Included among the fluffy bunnies are those who view Jesus as just a kind person who preached in favor of nonviolence, the poor, and downtrodden. This would include many secularists and liberals such as Richard Cohen, whose review of Gibson’s movie prompted this train of thought. His review back in March 2004 shows how even a well-informed liberal can totally miss the message.
Cohen admits, straightaway for those who haven’t read his body of work, that
I may not be a typical viewer. Importantly, I am not a Christian and so, I suppose, I am not conditioned to seeing the passion of Christ in religious terms.
You don’t say. He then goes on to describe the violence of The Passion as having a ” fascistic sensibility.” He actually takes this theme to its reductio ad absurdum by writing that “portions of the New Testament are — an assignment of blame that culminated in the Holocaust”. The only problem with this statement is it turns the gospel message of love, forgiveness, and redemption on its head, and frankly ignores it. That those who would kill our Savior’s people, the Jews, in the name of the good news of His coming pervert the gospels beyond recognition. Whatever else such people may be, they are not Christian.
The truth is much harder than the misuse of the gospels. The truth, the necessary truth, is that some Jews of Jesus’ time did conspire to kill him. It would be inaccurate in the extreme to claim that it was just the Romans. As a matter of biblical prophecy, it had to be Jesus’ own people who rejected Him, as they had rejected Israel’s prophets in the past. Mainstream Christian teaching today, especially including the Roman Catholic Church, emphatically deny that today’s Jews, or even all Jews of the First Century CE, are “Christ killers”, or, more ludicrously, “killers of God”.
However, it seems that many liberal Christians would likely agree with Cohen’s wrong-headed assertion of a straight line from the gospels to the Holocaust. I assert that many of these are the also those who focus on the good, safe, freshly-shampooed Jesus of popular piety, even, perhaps, the “Buddy Christ” sent up in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. It’s hard to imagine such a vision of Jesus as stinking, as bleeding, or dying a hideous death on the cross.
The violence of the Passion is probably much, much worse than the gospel writers would want to commit to papyrus. It is scary, and what is scariest is what Cohen reports as part of his reaction — that we tend to view this awful violence dispassionately, from a distance, as if through a distorted lens. So we glide through Lent, celebrate Palm Sunday when the crowds are still with Jesus as He enters Jerusalem, and then, scoot quickly towards Resurrection Sunday, Easter morn.
Cohen is also right on the mark when he notes that it may require a religious sensibility to fully accept the violence as being a necessary part of the story of The Christ. Knowing that we killed Jesus, and knowing that He bore more pain than is, literally, humanly possible, does require faith.
Christianity is a hard religion; it requires the cross, a scandal, as St. Paul wrote. Jesus lived in order to die with extreme violence. He also died in order to give us life, but a life that is far from the “I’m ok, you’re ok” blandness of the Fluffy Bunny Christians.
[originally published on my old blog in March 2004; still relevant]