Finally, I believe the attacks on Mel Gibson are a mistake because while they may be in the interests of Jewish organizations who raise money with the specter of anti-Semitism, and while they may be in the interests of Jewish journalists at the New York Times and elsewhere who are trying to boost their careers, they are most decidedly not in the interests of most American Jews who go about their daily lives in comfortable harmony with their Christian fellow citizens. You see, many Christians see all this as attacks not just on Mel Gibson alone or as mere critiques of a movie, but with some justification in my view, they see them as attacks against all Christians. This is not so different from the way most people react to attack. We Jews usually feel that we have all been attacked even when only a few of us suffer assault on account of our faith.
Right now, the most serious peril threatening Jews, and indeed perhaps all of Western Civilization, is Islamic fundamentalism. In this titanic 21st-century struggle that links Washington, D.C. with Jerusalem, our only steadfast allies have been Christians. In particular, those Christians that most ardently defend Israel and most reliably denounce anti-Semitism, happen to be those Christians most fervently committed to their faith. Jewish interests are best served by fostering friendship with Christians rather than cynically eroding them. Rejecting flagrant anti-Christianism on the part of Jews claiming to be acting on our behalf would be our wisest course as a community. Doing so would have one other advantage: It would also be doing the right thing.
Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” promises to be a landmark expression of the strand of devotion that emphasizes identification with Jesus’ sufferings. It is a strand that has produced powerfully affecting works of art, and moved and inspired Christians for centuries. The Crucifixion was, in fact, bloody and brutal—Gibson is on solid historical ground in wishing to depict them this way—and when he prayerfully reads the Gospels, no doubt these are the pictures that appear in his mind.
But these pictures are not, actually, there in the Gospels. The writers of the Gospels chose to describe Jesus’ Passion a different way. Instead of appealing to our empathy, they invite us to awesome wonder, because they had a different understanding of the meaning of his suffering.