Old Testament Jesus
Just like the Jesus portrayed in his film. At least according to everything I've read about the movie, pro and con.
Anyway, until I've seen it I'll delay judgment on whether or not it's the equivalent of a religious snuff film -- "Jesus Chainsaw Massacre," as one reviewer described it -- or a transcendent experience.
But one thing is sure. The descriptions of the Jesus portrayed in the film are a whole lot different from what I grew up learning in Catholic school.
Stephen Prothero writes in today's New York Times Magazine that views of Christ morph from era to era.
"Since the evangelical century of the 1800's, America's Protestant majority has gravitated toward a Mister Rogers Jesus, a neighborly fellow they could know and love and imitate. The country's megachurches got that way in part because they stopped preaching fire and brimstone and the blood of the Lamb. Their parishioners are sinners in the hands of an amiable God. Their Jesus is a loving friend."
But now they are embracing a "Catholic Jesus," according to Prothero.
"If the mind is the seat of Jefferson's Jesus and the heart the seat of the evangelical Friend, Gibson's Christ is in his body. He came here neither to deliver moral maxims nor to exude empathy, but to spew blood. This is not a therapeutic, 'I'm O.K., you're O.K.' Christianity. In fact, 'The Passion of the Christ' seems hell-bent on crashing head-on into a parking lot full of American Protestant assumptions. Its leading man is the Christ of devotional Catholics who for centuries have approached their redeemer bodily, through the Eucharist, gratefully imbibing his battered body. And in scene after gory scene, Gibson is thrusting that Christ in our faces, shoving the 'Man of Sorrows' of medieval passion plays into the national conversation about Jesus (and in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic no less)."
Now, I am no theologian, and my Catholicism has long been dropped off at the Dry Cleaners of History, but I think Prothero ignores the fact that Easter Sunday is the most important day in the Catholic calendar, not Good Friday.
Yes, the Stations of the Cross are present in every Catholic church, and consuming "the flesh of Christ" is one of the most important rites. But it is the redemption of Christ and humanity through his resurrection that underscores the sacred. At least that's what I remember from Sister Helen Angela (actually what I remember most about Sister Helen Angela was that she spoke frequently with angels).
No, Gibson's Christ is a very personal one. One strangely reminiscent of the many Gibson film characters -- fiercely individualistic tough guys who usually end up getting the tar viciously beaten out of them. But who then exact their revenge, with equal viciousness.
It's Christ as victim. Christ as fixed-jaw avenger. A Christ more redolent of the Old Testament than the New.
And that I think is why evangelical protestants have embraced this vision so fervidly in these strange times.
"One puzzle of the reception of the film thus far is why born-again Christians have given such a big thumbs up to what is so unapologetically a Catholic movie. Why are they putting their grass-roots organizations at the beck and call of the producer formerly known as Mad Max, buying tickets by the thousands for an R-rated film? Why are they lauding an image of Jesus that owes as much to medieval passion plays and Hollywood action movies as it does to the Gospels, that runs so hard against the Protestant grain?
"The culture wars no doubt have something to do with the evangelicals' decision to close ranks with Gibson, who must be commended for so adroitly spinning the debate over his depiction of Jews into a battle between secular humanists and true believers. The evangelicals' 'amen' to the movie may demonstrate that conservative Protestants have bought more into Hollywood's culture of violence than they would like to admit. Or that, while anti-Semitism is still alive in the United States, anti-Catholicism is finished.
"When it comes to the back story of the American Jesus, however, the decision by conservative Protestants to break bread with Gibson may be telling us that the friendly Jesus is on the way out. Calling on the authority of the Apostle Paul, who once boasted that he gloried only in the cross, a group known as the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has taken American Protestants (evangelicals included) to the woodshed for preaching a 'self-esteem gospel' rather than the tough truths of the creeds. And Gerald McDermott, a professor of religion at Roanoke College, complains that American Protestants are reducing Jesus 'to no more than the Dalai Lama without the aura, an admirable sort of guy.'''
I think it's more than that. Since September 11, 2001, and for the first time since the War of 1812 perhaps, or at least Pearl Harbor, many Americans now see themselves as victims. Our President warns darkly about "the evil ones" and our being in a time of war, a war that can never be won because there will always be terrorists, hence increasing their sense of victimization and crushing need for revenge. Many Americans see themselves as vulnerable and willing to part with many of their rights in the hopes of protecting themselves against "evil doers."
And what with the ongoing assault on their values by gay marriage, abortion rights, and Janet Jackson, their sense of victimization is complete
They want to see a Christ turned into hamburger meat. It only increases their own sense of victimhood, not just as Americans, but also as people for whom "Christ is their personal savior."
Because they know that this Christ -- as envisioned by Gibson -- when He rises after three days, looks angry, not redeemed or redeeming, is one pissed, very pissed Dude. And as these readers of the "Left Behind" books know, payback is a bitch and revenge is sweet.