Thursday, March 11, 2004

The blood curse of the Passion: anti-Semitism or anti-dogmatism?

Mark Dorroh

I haven't yet seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and won't until I can rent it and watch it at home. I'm not a fan of extra-bloody movies, and from the reviews I've read, the only way I think I could stand to watch this one is via DVD on a small television screen.

But even without seeing the Passion, it's hard to ignore the concern being vented over Gibson's supposedly anti-Semitic depiction of the blood curse some Jews called down on themselves when Pilate offered them a choice of whom was to be spared crucifixion, Barabbas or Jesus. With the new anti-Semitism (thinly disguised, especially in Europe, as anti-Zionism) rearing its ugly head once again, that concern is not misplaced. I think it would be profitable to ask what exactly was the nature of the Passion's blood curse. Was it a curse upon Jews and their children, or is there more to it?

I believe that whatever the initial nature of the curse, it has become, over the years, a racist manifestation of the ancient practice of using selected groups of persons, usually defined by race, ethnicity, class or religion, as scapegoats. Also, those who called the curse down upon themselves are amazingly similar to today's believers who still don't quite understand what Christ was trying to accomplish in his 33 years on Earth.

The practice of scapegoating - irrationally blaming the unavoidable problems of life on an innocent individual or group - is among humanity's most primitive reactions to misfortune. Its definition may be an Old Testament invention, but plenty of non-Jewish cultures have their own versions.

Of course, for theological purposes (with which I profoundly disagree, but plenty of others endorse), Christ was here to be our universal scapegoat, to take the sins of humanity upon His own shoulders, thereby creating the possibility of salvation for we, the sinners. But a secondary use of the role of the scapegoat was also in play at Golgotha. At an early age, Christ began arguing with the Scribes and Pharisees about God's Law, and He pretty much never quit arguing with them for the rest of His career as an itinerant rabbi.

Down throughout history, whenever times get tough, it's the anti-dogmatist freethinkers who are most often chosen as scapegoats. So it was with Jesus; His heavenly wisdom challenged earthly dogma, threatened the authorities and made of Him a natural scapegoat for political reasons quite unconnected to His spiritual mission.

For modern context, let us consider for a moment the body of modern conservative Christian dogma regarding the relationship between church and state. In the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly told us His mission was not creation of Heaven on Earth (i.e. - an Israeli revolt against their Roman masters), but rather was one of preparing the way for us to enter into the presence of the Lord after death.

The Romans killed Christ because they thought he might be the King of the Jews who would lead a revolt to throw off their colonial yoke, while the Pharisees handed Him over to the Romans to get rid of a noisy troublemaker.

Christ said quite clearly that we should render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto the Lord what is the Lord's. But that message was lost in the muddle of dogma and politics at Calvary, as it is even today, with otherwise perfectly intelligent Americans trying to inject more religion into government.

Then as now, the Christian division of God's business from affairs of state was misunderstood, mostly because the high-church dogmatists chose to misunderstand it.

So, if indeed some Jews did call down a curse upon themselves, the real curse devolves upon authoritarian spiritual leaders blinded by dogma, rather than persons of a particular bloodline. That multi-generational curse is upon those who ignore God's truth because it threatens precious dogma and Earthly power.

And Jews certainly don't hold any kind of monopoly on that sort of spiritual blindness. Look at some of today's headlines, and you'll see plenty of Gentiles being willfully ignorant of Christ's injunctions to keep separate our duties to God and Caesar. The Scribes and Pharisees didn't get it 2000 years ago … and they still don't get it today.

If Jesus came back tomorrow morning, the modern-day Scribes and Pharisees, the Fallwells and Robertsons and Swaggerts, the Judge Roy Moores and Anthony Scalias would run for the crucifix and nails with an alacrity which would make a drowning man clutching at a life preserver appear hesitant in the extreme.

Considering the ways in which these guys selectively ignore huge, essential portions of His 2,000 year old teachings, imagine how much their authority would be challenged by His return today. Their attempts to remove the dividing line between citizen duties to church and state would be denied by the Author of their own religion.

Their temporal power and spiritual authority would vanish, even as their Lord returned.

The curse called down upon humanity just before Pilate washed his hands was not on Jews alone. It was upon any supposed believer whose mind is so clouded by Earthly dogma that he can't see, hear or allow into his heart the Heavenly truth.

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