Yet that renewal movement is now being effectively challenged by a Christian fundamentalist movement with deep ties to right-wing politics. In post 9/11 America, many people have given up on the hopeful vision of social change movements. They have turned to a deep pessimism in which the idea of a world based on love, cooperation and generosity to the Other is alternately ridiculed and disdained as unrealistic and dangerous. A cynical realism holds sway in the media and mainstream American culture and political institutions, placing American progressive and visionary thinkers on the defensive. No wonder, then, that many Christians are attracted to interpretations of their religious tradition which emphasize the danger and cruelty in the world while sidelining aspects of the Gospel which teach compassion and solidarity with the oppressed.

I've written about this struggle in another context (see my book Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation). Inside the Jewish tradition there has always been a struggle between those who have heard God's voice as the voice of accumulated pain and cruelty of the universe passed on from generation to generation, and those who have heard God's voice as a voice of love, compassion, generosity and transcendence. Even in our Torah, there are moments when the people hearing God's voice are hearing it through the frame of their own accumulated pain and hence hear a voice that talks a language of power, domination and cruelty, and other moments when the people hearing God's voice are hearing it through the frame of their own capacity to respond to God's revelation of love and generosity. For many Jews, it is particularly painful to watch those who have been deeply scarred by the memory of the Holocaust now appropriating Jewish texts to justify the Occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, ignoring the deep Torah commitment to "love the stranger" and "pursue justice." And so it is through history that we find in virtually every religious tradition the people who distort the message of love of their own traditions and instead portray God as the voice legitimating domination, power over others, cruelty and violence. The George W's, the Osama Bin Ladins, the Ariel Sharons are found in every tradition. And they don't even need the frame of religion (some people like to blame these distortions-but the truth is that the Nazis, Stanlinists, and Vietnam-war mongers of the US did not need religion to act out the legacy of pain and cruelty in the world). There is no religious tradition, no ideology of liberation (including Marxism, psychoanalysis, feminism, etc.) that cannot be appropriated by a distorted consciousness and transformed into its opposite, that is, into a mechanism or a justificatory ideology to dominate and act out of cruelty.So let's understand that the attempt to revive Christian enthusiasm around the part of the story that is focused on cruelty and pain is not only (or even primarily) a threat to the Jews, but rather a threat to all those decent, loving, and generous Christians who have found in the Jesus story a foundation for their most humane and caring instincts. It is these Christians who are under assault by Mel Gibson's movie, and by the particular form of Christian evangelicalism that it is meant to stimulate. Yet, in a deeper way, the Gibson movie is likely to stimulate a broader assault on all of us who seek to build a world based on caring and love, cooperation and generosity, by giving strength to the part within each of us that despairs, the voice within each of us that tells us that cruelty is what is "really how the other is, really how the world is," the voice inside each of us that feels that there is no point in struggling to transform the world because it is too hopeless and too dominated by craziness (and that is the point of the Jews in the Gospel calling for Jesus to be killed, because it is saying "even the Jews, his own people" do this, because evil is dominant in the world and always will be, and the only way out is to believe in Jesus and find salvation in another world, and despair of changing this one). So, part of the struggle is to reclaim and reaffirm the Jewish Jesus, the Jesus who retains hope for building love right here, the Jesus who unabashedly proclaims that the Kingdom of Heaven has arrived (which is to say, that it is here on earth, that the world right now can be based on love and kindness, and that we don't have to wait for some future time or "the end of days" as described by Isaiah, because it is here now, we can make it happen right away by the way that we live our lives). And it is this voice of Jesus that The Passion movie seeks to marginalize or make invisible.I hope Christians will take the lead in organizing people of all faiths to leaflet every public showing of Gibson's film with a message that runs counter to the anger at Jews that this film is likely to produce in at least some viewers. I hope that every morally sensitive Christian minister and priest will use the weeks ahead to preach about the history of Christian anti-Semitism until most parishioners can understand why Jews would feel worried about the popularizing of the Gospel story. But I hope also that the discussion isn't reduced to that-that Christians take on the underlying challenge and affirm their commitment to the Jewish Jesus, the Jesus that preaches that a world of love is possible right now, right here, through our actions.

The best hope to avoid a new surge of anti-Semitism will not come only from de-coding the anti-Semitic themes in Mel Gibson's film, or the Gospel on which it was based, but rather by re-crediting the ancient Jewish vision of Jesus-that in place of the Old Bottom Line of money and power, a New Bottom Line of Love and Generosity is possible. People of all faiths need to shape a political and social movement that reaffirms the most generous, peace-oriented, social justice-committed, and loving truths of the spiritual heritage of the human race. It is only this resurrection of hope that can save us from a new wave of global hatred.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus