Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

From “The Passion” to the Holocaust

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So Mel Gibson is making a Holocaust movie. As the New York Times reports, Gibson’s production company is in the early stages of producing an ABC miniseries based on the memoirs of a Dutch Jew who was hidden and saved by her Christian neighbors. Though it’s not clear how much he’ll be involved personally, I’m sure I speak for plenty of Jews when I say, “Thanks, but no thanks, Mel. You’ve done plenty for us already.”

In some ways, though, it’s the perfect project: a filmmaker who has graphically, almost lovingly, depicted great acts of violence now making a movie about the ultimate act of human violence. It’s also, tragically, a fitting coda to his horrific depiction of Jews in “The Passion of the Christ.” That twisted version of Jewish complicity in Christ’s crucifixion has been with us almost as long as Christianity itself, and has been responsible for centuries of Christian accusations of Jewish deicide, charges that were used as the excuse for any number of murderous acts throughout the ages, leading up to the Holocaust that Gibson now proposes to depict.

With images of that other movie still fresh in our minds, one pictures this miniseries employing the same kinds of anti-Jewish stereotypes that fed “The Passion”: hooked-nosed Jews thirsty for gentile blood, pure gentiles showing (unearned) mercy to their (eternally) condemned neighbors. But then again, Gibson is the son of a vocal and virulent Holocaust denier, who has called the Shoah “fiction.” Will Gibson–father or son–consider this miniseries fiction or nonfiction?

For his part, Gibson the Son has said–and this is no joke–that “some of his best friends ‘have numbers on their arms,’” according to the Times. The article also quotes him as saying, on the one hand, “The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps”–and, on the other hand, that his father had “never lied to me in his life.” Let’s just say that none of these statements are reassuring to Jews.

I suppose I’m expected to end here with some snide comment about Gibson and his Jewish problem. But I can’t help feeling like maybe this will end up being for the good. I, for one, never believed that Gibson is actively anti-Semitic so much as he is inexcusably, perhaps willfully, ignorant of the role that theology, the Church, and anti-Jewish stereotypes have played in the long, bloody history of Christian violence against Jews, leading up to and including the Holocaust. After that epochal event, most of the Christian world took stock of its attitudes toward Jews and–heroically, in my mind–worked to clear the Church of anti-Jewish teachings. But blinded by fervor for his idea of traditional Christianity and his opposition to theological modernizing–which made hateful Passion plays like “The Passion” passe and revolutionized interfaith relations–Gibson stuck to his outmoded vision of Christ’s death (as filtered through the anti-Jewish writings of the 19th-century Sister Anne Emmerich) without compassion for, or even the slightest understanding of, the message his version sends and the hate it represents.

Doing a Holocaust film just might clue Gibson into the role Christian theology played in allowing that horror to happen, not to mention teach him that it was more than “some” Jews who died in those concentration camps. Perhaps it will shake him to the core as much as reenacting the crucifixion did.

The Award for Most Humble Performer Goes to…

posted by dena ross

At yesterday’s Billboard Music Awards, rapper Kanye West was presented with one of the industry’s highest honors, the “Artist Achievement Award.” In his acceptance speech, the “Jesus Walks” superstar said, “When I first came out I was a hot head–I thought I was the greatest. I still think I’m the greatest.”

If Jesus was at the show and heard that one, I think he’d go home and remove “Gold Digger” from his iPod. For a full listing of winners, click here.

Everything I Know About Christmas I Learned From Linus

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This Jew’s second-favorite Christmas tradition is happening tonight: the Charlie Brown special. (My #1 favorite is Chinese food and a rented movie on Christmas eve.) It’s not an exaggeration to say that as a kid, the most meaningful lesson I got on the meaning of this holiday was, year after year, from Charlie Brown’s dejection at the commercialism of Christmas, and Linus’s moment in the (literal) spotlight, when he reminds his friends–who are bickering over the details of their Christmas pageant–why they mark this special day in the first place.

Several years ago, as one of the editors here at Beliefnet able to work on Christmas, I was assigned the task of writing copy on Christmas morning for the Christianity page. It was a daunting task, to say the least; I needed to sum up in about one sentence the essence of this major holiday. I had years of religion-writing experience, a master’s degree in religion, a year of work at Beliefnet under my belt, and, flummoxed by what to write, I turned–you guessed it–to Linus. I used (with a little gender updating) the simple scriptural words he’d used to silence his friends and refocus them on the meaning of Christmas:

… And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward humankind.’

What more could I add? Thank you, Linus.

“Cinderella Man” Packs an Emotional Punch

posted by kris rasmussen

One of the best movies of the year was not exactly a box office knock-out when it played in theaters this past summer, but the Depression-era rags-to-riches story “Cinderella Man” is now out on DVD, just in time to begin campaigning for Oscar nominations in January. “Cinderella Man” is the true story of boxer James Braddock’s unlikely return to the ring after misfortune and injury to become the world boxing champion over powerhouse slugger Max Baer. The film has everything great sports movies are supposed to have–a likable underdog, realistic athletic sequences, a lovable sidekick/coach, and a loving, patient wife. But it also has something more. The emotional punch in “Cinderella Man” rests not in celebrating Braddock’s success, but in embracing what he learns when everything has been taken away from him.

In the early part of his boxing career, Braddock (played brilliantly by Russell Crowe) fights because he enjoys the sport, the attention, and the money. When the Depression hits and he looses everything through bad business deals, Braddock suddenly finds himself struggling to put food on the table and to keep his family warm. As Braddock and his wife Mae face adversity with integrity–Braddock routinely goes without food so his kids can eat, for example–Braddock’s faith is tested to the point where he admits “he is all prayed out.”

Unexpectedly, Braddock gets a chance, despite his age and broken hand, to enter the ring again. The difference this time is, as he tells reporters, “I know what I am fighting for.” His identity is not tied up in winning a title. He’s simply fighting for enough money to buy milk for his kids. For enough money to pay the electric bill. For enough money to keep his family together instead of sending his children off to live with relatives. But the proud warrior Braddock also learns he cannot fight the fight alone. He needs the help of friends as well as the faith of his wife and a local parish.

“Cinderella Man” is an inspiring reminder of what we all can accomplish when we lose all of our comforts, when everything we think is so important is taken away, when we are forced to ask ourselves the question, “What am I fighting for?” To know with total certainty that what we believe is worth fighting for even when our faith is being tested–and faith is just a warm, fuzzy ideal unless it is tested–is an enormous challenge. And what better time of year than now to look at what is consuming our time, our energy, our spirits, and ask ourselves what we are fighting for?

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