Democrats & Liberals Archives

The New Millenium

We live in strange times. Here we are at the beginning of a millennium, more or less, and there are two hot topics:

1. Whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry.

2. Whether the Jews killed Jesus, or more generally, the significance of a man (?) being nailed to a piece of wood two thousand years ago.

Both of these topics are compatible with being near the start of a new millennium. The question is, which one? Are we living in an age of medieval superstition or post-religious libertarianism? As we shall see, it is not surprising that these topics are coming along at the same time.

The seed of this essay was a glance at the National Review Online. I like to take a look at the right wing press sometimes, to keep abreast of the competition so to speak. In this case I was a bit surprised how enthusiastic Bill Buckley’s boys and girls are about The Passion of the Christ. Buckley, after all, is from the libertarian wing of the conservative movement. Perhaps the strangest essay is from a man named Daniel Lapin who predicts, not without enthusiasm, that

the faith of millions of Christians will become more fervent as The Passion uplifts and inspires them. The Passion will propel vast numbers of unreligious Americans to embrace Christianity. The movie will one day be seen as a harbinger of America's third great religious reawakening.

What’s so strange there, you ask? The odd thing is that Mr. Lapin is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t he actually be a bit upset about people embracing Christianity? It strikes me as akin to a Red Sox fan being happy about the Yankees signing A-Rod. Organized religion baffles me.

There are a couple of reasons why I am puzzled about the positive reaction to The Passion from conservatives (Christian and otherwise). One is that in recent months conservatives have been using their hypersensitive antennae to look for any signs of anti-Semitism. It has become an article of faith in certain quarters that anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic. David Brooks went so far as to say that it is anti-Semitism that leads people to embrace the allegedly paranoid idea that Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearle have taken over US foreign policy. Never mind that these men actually have, or had, high-level foreign policy positions in the Bush administration. (Perle has been demoted.) As they say, just because you’re paranoid…

But I digress. The con’s are supposed hypersensitive to anti-Semitism, yet they have embraced a movie that is questionable on this score. I hesitate to say much – I confess that I haven’t seen the movie. From what I have read, however, the movie puts on unusually pro-Pilate, anti-Jewish-mob slant on the story. Not a peep from the right wing anti-Semitism police.

A less important, but still significant, hypocrisy is that The Passion features a lot of what is called “graphic violence.” Yes, I realize that there is a difference between a slasher movie and the Gospels; the latter has redeeming moral value. Nevertheless, we have seen this hypocrisy before. Remember a certain recall election? I guess we have to conclude that two figures have been given a special Conservative Dispensation in regard to cinematic violence: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesus.

There has been a lot of speculation about why The Passion of the Christ is creating such a frenzy. As I hinted earlier, I think it has something to do with topic one. For a lot of viewers, I think that going to see The Passion is their way of saying, “Take that, sodomites!” Don’t get me wrong -- I realize that people come to Jesus from a lot of different political and philosophical positions. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore the fact that the opposition to gay marriage has been spearheaded by conservative Christians. In the end, I think that this is what this minor “great awakening” will prove to be about. Cultural conservatives have realized they are fighting a losing battle, and are taking comfort in the old-time religion.

Posted by Woody Mena at February 26, 2004 10:12 AM