The Raving Theist

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Just A Movie

April 7, 2004 | 27 Comments

I recently bemoaned the lack of any truly atheistic professional reviews of The Passion of the Christ. But I overlooked Flick Filosopher MaryAnn Johanson’s thoroughly godless scourging of Mel’s folly (also linked at Rottentomatoes). She flogs the movie harder than the Roman’s flogged Jesus. Noting that “we cannot talk about Mel Gibson’s piece of cinematic insanity as ‘just a movie'” because “[w]e have not, as a culture, come to our senses,” she ignores the palms to nail it right on the head:

I can’t see how any loving parents could let their child see this film . . . but then again, I can’t see how any loving parents could teach their child in the first place that a rabble-rousing hippie had to be nailed to a cross because little Johnny was born full of sin and evil.

The anti-Semitism red herring quickly gets tossed back into the Red Sea as she reels in the real theological big fish:

But I don’t get the anti-Semitism thing for a couple of reasons. First, since when is guilt hereditary? Even if the Jews of A.D. 33 did kill Jesus, how does that make all Jews everywhere guilty? Oh, but I forgot: the Jesus freaks think we all inherited the “guilt” of a woman who ate an apple 6,000 years ago, so never mind. But there’s this, too: Didn’t Jesus have to die, according to his fans? Didn’t someone have to kill him? Shouldn’t these people be thanking whomever killed Jesus? It makes no sense that Christians should punish the very people who supposedly gave them their savior. Wasn’t the whole thing prearranged and preordained by God, anyway? Shouldn’t God be the one who’s blamed or thanked? There’s no reason or logic to it. But I guess once you start talking to an invisible superhero who lives in the sky and can see you all the time — even in the bathroom — reason and logic kinda go out the window.

Most reviews stop when the credits start to roll. But when the lights go, MaryAnn dumps a jumbo bucket of extra-buttered popcorn on top of the audience:

And that’s the worst thing about the circus surrounding this film, and the real reason why it cannot be seen as “just a movie.” The people who in all seriousness buy into this stuff have an influence way out of proportion with the sense they make, which is little, and get a free pass on their fairy stories — I’ve seen not one suggestion anywhere, in all the media’s fawning delirium over this film, that perhaps Jesus never existed or, if he did, was nothing but a crazy guy who roamed the desert, got his brain a little too sunbaked, and merely thought he was God. And there’s been not one scrap of discussion about whether his legacy has been something we could have done without.

It’s too bad that this sort of perfectly sensible critique will never appear in The New York Times, Time, Newsweek. Instead, the reviews either embrace the insanity which has made the The Passion a runaway hit, or exceed that madness by insisting that the only serious issue is whether the movie is “Biblically accurate” and simultaneously faithful to the Messiah-denying Old Testament, the Jesus-affirming Gospels and the Gibson-rejecting Vatican II.

Comments

27 Responses to “Just A Movie”

  1. Eric
    April 7th, 2004 @ 8:46 am

    The two sites at the top of my bookmarks, The raving atheist and the flick philosopher, have finally found each other. It is a good day

  2. Scott Stirling
    April 7th, 2004 @ 4:06 pm

    Why don’t more people, raving atheists included, judge this movie on its merits as a movie instead
    of as propaganda? I guess it’s not as fun getting off your soapbox and away from your comfortable
    prejudices to think for yourself! I know you think being a loudly proclaimed atheist is probably proof
    that you think for yourself, but don’t get so comfortable.

    Have you read E. P. Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus? Try looking at Christ and the
    Bible from a truly scientific perspective and you should find yourself less raving and more even
    keeled as you consider the real humanity behind the history of Judaism and Christianity. “Raving” is
    not a sign of a clear rational mind.

    I think Gibson’s Passion can be interpreted as pro-free speech, pro freedom, and having a
    strong message of pity and compassion. It’s also thought provoking for people who are interested in
    actually thinking about things like God, religion, Jesus, the Bible, truth, philosophy, etc. rather than just
    stamping everything religious with a “bullshit” stamp. That’s not very sophisticated, much less
    intelligent or imaginative.

    From an atheist with no bones to pick except with other atheists being stupid.

