Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Christopher Hitchens has a long polemic against Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in the new Vanity Fair (not available online). Hitchens has an odd, love-hate relationship with the Catholic Church, best symbolized by his cheerful willingness to serve as an official Vatican avocatus diavoli during the canonization proceedings for Mother Teresa. Hitchens's MT hate is well-known, but it always seemed to me that his eager cooperation with the Vatican in this matter was only too eager: A disinterested onlooker could be forgiven for concluding that he'd been auditioning for the role for years.

And here is Hitchens in the VF column siding with the Vatican again, if obliquely, by attacking that arch-conservatism that places Gibson to the right of the present-day Church:

Gibson himself is a financial angel to a Catholic splinter group that rejects the Second Vatican Council and employs only the Latin Mass. He has even built a church for this sect, conveniently located for the many sinners near Malibu.

Gibson is an almost irresistible target for Hitchens, combining two of the traits that always get CH's blood up: Religious literalism and Anglophobia (Hitchens mentions in passing Gibson's "anti-English crowd-pleasers, such as Gallipoli and Braveheart and, even lower, The Patriot.") But it's The Passion of the Christ that really gets Hitchens going:

The reaction of a morally normal human being, on witnessing a sadistic episode in progress, is to intervene to stop it. Does Gibson intend us to hope for this, even as he shows us the extremes of anguish? (We use the word "excruciating" for a good reason.) Of course he does not. One has to positively want it to go on and on, all the way, every cut of the lash and every bloody footprint and every rusty nail, until the very bitterest end. At least one has to desire this if one believes in the film's "agenda"--which is a clumsy, melodramatic attempt at the vindication of biblical literalism.

The heart of Hitchens's abomination of the movie is the same charge of antisemitism that the ADL and others on the Left have made: Hitchens makes much of the words Jesus says to Pilate in a scene quoting John 19: 10-11 ("Thou couldest have had no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin.")

But Hitchens dilutes his argument by reminding us how "highly ambiguous" the passage is. "He that delivered Me" could have any number of interpretations beyond an antisemitic one.

At any rate, all the passion aroused by The Passion only makes me want to see it even more.

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