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Saturday, March 27, 2004

'Sponge for punishment.'

Garry Wills on Mel Gibson's Passion:

If Gibson is making a theological point, that the blood is an abundant source of salvation, one wonders why the scourgers get more of it than the believers. It is not as though Gibson were a Universalist when it comes to salvation. He told The New Yorker that not merely non-Christians but nonorthodox Christians (including his wife) are going to hell. . . .

[Jonathan] Edwards's theme was "Sinners in the hands of an angry God." Gibson gives us "God in the hands of angry sinners." Behind both these minatory visions stands a bloodthirsty Father, damning and punishing. It can be said in Gibson's defense that he was not narrowly anti-Semitic when he wanted to include the verse from Matthew 27.25. He sees vast hordes becoming subject to God's vengeance, to be carried off to hell. He offers equal opportunity damnation. Saint Augustine came to see that this view of a vengeful father was unworthy of God, and abandoned the "ransom" theory of Christ's death, the notion that the death of Christ was a price paid to God in order to bring about the redemption of humanity.

Not many thinkers have followed Augustine's lead in this, although the philosopher René Girard has done so brilliantly. But without formal theological reasoning, most Christians have quietly realized that God the inflicter of eternal torture is not a concept they can live with. The recent and rapid fading of belief in hell is one of the things that conservatives deplore. "Real men" support hell—even for their wives. It is hellfires that are warming the hearts of the "tough love" Christians who watch Gibson's Jesus being beaten into a mess.

Oh, Wills also examines a new book about the abusive and paranoid archconservative Catholic organization, the Legion of Christ.

("God in the hands of angry sinners," Garry Wills, New York Review of Books 4.8.04)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 27 March 2004 at 7:39 PM

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