A Man Needs A Fish Like A Woman Needs a Bicycle
Monday, March 22, 2004
THE PASSION ABOUT THE PASSION Well I went and saw The Passion so that I could judge for myself what was going on. Apart from the fact that some people I know think that I have condoned anti-semitism by my act, that I am a medievalist, someone who doesn't understand or know the Bible very well, and probably a bead short of a rosary myself as well as being an unwitting lackey of a corporate machine laughing all the way to the bank, I found it an interesting mix as a film.

On the one hand, I can understand why some people think that it is anti-semitic. After all, the Jewish authorities are most unpleasant for the most part. They come for Christ alone (though John 18.3 suggests that they were accompanied by Roman soldiers--We must always keep in mind that the Gospels do not present a story that agrees in all details), beat him, watch with some pleasure and disgust as he is scourged, urge his cruxifixion before a morally ambiguous Pilate, and generally spit, reign blows, and heap scorn upon Jesus' person on the slow journey to Golgotha. Yet, I disagree with this reading. I agree with one acquaintance who put it succintly: "It is not an anti-semitic film; rather, it is a film about the abuse of power. Its a film about the psychology of crowds (who happen in this instance to be Jewish)."

What of the evidence mounted to declare the film anti-semitic? Much has been made of the scene of Satan travelling amongst the Jews. Charles Crackhammer puts it thus:

"In Gibson's movie, Satan appears four times. Not one of these appearances occurs in the four Gospels. They are pure invention. Twice, this sinister, hooded, androgynous embodiment of evil is found . . . where? Moving among the crowd of Jews. Gibson's camera follows close up, documentary style, as Satan glides among them, his face popping up among theirs -- merging with, indeed, defining the murderous Jewish crowd. After all, a perfect match: Satan's own people. "

That is quite some indictment. Except that Charles does not mention that Satan glides through a crowd of Jews AND Roman auxillaries. So, is Gibson's film anti-Roman? After all, they do the flogging, show almost unremitting inhumanity to the Christ, acting in an extraordinarily brutish manner, and finally execute the cruxifixion. Rather than hammer the auxillaries, probably Syrian, Samaritan, or Caesareans (rather than actual Romans), I think you can argue that what we see here is the way in which the devil corrupts those who actually have power. Christ's tormentors are in the grip of sad passions of hate, fear, and envy. The power they wield and fear losing pushes them to attack the Christ. Gibson makes that point abundantly clear.

Is Pilate a "good man"? I think Gibson does a nice job of painting him as morally ambiguous, and riven by the passion of fear. Clearly, he is no friend of Christ, and the cold-blooded way he weighs the realpolitik of Christ's execution is a marvellous piece of political theatre that would have made Machiavelli proud. Pilate's wife is strictly a side-show of mis-direction.

Ultimately, the only ones who appears to have freely chosen an outcome (by which I mean that he did not act out of the embrace of a passion of fear, anger, or envy), is the Christ and others of a lowly station. Some people act courageously in the face of abusive power to offer solace or aid to the Christ. That is not an accident. Gibson is very aware of this.

This brings me to the crucial question: the violence. I find it marvellously ironic that in a country that celebrates violence and its creative expression in war and in the media as much as this one does that there are folks who find the whole Passion-thing to be "over-the-top." Yes it is. But i did not find the flogging to be gratuitous. I felt it to be the violent apex of this film--more so then the cruxifixion, which comes almost as an afterthought and a relief. I was moved by the suffering inflicted on the Christ. It ripped away the distance that I had been feeling up to that point. The visceral reality of Gibson's interpretation leaves you no room to dodge the issue. This man/god believes that he is suffering, voluntarily, for us. The scourging also serves as the opening to the Madonna, coming at last to comfort her son as he carries his cross to Calvary. Critics say that "they were moved." What they mean is: "I cried when I felt the emotional impact of that scene, as mother chooses to comfort the scarified vision of her son, juxtaposed with images of Jesus as a small boy, falling and hurting himself." A powerful scene--it is the emotional heart of the film. And, it is only possible because I have watched the horror of the scourging--with Mary--and now face the reality of what it has wrought.

What did not work for me? I felt a numbing to the horror after a time. This is a classic response to the Sadean excess that I saw unfold on the screen. After a while, after numbing, one becomes bored by what one sees; the repetition never ceasing, till one is sick of this repetition, and begs for it to stop. I could have all kinds of Freudian interpretations of this. But the only one relevant to this review is this: By overdoing the violence, I was left benumbed and distanced from the final third of the film, which had no where to go but into "nothingness." What I do not know is whether this was a delberate choice on the part of Gibson, or an unfortunate side-effect of the affective peak of the scourging and Mary's comforting of Jesus.

That is it for now...

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THANK YOU MIKE A big thank you to Mike at the Poop Throwing Monkey for his very generous introduction. Mike has also helped me enter the world of PGP. If that website feels way too corporate, then go here. This feels more "against the MAN!!!!" Yeah!
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Thursday, March 18, 2004
COMMON SENSE, APPEASEMENT, AND MATTERS OF FAITH I have been following the intense sense of betrayal in this country following the fallout of the Spanish election.

In less rational terms, this or this or this appears to cover quite some territory. Richard Pearle added his two cents worth on NPR this morning flaying the Spanish alive for their inability to stick with the program. Friedman seems to have completely "spat the dummy."

In its rational form, Asymmetrical Information argues that:

"It doesn't matter what the Spanish voters were thinking when they threw the PP out, because Al-Qaeda is going to interpret the results in the way most favourable to itself, especially in the fundraising and recruiting drives that will be key to staging more results."