    Scott Stirling

  3. hermesten
    April 7th, 2004 @ 5:16 pm

    prop

  4. rblaes
    April 7th, 2004 @ 5:47 pm

    I don

  5. David
    April 7th, 2004 @ 10:39 pm

    If I can be so bold as to link to my own website, I wrote (what I thought was) a pretty good atheistic review of The Passion myself. I found the movie was actually a pretty good argument against religion.

    I titled the review: ‘The Passion’ or ‘He challenges my beliefs, let’s GET HIM!’

    It’s in the archives at http://www.churchofcriticalthinking.com or you can follow the link above straight to the review.

  6. Eric
    April 8th, 2004 @ 9:09 am

    David,
    Very well done review, and a great job on the website.
    My local paper has an advertisement for a

  7. Jos
    April 8th, 2004 @ 10:45 am

    Scott Stirling said:

    “I think Gibson’s Passion can be interpreted as pro-free speech, pro freedom, and having a
    strong message of pity and compassion.”

    What kind of pity and compassion could you detect in a story that implies that anybody who does not follow a god hungry for worship and praise will receive an infinite punishment for an infinite amount of time?

    Talk about being stupid…

  8. Jos
    April 8th, 2004 @ 10:45 am

    Scott Stirling said:

    “I think Gibson’s Passion can be interpreted as pro-free speech, pro freedom, and having a
    strong message of pity and compassion.”

    What kind of pity and compassion could you detect in a story that implies that anybody who does not follow a god hungry for worship and praise will receive an infinite punishment for an infinite amount of time?

    Talk about being stupid…

  9. Jos
    April 8th, 2004 @ 10:45 am

    Scott Stirling said:

    “I think Gibson’s Passion can be interpreted as pro-free speech, pro freedom, and having a
    strong message of pity and compassion.”

    What kind of pity and compassion could you detect in a story that implies that anybody who does not follow a god hungry for worship and praise will receive an infinite punishment for an infinite amount of time?

    Talk about being stupid…

  10. Jos
    April 8th, 2004 @ 10:45 am

    Scott Stirling said:

    “I think Gibson’s Passion can be interpreted as pro-free speech, pro freedom, and having a
    strong message of pity and compassion.”

    What kind of pity and compassion could you detect in a story that implies that anybody who does not follow a god hungry for worship and praise will receive an infinite punishment for an infinite amount of time?

    Talk about being stupid…

  11. Jos
    April 8th, 2004 @ 10:45 am

    Scott Stirling said:

    “I think Gibson’s Passion can be interpreted as pro-free speech, pro freedom, and having a
    strong message of pity and compassion.”

    What kind of pity and compassion could you detect in a story that implies that anybody who does not follow a god hungry for worship and praise will receive an infinite punishment for an infinite amount of time?

    Talk about being stupid…

  12. Jos
    April 8th, 2004 @ 10:45 am

    Scott Stirling said:

    “I think Gibson’s Passion can be interpreted as pro-free speech, pro freedom, and having a
    strong message of pity and compassion.”

    What kind of pity and compassion could you detect in a story that implies that anybody who does not follow a god hungry for worship and praise will receive an infinite punishment for an infinite amount of time?

    Talk about being stupid…

  13. Erik
    April 8th, 2004 @ 11:44 am

    I still think Earl Doherty’s review at “The Jesus Puzzle” website is pretty good.

  14. Kommander Killjoy
    April 8th, 2004 @ 3:14 pm

    Scott Stirling;

    Everybody; (I hope this works)

    Attachment

    I don’t think that pic is going to show up, funny picture…

  15. Kommander Killjoy
    April 8th, 2004 @ 3:24 pm

    Yes, great review!! Except for one discrepancy:

    You said “The Romans believe in God, but aren’t sure about this Jesus fella.”

    No, the Romans thought their leader was the earthly vessel through which their pantheistic gods (read: plural) acted. The emporor was essentially a god. The monotheistic god that Jesus propounded was a direct threat to the Roman empire and the emporor’s (Ceasar?) grip on the peoples who’s lands he invaded and converted to Roman pantheism (The Gauls, Celts, Picts, Greeks, jews, livestock, etc.)

