Believe It or Not

Mel Gibson's upcoming film, The Passion, is not even in theaters yet, but Alex Beam, a Boston Globe columnist who admits that he has only seen the trailer, nevertheless declares that "like so many films about Jesus, it flirts with absurdity." What soon becomes apparent is that it's not the film itself that Beam finds absurd, but rather the idea that portraying the truth about Christ matters at all. In a time when journalists are battling to recover their image as reporters of the truth, Beam unabashedly informs us that truth is irrelevant. The value of something, he says, is not in its trustworthiness or authenticity, but rather in its ability to "animate" our belief. He supports this by citing the Jesus Seminar that works to determine which words and actions in the Gospels actually occurred. Only the paradox of postmodernism could lump the debunking "scholars" of the Jesus Seminar together with Mel Gibson and his conservative Catholic brethren. But Beam, whose sympathies clearly lie with the liberal Jesus Seminar, nevertheless does this by telling us that either one's search for the truth is really beside the point. "What is striking about the literal-minded scholars of the Jesus Seminar," Beam writes, "is how irrelevant their findings have been . . . What these people don't understand, and what Mel Gibson and his ilk don't understand, is that the literal truth of Jesus' story isn't what animates Christian belief . . . Many of us are awed by the figurative beauty of a story that created a system of values and beliefs that has survived for 2,000 years and has a reasonable possibility of surviving even Italian vamp Monica Bellucci's depiction of Mary Magdalene in Gibson's vanity outing." My question for Mr. Beam is this: If "figurative beauty" matters more than "literal truth," why did the New York Times fire Jayson Blair? And if the story of Jesus isn't "literal truth," how is it any more "animating" than one of the Grimms' fairy tales or Aesop's fables, since they take out the guesswork and provide their own morals? It's breathtaking that Beam fails to see the absurdity of attending church Sunday after Sunday, singing hymns to a God one suspects isn't there, to speak of a Jesus one suspects isn't real, or to "animate" one's life by the words of a book one suspects to be false. He sees no contradiction in believing in something one doesn't believe in. Though he refers to his "belief" throughout the column, I wonder what he thinks that word means. The dictionary I consulted defined belief as "the assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another." Beam may do something, but if words mean anything, he can't claim to "believe." This, of course, is the heart of the postmodern impasse. Beam closes by quoting Albert Schweitzer's 1906 book The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer says of his efforts to find the "historical" Jesus: "The mistake was to suppose that Jesus could come to mean more to our time by entering into it as a man like ourselves." That quote could be updated to reflect Beam's postmodern view: "The mistake is to suppose that anything could come to mean anything to our time." Don't they see how silly this really is? For further reading and information: Visit the official website for The Passion. Alex Beam, "Is Mel Gibson's Passion for the Truth Misplaced?" Boston Globe, 22 July 2003. (Archived article; costs $2.95 to retrieve. Or read it as posted on Free Republic-- note: some reader commentary may be offensive.) BreakPoint Commentary No. 030715, "A Passion for Getting It Right." Read an interview with Mel Gibson on The Passion here. Kelley Reep, "The Last Temptation of Christ," BreakPoint Online, 25 July 2003. Mark Gauvreau Judge, "Christ in Majesty," BreakPoint Online, 6 June 2003. Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews (InterVarsity, 2002).


Chuck Colson



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