Friday, March 12, 2004
In the current Weekly Standard, Thomas Powers reviews Thomas L. Prangle's Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham, and he asks, not quite rhetorically,
Is it possible that we moderns can rise to the level of seriousness of the Bible? We live in a world that teaches the importance of things only here on earth and, for the soul, the satisfaction of cruder, more readily met needs. Can the image of Abraham be anything more than a display at our cultural amusement park?
I thought of Andrew Greeley's poisonous review of The Passion of the Christ when I read this. Greeley, a Catholic priest himself, seems so steeped in the modern cultural idiom that he cannot imagine a sacrifice greater than, say, donating your time to a good cause. Reading the following quote in light of the story of Abraham and his son makes it almost laughable:
One may wonder what kind of God it would be that would demand such a price from his beloved son. Is this the same kind of implacably forgiving God whom Jesus preached in his life?
Reading this, one can only conclude that Greeley has suffered some sort of physical trauma to the head that has destroyed all memory of the Old Testament in general and the Abraham/Isaac story in particular. Metaphorically, the Abraham story is about (to use Powers's word) seriousness, and seriousness is one of the primary virtues that informs the Gibson film. In the context of the recent history of cinema, Gibson's Jesus is simply more serious than Hippie Jesus of Godspell, and Horn-Dog Jesus of Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.
Contemporary culture reserves what it considers seriousness for only the most important subjects, like Racism or The Environment. To imply that there are matters of transcending seriousness of which all of our greatest concerns are the most minor manifestations is to offend the culture grievously, and wound it, and those too deeply attached to it like Greeley, to the point of fury.