    But otherwise, a super duper review. I just wish the mush-brained majority could think like us.

  16. David
    April 8th, 2004 @ 8:26 pm

    Cmdr. Killjoy:

    Thanks for pointing it out. I think someone already corrected me in the comments of the review, too.

    Instead of changing the original text of my review, I think I plan to let my mistakes stand, with people’s comments there to correct them. I don’t want to be accused of covering my tracks by changing what I wrote. I’m not perfect, so I won’t pretend to be, so long as I leave the correction in the comments section. People read the comments, right?

  17. Kommander Killjoy
    April 8th, 2004 @ 8:45 pm

    David

    You have taken the first step on the path to enlightenment my brothuh!

  18. Redfred
    April 9th, 2004 @ 9:33 am

    On the subject of the Romans, they tended to plagiarize other religions as they encountered them, frequently changing the official ‘religion’ as they assimilated more people into their empire. That is why they have deities based on the Greek gods (Neptune = Poseidon, Aries = Apollo, Diana = Aphrodite). And when they encountered the Pharaohs of Egypt, they switched to believing the emperor was a god (Caesar, Augustus, etc) eventually they even took on Christianity, much to the detriment of the world today (IMO) So to try an pin a specific belief system on them is rather pointless the were the ancient history equivalent of the Borg (No I am not a Star trek fan).

    Can I also say how proud I am of my home country, Passion, released last week spent 1 week at no.1 before being knocked off by

  19. Redfred
    April 9th, 2004 @ 10:01 am

    Sorry Parental not Perennial, Grrrr spellchecker

  20. Kommander Killjoy
    April 9th, 2004 @ 12:28 pm

    Yes, the Romans’s specific beliefs is a moot point, but we were just trying to show that they weren’t, at the time, christian. Not until Constantine did the Romans really fuck up.

  21. AK
    April 9th, 2004 @ 1:08 pm

    I thought the roman empire fell because too much lead pipe plumbing caused the population in the developed areas to go crazy and die?

    Jeezus, what are the symptoms of slow prolonged lead poisining anyway?

  22. Redfred
    April 9th, 2004 @ 1:48 pm

    are you saying Jesus is the result of slow prolonged lead poisining?

    :-)

  23. Kommander Killjoy
    April 9th, 2004 @ 2:12 pm

    I can only assume that death by any kind of heavy-metal poisoning can only result in pain and agony worthy of a reduced sentance in Hell.

  24. DesertJo
    April 9th, 2004 @ 10:15 pm

    Redfred: minor nit… you got your Roman/Greek gods mixed up :)

    Apollo had the same name in both the Roman and Greek pantheons
    Mars (R)=Ares (G)
    Diana (R)=Artemis (G)
    Venus (R)=Aphrodite (G)

  25. Redfred
    April 12th, 2004 @ 11:41 am

    Well I never claimed to be much of a theologian :-) but I’ll put that on my resume as a plus point!

    Thanks for the correction, I was going on memory rather than looking them up.

  26. Julia.
    April 16th, 2004 @ 6:34 pm

    Hermesten, Scott never answered your questions. I want to hear them….Scott?

  27. Scott Stirling
    April 16th, 2004 @ 10:41 pm

    Thanks, Julia. The self-righteous, vituperative tone of much of this blog is a turn off for me. In my
    opinion, there’s nothing particularly thrilling or ingenious about not believing in the straw man omni-everything
    God that the Raving Atheist rails against. Since it’s clearly demonstrable that there are contradictions in these
    simplistic arguments, what is there to rave about? There are more sophisticated arguments for the existence
    of God, such as Anselm’s proof and the classical arguments of Aquinas, but even those aren’t compelling and
    shouldn’t be to a rational person. So, apart from being a platform for pumping our egos while we bash unwary
    and unsophisticated believers (from what I have seen), what is this blog?

    There are so many better
    things we could do besides bash naive and unsophisticated believers in our spare time. There’s a certain
    schadenfreude about the content and tone of this blog that rubs me the wrong way. If we truly believe that
    the faithful, believers are so fucking stupid and lost in their beliefs, shouldn’t we pity them and counsel them
    rather than sling mud and laugh at them? There should be another blog somewhere, castigating self-righteous
    misanthropic atheists.

