detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Thursday, April 08, 2004

: . Word Made Flesh, Part I

    The word was made flesh so that He might be a man among men, so that men might bind Him to the Cross, and be redeemed by Him. He was born from the womb of a woman from the chosen people not simply that He might teach the gospel of Love but also that He might undergo that martyrdom.
    It was needful that all be unforgettable. The death of a man by sword or hemlock was not sufficient to leave a wound on the imagination of mankind until the end of days. The Lord disposed that the events should inspire pathos.
    -- Jorge Luis Borges, The Sect of the Thirty
As an on again, off again atheist (or opportunistic believer) and a lapsed member of the INC (with its very human Jesus), I'm surprised at how defensive I feel each time I read yet another negative review of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Oozing with condescension, these reviews seem to imply that audiences were at best too blinded by faith to evaluate the film reasonably and at worst were drawn to the film less out of piety and more to indulge their pleasures, both guilty and perverse. Fascist snuff film or prelude to another Holocaust, small wonder that, like Ainsley Hayes in The West Wing, I felt that no matter how legitimate their critiques may have been, the film's reviewers simply didn't "like the people," those less clever, less urbane Americans "of faith." Thus the snarky put downs buried underneath the history lessons and scriptural exegesis that found their way in the arts and leisure sections of major American newspapers. To think that one film could inspire this burst of interdisciplinary scholarship!

Now I do not love my Southern Baptist neighbor as I love myself. Nor am I so humorless to be unable to appreciate a perfectly good insult. What really bothered me about reviewers like David Denby, Christopher Hitchens, Leon Wieseltier, Katha Pollitt and others was their almost religious reliance on long-ago deconstructed concepts to bolster their claims. Unlike Mel Gibson and his Left Behind-reading, George W. Bush-voting admirers, they stood on the side of reason rather than passion, on history rather than belief, on unvarnished truth rather than dogma. But by bowing down before such ideas, they inadvertently exposed the impossibility of inhabiting a purely secular, completely disenchanted space. After all, even the most dialectical materialist cannot live without hopes and dreams that do not stand to reason. Indeed this unreason may just be religion's saving grace. Ironic detachment may rescue the world from the excesses of fundamentalism but passionate attachment may yet help us move beyond the way we live now.

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