NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

For supporting materials, see the Archive and the Recommended Reading and Videos section at the bottom of this page.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Passion of the Christ

"All we know of Love is that Love is all there is." I was reminded of this paraphrase of a line from an Emily Dickinson poem (which I first came across several years ago on the front of a greeting card), with all of its metaphysical, epistemological and moral significance, by this article on Strike-the-Root titled The Earthly Lesson of Jesus' Crucifixion. The author, Glen Allport, concludes his article with these thoughts:

The fundamental importance of love; the understanding that a loving world requires better treatment of children, and the flat assertion that "the kingdom of God is within you" are what I see as the most real and powerful of Jesus' teachings – or of anyone's teachings. These three teachings are the best short summary of human wisdom I have ever seen.

Jesus knowingly added a fourth teaching – of Power's hatred for all that is loving, decent, and real – by arranging for and allowing Roman soldiers to arrest, torture, and murder him. By the most vivid and courageous example possible, Jesus thus taught that the coercive State is an evil almost beyond imagining.

Allport also has some good things to say about Mel Gibson's artistic representation of The Passion of the Christ that ring true for me. Contrary to many of Mel's critics within not only secular and non-Christian but also liberal Christian circles, I have a lot of respect for the man, perhaps partly because before my convincement to Quakerism I was part of an (allegedly) schismatic Catholic society with views that appear similar to Gibson's, and I still see a logical consistency and merit in such traditionalist views. I think Allport captures a more fundamental basis for my continuing respect, despite my abandonment of Catholicism, for Gibson and The Passion of the Christ:
In "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson focuses on the cruelty and violence directed at Jesus by those in power. Gibson was predictably attacked for doing so. “All that violence; how distasteful! How disgusting that a film director would sell a movie about Christ with blood and torture and murder!” And so on. Yet “Passion” is defined as “a. The sufferings of Jesus in the period following the Last Supper and including the Crucifixion. b. A narrative, musical setting, or pictorial representation of Jesus's sufferings.” (The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition).

The emotional damage of Jesus’ contemporaries, and their cruelty – especially as empowered by coercive government – formed the milieu that Jesus lived in, and this milieu was the reason for his ministry in the first place. The New Testament details some of the unhealthy, violent, coercive, and corrupt aspects of life that Jesus was working to change. Jesus was willing to die on the cross – he knew that he would, in all likelihood, be murdered in that exact fashion – because he felt and believed that every person needed and desired, with all their heart, a compassionate and healthy world, instead of the corrupt, violent, hate-drenched world of coercion and pain that every new child of his time was born into. That reality was clearly so painful to Jesus that even the threat of his own death could not keep him from starting a ministry aimed at changing the world for the better.

In fact, the violence, torture, and murder are essential elements of the Christ
story; without these elements, there IS no story. Without these elements, there
would have been no need for Jesus to champion love and compassion at the cost of
his own life. Without these elements, Jesus would have simply lived a healthy,
compassionate life among his family and friends, dying in bed at a ripe old age,
and two thousand years later we might never have heard of him.

Of Mel Gibson’s other films, "Braveheart" in particular parallels "The Passion" in that Braveheart’s hero, William Wallace, knowingly risks his life (eventually losing it, after being tortured in public) for the sake of a better world – in particular, for love and freedom.

This linking of love and freedom is another powerful insight on Gibson’s part. Love and freedom truly are linked; indeed, like Yin and Yang, love and freedom are two sides of a central duality in human life. To champion Love is to oppose coercive Power, which is to side with Freedom. Love and freedom must be kept in a reasonable balance, and at high levels, for a healthy society.

By spending $30 million of his own money on a film about Jesus that nearly everyone thought would fail, and which (to no one’s surprise) brought Gibson much criticism and even insults, Gibson showed hints of the same willingness to risk himself for what is right that made his protagonists interesting and positive figures. Because he does not live in China or some other country that murders or tortures or imprisons people for their religious beliefs, Mr. Gibson was probably never in physical danger for producing a film about Jesus’ last days, but Gibson was not treated kindly in much of the press, and this was surely something he knew would happen before starting the project.

Furthermore, despite complaints to the contrary, I do not believe that "The Passion of the Christ" shortchanges Jesus’ message. The brief scene in which the doomed Jesus tells his followers to love one another would be enough, by itself, to convey the essence of Jesus’ teachings. (“So love one another” reads the English subtitle). Keeping this scene short, poignant, and without distractions gives it all the more emphasis. Also, the official trailer for the film**, which includes that line, also includes a text panel reading: “His message was love.” The film makes that message clear in a variety of ways, mostly by the actions and demeanor of Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays Jesus.

According to Allport, "Supernatural elements are optional, in my view: an afterlife, a deity, reincarnation, or an eternal soul, for examples. I have no quarrel with those who believe in such elements; to each his own. But the core importance of love is, in my opinion, far more basic, more in the present, more real, and more important." This idea is similar to what I've tried to express in a couple of previous posts and what Robin M. has recently put very well:
Because that’s my main point of view about the history of Jesus: I don’t know. I don’t know enough to dispute with any of these authors about their historical analysis. On the simplest level, I wasn’t there, and I don’t believe any one really knows what really happened 2000 years ago. And that’s okay with me. Borg empowered me to admit that I don’t know the truth about the virgin birth or the physical resurrection of Jesus. And to accept that it doesn’t matter to me, at least not right now, because my faith doesn’t rest on these propositions being literally true. My faith is built on the truth of Jesus’s existence in my own life and the transformative value of what is written about Jesus. I’m not caught up in whether it’s all myth or history or a combination of both, although I tend towards the “some of each” position, if you really want to know.
Allport's essay also helped bring a couple other essential things home to me. First, it's helped me to rethink my agnosticism about the propriety of physically disciplining children. I cannot recall an occasion when I've felt called upon to spank or otherwise physically discipline a child in my life, but I haven't necessarily been opposed to it in principle. On the other hand, I do think children need some measure of "discipline," and am on occasion perturbed by parents who apparently let their kids run wild and have not instilled in them and (as necessary) "enforced" respect for other children and adults. Nevertheless, I think there are extremely few if any situations in which physical punishment is warranted. I think the solution to many disciplinary problems is more love and attention, and that this love and attention should occasionally be expressed with firm or even angry words. When firm words are called for, ideally they would be motivated by zeal for the rights and feelings of others, whom the child might be injuring, and this awareness and concern for others should be brought home to the child. I'm not ready to agree that spanking a child should be criminalized, but it would be a good thing if our society and culture continued in its direction of casting serious disapproval on such methods, and of making sure children subjected to such measures are okay and that their parents think twice about using unwarranted corporal punishment. Children need love and compassion, and if we want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to make our present and future society a better and happier place, one of our first concerns should be to make sure we give them what they need and have a right to expect.