    Anyway, the movie — I went to see as “just a movie,” since that’s just what it is. I enojyed it and it made me
    think not about the historicity of Jesus, but, frankly, about how cruel it would be to nail any person to a
    cross and let them hang there and die — oh, and smash their leg bones when it got late in the day, to ensure
    that they collapsed and asphyxiated themselves so we could be home in time for supper. The movie shows a
    man, forget he’s Jesus for a minute (which is really easy if you try just a little) — forget Mel Gibson is pushing
    his religion (I cede to hermesten that you can classify the movie as (Catholic) propaganda, but that doesn’t
    say anything about it’s cinematic qualities as a movie, qua movie) — just watch it as a guy who’s had
    too much desert sun, if you will, say a mentally ill person! How about that? Isn’t that essentially what some of
    the folks on this blog believe Jesus was (if they can open their atrophied minds to the possibility that maybe
    there was a historical Jesus who was fully human)? I had no problem watching the movie on this level —
    seeing it as a true story about a guy who thought he was the Son of God, who wasn’t allowed the freedom of
    religion to preach what he wanted, who was mercilessly beat and tortured and killed for something that
    basically anyone in America is free to do at any time.

    That is, I believe Gibson’s prowess as a maker of martyr movies (a la Braveheart, which was a movie where
    the martyr dies a similarly violent, punishing death, while screaming “FREEDOM!”), is that he makes it work on
    more than one level. This wouldn’t be a good movie, qua movie it only worked on the level of
    propaganda and churchy preachiness. I argue that it is a good movie about a martyr character, who was not
    allowed the freeedom to be a little crazy, a little against the mainstream, and who paid a horrible price for it.
    That’s essentially how I enjoyed the movie from an atheistic perspective. That and that I always enojy the
    retelling of classical stories of any culture, and the Christ story is one of the all time classics of human story
    telling, whether you believe it or not. I enjoy it on that level just as I enjoyed the book and the movie The
    Last Tempation of Christ
    . If you read Kazantakis’s novel you see that he’s not telling an atheist’s tale of
    Jesus (a heretical tale, yes, as far as Catholics were concerned) — he just told the Jesus story with more
    imagination in some ways than Gibson did. Kazantakis made Jesus more of a human character, and he did a
    better job explaining Judas’ motivation (Christ asked him to betray him, of course — how could it be
    otherwise?!), which of course is a very orthodox view of Christ: fully human, yet divine.

    The view I just expressed about how an atheist can watch this film and see it as being strongly about and in
    favor of freedom, pity and compassion is unwittingly reflected in the review cited in the beginning of this blog
    thread:

    If you were an
    extraterrestrial who’d just landed from outer space and knew nothing about the story of Jesus, this film
    wouldn’t teach you a thing, but it might sicken you to see audiences cheering and applauding a relentless,
    two-hour-long depiction of the brutal torture and murder of a human being.

    Exactly: “a relentless, two-hour-long depiction of the brutal torture and murder of a human being.” What do
    people think the story of the sacrificial “lamb of God” is about, anyway? It’s an innocent slaughtered! The
    Passion of the Christ
    is good old fashioned katharsis; fulfilling the function of tragedy in
    the classical sense as Aristotle argued in his Poetics. Of course, the Greeks never portrayed
    bloodshed on the stage (it was always offstage tha Medea murdered her children or Jocasta hung herself), but
    we’re post Roman coliseum, post Crusades, post WWII (and its movies, Saving Private Ryan, e.g.) and
    Vietnam (and its movies, e.g., Hamburger Hill, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter); if
    you want to get through a message of pity and compassion in a real visceral, emotional way you’ve got to pull
    out the old ultr violence these days! We post moderns are highly immune to churchy, preachy depictions of
    Biblical stories that bleach all the life out of them. If you want to bring the Jesus martyr story to today’s
    audiences, I think Gibson did what had to be done — he brought the context, he made it realistic.

    Finally, in re to hermesten’s challenge:
    “the clear implication is that you think science somehow supports the existence of Jesus as God

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