An alternative formulation put forward by Mike argues:

"At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, we are seeing a contest between those who would pursue the war on terror, and those who would withdrawal from it. The appeasers appear to have won."

"Spain will have bought itself another decade of violent harassment from Muslim extremists. I expect that we will soon hear demands from the terrorists that those arrested for the blasts be released, and why not? This sort of extortion is clearly effective, so it will be employed over and over again. This is what happens when you are weak, and you refuse to fight back."

In essence, terrorism is a winner, given the impact that events subsequently had, independent of the Spanish electorate's reaction.

I respectfully disagree with these arguments, especially the appeasement tag. What the Spanish voters were thinking is VERY important. I am not even sure that the fact that there was a big reaction against being lied to by the Government really changes this. The Socialists wanted out of Iraq, a deeply unpopular issue with the Spanish populace.

Critics of the Spanish electorate want to focus on one part of what is a two player game. There are two players in this game--the terrorists and the nation they attempt to terrorize. If one accepts the argument that Spain decided to withdraw from Iraq so as to focus its resources on the War On Terror (WOT), then this results in a different outcome to the one where Spain is painted as a bunch of Yellow French Surrender Monkeys (YFSM).

An equivalent change would be if this country spent $200 billion on homeland defense rather than on invading Iraq. (At the moment, we are not spending enogh on homeland secrity as TNR has been arguing quite convincingly this week). We could, of course, call Americans in that case "cowards" or YFSMs for making that choice of focusing on S domestic needs. Or we could argue that by strengthening domestic intelligence and security this country and its populace in fact change the game that America would be playing with terrorists. If Spain redoubles its efforts to engage terrorism more vigourously (more coordination and resources), one could argue that rather than provide an incentive to hit Spain more, it actually lowers the incentive to hit Spain (chance of success is low and chance of well targeted retailiation higher). This appears to be the Spanish strategy right now--change the game payoff structure.

For those who feel that Spain's actions are appeasement, the question that must be raised is the following: Why is Spain (and Germany for that matter) still in Afghanistan? There was clear cut evidence that Al-Qaeda had state level support in Afghanistan. I think this matters. Such evidence was not brought forward to support the Iraq war, and this is the main reason this war is so deeply unpopular in Europe, and becoming more so in this one. If the attack on Iraq had been sold from the start--as Friedman puts it so eloquently--"to depose the genocidal Saddam regime in order to partner with the Iraqi people to build a decent government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world — because it is the pathologies and humiliations produced by Arab misgovernance that are the root causes of terrorism and Muslim extremism" we would not be having this debate. Either we would be in there "under the right circumstances" with public support or we wouldn't have gone in.

What I think this argument about the Spanish YFSMs hinges on: if you believe that the Iraq invasion was not a vital gog in the WOT, the Spanish position and withdrawal makes a lot of sense. If you hold that Iraq is a vital--most vital?-- part of the WOT (if we fail here, we fail anywhere and everywhere...) than the Spanish are gutless wonders whose desertion makes America's task that much harder to keep the world safe.

I wonder if it is getting to the point where this "argument" (the necessity for invading iraq as part of the WOT) is becoming a matter of faith rather than something that can be argued through reason.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004
IS GIBSON A NUT-JOB? or, WHY RELIGION IS ITSELF CAUSE FOR CONCERN Poor, Mel. After unburdening himself in an interview, he has convinced 60% of one group of viewers at least that he is a bead short of a rosary. The issue is that he thinks that those who are not Catholic will likely go to hell, including his wife.

"“There is no salvation for those outside the Church,” Gibson replied. “I believe it.”

He elaborated: “Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She’s a much better person than I am. Honestly. She’s, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it’s just not fair if she doesn’t make it, she’s better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.”"

OK. So explain to me why this makes him, as, MWO suggests, "a whack-job"?

IS it the fact that he thinks that Catholics are too exclusive in who is saved? Or the ardor of his belief? Or the fact that he thinks that a mere mortal, like the Pope can determine who is saved and who is not?

WHy is this any more strange than those folks who think that they have a personal relationship with God? If we grant that God is omnipotent, infinite, eternal, etc., why would God care about us as an individual? I will grant that you feel what you feel, and that you are truely describiung what you feel (a big assumption I know). However, just because I feel something strongly does not mean that that feeling is accurate about the actual state of the world. After all, plenty of folks hate President Bush. But then again, plenty of folks love President Bush. Can they both be right about the same object?

I can understand folks who say that they feel God strongly in their lives, can feel touched by the presence of God, and so forth. The one thing I have difficulty with is the notion that God "talks back to us." It is so Old Testament. Here is a thought experiment (WARNING: argument by analogy coming up) for those outraged by what I say here:

Consider yourself. Now consider your gut bacteria. What kind of relationship do you have with your gut bacteria? Do you have a personal relationship with bacteria #345,456,896,234? If so, what is it? If it prays to you, do you care? If one of the gut bacteria actually developed self-consciousness, and you were aware of it (primitive as it might be as a state of awareness), would that make a difference to you, knowing that it would be gone in a minute, an hour, or a day? I would argue: only in so far as it was likely to either aid or hinder one's digestion! Otherwise, who cares?

Is Mel a nut-job? As far as I can tell--not any more than anyone else that thinks that they have a personal relationship with an infinite, eternal, and omnipotent being. SO...?

SUMMARY: God is watching us, but so what?
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Thoughts on What One Experiences These Days

01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 /


Blogs I Read


Mike Spenis

Megan McArdle

Juan Cole

Joshua Micah Marshall



Emperor Misha I

Andrew Sullivan

Bob Somersby

John Quiggin

John Rogers


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