A Harsh Reality

The Universe isn't soft and cuddly, and neither is the Universe's God. I always knew this on an intellectual level, but the point only truly hit home when I went to see The Passion of the Christ this week. In that movie, the viewer is treated to the dark side of creation, the part of life that most of us tend to gloss over. Most everyone in the Western world knows that Jesus was crucified, but how many dwell on the details? How many of us actually take time to ponder what He went through that day: His abandonment at the hands of His friends; His degredation before a hedonistic Herod and an irrational Jewish mob; the lashings and beatings--the outright torture--He received; and, finally, a slow death vis a vis suffocation atop a cross? And, on top of it all, according to Jesus, God the Father had preordained it all. One with only a cursory understanding of the Passion could make the case that Christians worship a sadistic God, one who indulged in a horrific act of schadenfreude by sending His Son down to Earth only to be horrifically mutilated and then murdered. God and the world don't sound so nice now, do they?

Representing the Truth

The Passion cuts right down to the darker side of religion illustrated by the crucifixion of Jesus--a side that we usually attempt to avoid. The Judeo-Christian/Islamic God is, by definition, the essence of Good. However, this doesn't mean that He is weak or nice. On the contrary, pure Goodness is extremely dangerous--our God is not a declawed Deity. After all, when you look at the Bible as a whole, it really just recounts a series of blood covenants: Abraham--then called Abram--was promised the land of Canaan after he sacrificed several bovines and birds to his God; Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy outline the animal sacrifices Jews were required to make during worship; and Jesus, in the ultimate sacrifice of Christianity, was executed by the Roman proconsul, Pontius Pilate, and the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Judeo-Christian tradition is not the only one that intertwines blood and religion: during the Hajj, Muslims sacrifice an animal according to the dietery precepts of halal; Shia cut their scalps to remember the martyrdom of one of their most revered leaders; practitioners of Santeria utilize ritualistic animal slaughter; to call upon malicious gods, Hindus offer up animals in sacrifice. The list goes on.

As almost every religion descends into violence at one point or another, they all also have specific concepts for dealing with suffering--from the belief in the immutability of God's Plan amongst Muslims to the Christian teachings regarding Judgement Day to the concept of karma inherent in many Eastern religions. Religions make touch with reality in these manners, acknowledging the existance of suffering, turmoil and evil in the world. After all, what is religion except an attempt to explain the meaning behind the Universe in both its glories and its afflictions?

In The Passion, Mel Gibson manages to convey this message. Critics content that Mr. Gibson descends into gratuitious violence and goes "over the top" in his seminal work. But producing anything less would have been tantamount to ignoring reality. Though religion is meant as a source of comfort, it also taps into something primal in the human psyche. It aims at peeling away the social niceties we use to cover the unpleasant and show the world how it truly is, not how we wish it was! It must acknowledge the existance of suffering, from the slow, ravaging death of cancer to the senseless violence of a robbery gone awry. Religion is not a set of hymns that people sing while holding hands and putting on a happy face; it is meant to give us the spine necessary to confront the terrors of the world.

A Shot in the Arm

The problem arises not when a director such as Mr. Gibson attempts to showcase the gore and pain underlying religion, but when philosophers and religious exponents refuse to acknowledge the malevolence apparent around us. To make an example of a relatively common strain of thought: There are philosophies, such as transcendentalism, that deny the very existance of evil. How can such dictums be accepted in a world in which dictators such as Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Slobodon Milosovic and Pol Pot murder millions in the name of "racial purity"? And then there are the little evils all around us: the murders, the rapes and the domestic violence. Those inclined to disbelieve in wrongdoing look past the countless deaths caused by the Inquisition hundreds of years ago and the stark, mysoginistic, doctrines of Wahabbism practiced today. It is unconscionable to cover these outrages in the cloak of moral equivalency. Doing so flies in the face of empiricism and reason.

The Passion is exactly the medicine we need to counteract the enervating effects of such thinking. It reminds us that the Universe is not a happy place, filled with rainbow-colored flowers and pink clouds and smiling pixies with keys to Never-never Land. The Universe is beautiful, yes, but it is at the same time violent and messy. Mr. Gibson reminds us that we must delve into that mess if we are to discover the true meaning behind this world. We must not be cowards in that journey and seek to make religion too pleasing to the eye.

My thanks to e2religion on help with the research appearing in this write-up.