her in the study.

Thank you so much for your words and this topic Michele. I am just another crazy Christian trying to make sense of it all for myself.

Phil said

"If I knew with absolute certainty that I'd be alive and more powerful than ever in 72 hours, I'd let you treat me like that episode of "Family Guy" where Death breaks his ankle and has to stay on Peter's couch. Poke me, prod me, stab me, behead me, shoot me, whatever."

Watch the film, and then tell me you'd go through that for ANY reason.

No need, Shanartisan, as I'm quite familiar with the Gospel stories. My basic point stands. If I know I'm coming back to life, you can abuse me until you can't stand up anymore. There's no loss, only temporary pain.

(Indeed, Christian theology itself rests somewhat on this point. Christ tells his followers that, because they believe in him and have life everlasting, they will be persecuted in his name and be blessed because of it.)

In fact, thinking about it, according to Christian tradition, it wasn't even that bad right after. Only Jesus's body was dead; Christ went to Hell and freed the souls trapped there. So he was "alive" immediately following the crucifixion.

Phil, I'm Catholic so you KNOW I don't know my Bible. I defer to you on this one.

Question: I was intrigued by your comment about if you knew for absolute certainty that you'd come back better in 72 hours, you'd give up your life too. For as little as I know about the Bible..DID Jesus know he was going to be risen? I think I always remember learning that as a man on earth he behaved as a mortal...praying to his Father but not knowing that he would be resurrected. Maybe you can help me here?


Not sure what Bible you get the story of Christ going to hell out of...that may be a tradition started by a non-biblical source.

I have often wondered though about what Christ really gave up...knowing that He would live again. One of those points of study I am still searching for.

What I do know is that He gave up his very high place in Heaven to come down to this sewer to be killed by those He wished to save. It was a sacrifice but I am not sure what, if any, position he lost in Heaven in doing so.

He suffered. But it isn't something to feel guilty about. That is the common misconception, or false teaching. He doesn't want us to be brought to him out of guilt. It was a gift for us, that we can freely choose or deny.

Still, you are correct, in knowing that he would live again (if He did know this) the sacrifice would have been easier to bear.

Um also the Bible doesn't teach that people go to hell or heaven after death (The dead knoweth not anything--it reads over and over and over). Only somewhere along the line someone realized it would be a good idea to tell people their dead relatives were not really dead but waiting for them to give the church money in order to have them freed. This gets back to that whole guilt thing sort've like Michele was talking about and gets back to how Christians themselves distort the truth in order to gain power over others. It's another example of how tradition actually becomes a belief--and it has happened any many areas of Christianity.

Perhaps, this is why Luther taught that Christianity should be based on the bible and the bible alone (SOLA SCRIPTURA), because tradition has caused more confusion or actually more poeple to think of christianity as a hoax than anything else.

response to kat:

This may be a long dead issue, I notice that the last post was March 2, but since I was brought here more or less due to an Onion article on a Thanatos device (sort of an end time device)it seemed oddly appropo to go ahead and make a post anyway, coming from out of left field as it were.

It seems to me that all religion is personal at its core, while attempting to be universal. I am raised Catholic, had no bad experiences, still going to church, etc., but I have two sisters that went to the same school, hated it, one is most probably atheist though does not say so for reasons eloquently listed elsewhere in this site, and one just sort of living...

Re: asking questions and not getting answers, I don't know that you can get answers to religious questions from people. They are after all people, and frequently will be answering the question they thought you asked, or preferred that you asked. Somewhat lamely I suppose, I suggest prayer.

Guilt... I read somewhere that the Sioux Indian language has no word... well, no concept of guilt. Seems like a particularly healthy way to look at the world. Also no word for mystery. Just that which you know, and that which you don't need to know yet. Sometimes, mysteriously, guilt and gratitude get confused and mixed up and mis-identified. I don't feel guilty for being a human with room for growth, or room for improvement, or room for forgiveness, or even room for being saved, as it were. But, I am grateful.

The issues that get glossed over that are really core to me are the issues of free will vs destiny. To me, simplistically, the concept of a fall of mankind, or Adam eating the apple or whatever, supports the concept of free will. Freedom to choose. The basic dignity of humanity that implies. And our reaction to the universe, our fellow man, and God from within the context of respect for the dignity of man as a creature endowed with free will. To go all Catholic on you now, we were given the freedom to choose. And the opportunity to change our mind, if we determined that we made the wrong choice i.e., turn from God.

This all in an attempt to address the statement that he may have died for me (in this case) but he didn't die for you as you weren't even a molecule... Except of course that whatever you were made of is (talk to any astrophysicist) truly ancient existing from the Big Bang, actual star stuff, so it is a matter of levels of abstraction as to when or where you exist or are existing. And, this being the case, if you subscribe to the concept of God being all everything, then he knows you and knew of you and remembers you, all at the same time/space, and so, did die for you, too.

If there is God in the generally propounded Christian sense, and he made all this, and gave us all free will, provided a loop hole of sorts, effectively offering salvation to all of mankind, then he died for all of us. Feel guilty about it, no. Aside from the issue of free will, we can't be held accountable for who we are and how we're made. And no one else can be held accountable for our choices. Feel gratitude? I'd say that would be a perfectly normal and healthy response.

Has all this been abused by power mad people through the ages? No doubt. The phrase 'Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely' was said about some pope running amuck several centuries ago.

I don't owe it to anyone to suffer and try to be good. But I don't equate suffering with trying to be good. And I don't believe it is possible to avoid suffering completely. But, going back to the inherent dignity of all mankind, I owe it to myself to try to be good and give people their due.

Thanks for your time. msc