f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: A Few Closing Thoughts and Some Brief Words on <em>The Passion of the Christ</em>

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, March 26, 2004

A Few Closing Thoughts and Some Brief Words on The Passion of the Christ

The nice thing about this website, other than chatting with you, has been discovering new books. I went into this thing knowing there was an enormous breadth of literature dealing with issues of faith from a Judeo-Christian perspective of which I’d only been able to scrape the surface. I don’t claim to have scraped any deeper but my understanding of the actual scope of this topic has definitely grown. And let me tell you, there’s way more books our there than you might even think possible.

It shouldn’t be surprising, I guess. The life of the spirit and the importance of religion and faith is pretty fundamental to us as humans. There will always be a percentage of the population that obfuscates this, but their arguments are as vital to the conversation as any. As well, the life of the spirit is intrinsically mysterious and deeply individual, making it core material for any budding artist. Attempting to express the inexpressible, attempting to communicate the distinctive are two of the primary reasons art, in all its forms, exists.

I think part of our goal in this conversation is to familiarize ourselves with as many of the books out there on this topic—and, in fact, familiarize ourselves with great fiction no matter what the genre or topic. That’s part of the reason I try to reference as many books as I can. It’s also why I am pleased when I discover new works that look interesting.

This happened with Jesus Saves and Lamb. That was two hours spent at a bookstore looking over titles seeing what on the shelf dealt with issues of faith that I’d never heard of before.

In trying to track down books that dealt with Jesus’ life (and thus his death) I came across many I’d heard of (Mailer’s Gospel, Gore Vidal’s Live From Golgotha, Price’s Three Gospels) and many others I hadn’t. (Dorothy Sayers apparently wrote a passion play cycle called The Man Born to Be King. I hope to track down a copy soon. I also came across two titles (similar in nature, it seems) that I’ll be adding to my reading list.

The first is Nino Ricci’s Testament. This is the life of Jesus told in four chronological sections by four different narrators, Judas, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Simon. The second book is Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Just opening this book is astounding enough. Page through it and you’ll notice that there’s not a lick of dialogue in the entire thing. As well, the story is told in a first-person, direct address pov. Third, the first two chapters are single, unbroken paragraphs and the first paragraph break of any kind comes 15 pages in. Sure these are simply surface observations but they’re uncommon enough to warrant interest. Apparently these are the things you need to pull off to win a Nobel.

So we’ll look at these books over the upcoming weeks/months. Despite my grand excitement about the breadth of faith-filled fiction, it’s a topic I worry about burning out on. So I need to read some other things as well. After Diary of a Country Priest I’m planning a little break to check out some non-fiction (The Two-Percent Solution) and maybe even a mystery novel. Hope that’s okay.

The last thing I want to do today is weigh in with just a thought or two about Mel Gibson’s Passion I don’t claim that these thoughts will redefine the conversation or stand as hugely original. But this seems to be one of those issues where hearing a multitude of voices is actually preferable.

In the end, I was left unmoved. In this film, Jesus wasn’t a man or a messiah; he was a whipping post. To me, the power of Jesus is—a bit like the godhead itself—threefold. There is his life, his death, and his resurrection. You can study each individually, but that always needs to be in the context of the other two parts. Gibson, I felt, focused on his passion to the exclusion of anything else. All we saw was suffering and pain. And those two things do not define my Savior.

My other primary feeling was a deep and abiding frustration with both the film’s publicity/marketing and the Christian community’s reaction to said marketing. In some ways, having experience in marketing you have to admire The Passion. Whoever led this charge played it perfectly. The controversy, going on at least six months now, has fueled $300 million in ticket sales. It is a controversy though that I think was provoked and elongated artificially for said benefits. I think the Christian community became willing dupes for savvy marketing. I didn’t expect more from us, but it’s frustration nonetheless. In the end of this brouhaha, we’ll have defined ourselves more as a marketing demographic with the impact of our dollars than by the impact our lives in our community.

I welcome all other opinions and feelings on the matter.