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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

Gibson’s Triumph

(Reprinted from the issue of November 13, 2003)

Capitol BldgYou’ve heard the shouting. In a few months you’ll be able to see the film itself: Mel Gibson’s The Passion, an attempt to show what our Lord suffered simply by filming what the Gospels tell us and what is known of the Roman practice of crucifixion — a punishment inflicted on common criminals. (They didn’t assign community service in those days.)

I was among a small audience for a recent advance screening in Washington. Robert Novak, who was also there, has already written a column about it. I can only concur with him.

Since the film still awaits final editing before its February 25 release, we were asked not to write about it prematurely. It may take a different form before the general public sees it. But the Jewish groups can stop worrying that it will incite hatred and violence against Jews. As Bob Novak, himself a recent Catholic convert of Jewish extraction, wrote, if it makes anyone look bad, it’s the mercilessly cruel Roman soldiers, who make the Sanhedrin appear refined and civilized by comparison.

The Passion must be, in one respect, the most truly violent film ever made. It shows Christ’s Passion so unsparingly that you want to yell for it to stop. Jim Caviezel plays Him simply and as convincingly as is humanly possible. There is no trace of Hollywood glamour or modern sentimentality about it. The violence is as ugly as it can be. The idea that this movie could possibly inspire violence is absurd.

I reserve more details for my own newsletter; for the time being I confine myself to the chief point of controversy. Of course some major Jewish groups have already convicted Gibson and his film of anti-Semitism; but then, they consider the Gospels themselves anti-Semitic. In fact some regard Christianity as the source of anti-Semitism.

The Talmud names Christ as one of the three greatest enemies of the Jews and consigns Him to an obscene perdition in Hell. We needn’t and shouldn’t hold this against all Jews today, most of whom know nothing about the Talmud, but it’s something to bear in mind when Christianity is reviled. The Jews who wrote the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles knew very well what they were up against.

“So be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” Loving our enemies means willing their salvation; it doesn’t mean pretending that they are our friends. “Father, forgive them” doesn’t mean “Father, excuse them.” Only the innocent can be excused; only the guilty need to be forgiven. Even on the cross, Christ knew just what He was saying.

Gibson’s film shows that he has meditated deeply on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. And it is sorrow, not hate, that the film expresses.

I wish I were at liberty to say more now; but a lifetime of watching movies hadn’t prepared me for the tremendous power of this one. There has never been anything like it.
The Smugness of Sodomy

As Charles Peguy wrote nearly a century ago, “We will never know how many acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of seeming not sufficiently progressive.” Conversely, it takes some courage to risk being damned as “reactionary.”

The elevation of the openly sodomite Gene Robinson as a bishop is already splitting the Episcopal Church and the international Anglican communion of which it is part. Two New Hampshire churches under Robinson’s authority are seeking to be placed under the bishop of another diocese; Nigeria’s Archbishop Peter Akinola has announced he will boycott all global meetings attended by the Episcopal Church.

“We can no longer claim to be in the same communion,” Akinola says. “We cannot go to them and they cannot come to us. We will not share communion.... We have come to the end of the road.”

Such bracing words, in this day and age, are as startling as they are encouraging. It’s interesting that the forces of orthodoxy are now weakest in the West and strongest in the Third World; this seems to be the case in the Catholic Church as well.

Why is this? I suppose that the West is so inured to decadence that it has lost the sense of crisis; whereas Christians elsewhere, especially in and near the Muslim world, know what’s at stake. They still face persecution and produce martyrs, and God’s truth is precious to them. Moral relativism is not an option.

C.S. Lewis, a devout Anglican, observed that liberal Christianity is a way out, not a way in. Liberalism has no attraction for the pagan. If he is going to convert, he is going to convert to a faith that demands rigor and offers salvation. He takes Revelation and divine law seriously. It’s the world-weary Western Christian who is tempted to water it all down and reduce religion to bland platitudes. He wants to keep his formal membership in a church without feeling unduly obligated.

As far as I know, there are no Unitarian missionaries or Unitarian martyrs. Unitarianism represents the entropy of Christianity, the final burning out of zeal. As James Hitchcock has put it, liberal Catholics see themselves not as the Church’s missionaries to the world, but as the world’s missionaries to the Church.

This seems to be Robinson’s attitude too. He regards himself as a walking moral test for other Christians. And so he is, but not in the way he imagines. He is trying to bring the Episcopal Church into alignment with current worldly trends, not eternal truths.

This seems so embarrassingly obvious that I marvel that anyone can take it seriously. It’s not Robinson’s sodomy that amazes me, it’s his incredible smugness. He actually takes pride in defying an ancient moral code, as if those who adhere faithfully to that code are lacking in Christian charity. It never seems to occur to him that he may be a sinner. He sits in judgment on the orthodox. It’s up to them to adjust to him!

Of course the “progressive” bias of the media, in which tradition has no weight, only confirms him in his smugness. He has embraced the starring role the media have assigned him: defying the authority of two millennia, he claims authority for himself, and he has no misgivings about the disruption he has caused among pious people. As for causing scandal, well, as they say on Madison Avenue, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

The War Between the States produced one great leader who was willing to sacrifice his life for his principles. Homage is paid to him in SOBRANS, my little monthly. Send a friend a one- or two-year gift subscription to to SOBRANS and we’ll include a free copy of my pamphlet Anything Called a “Program” Is Unconstitutional: Confessions of a Reactionary Utopian. Call 800-513-5053, or go to the Subscription page.

We also have a few autographed copies of my book Hustler: The Clinton Legacy. Call the same number, or purchase it on-line.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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