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"The Passion" and the Pagan
by Emilie J. Conroy

So Mel Gibson makes a film chronicling the last twelve hours in the life of a man called Jesus. What does this have to do with the Pagan community?

For my own part, I found that there is a whole lot going on in this film that applies to the human community and not just to any certain religion. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Many friends wondered why I, an avowed Pagan born and raised on the Pagan path, would possibly want to see "The Passion of the Christ." After all, how much evangelizing would I want to suffer in one afternoon?

Well, it's never been my habit to prejudge anything - even a movie with the word "Christ" in the title. Instead, I set about getting some information, and that made me interested. For example, the entire script is spoken in Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic, with English subtitles. I love linguistics and I've studied a little of each of these in the course of my education. To hear them spoken - accurately or not - would be worth the time investment. There's also the historical background and detail. These events occurred in the great amphitheater of the Roman Empire. Going into the film with an understanding of the Roman hierarchy sheds a different light on the biblical bad guy, Pontius Pilate. Perhaps more than anything, at least as far as I was concerned, I was interested in the interpretation of a tale which has changed so much of the world but has always left me puzzled.

Not that it's a tale strange in Paganism at all. The idea of the resurrected deity, the god who defies death and returns to life, was in place in many cultures prior to the first century CE. One example is the Egyptian Osiris, who was dismembered by the Machiavellian Set. In a final outrage, Set cast the body parts of Osiris into the Nile. Isis and Horus, Osiris' wife and son and deities in their own right, worked ceaselessly to find all of the pieces so that they might restore Osiris to life. Another example is clear in how many Pagans view the course of the year. The God, by whatever name and whatever path, dies at the end of the harvest to be reborn at the Winter Solstice. To make an even simpler example, the sun rises, sets, and then rises again the following morning.

After plowing through the speculation, the accusations, and the surreptitious marketing blitz, I was left with one motivating idea. Being Pagan but never having been Christian, I might be able to view the film with an objective mind. That is, my personal faith was in no way on the line as this film portrayed what is perhaps the epicenter of Christianity.

Apparently many people in the theater were prepared to take this experience as seriously as if they were actually there on Golgotha to witness the events. I did notice that most of this Ash Wednesday crowd was marked with a cross of ashes on their forehead. Looking around, I wondered who was there out of sheer curiosity.

What had the crowd been expecting? Even if someone had been living in a cave (with Bible in tow) for the past several weeks, they would probably have known the basic plot of this film. Even I knew the story of that unfortunate Friday in Jerusalem. For a more complete review, check the end pages of any one of the Gospels. This crucifixion business wasn't pretty. Whipping and scourging weren't the way the Romans said welcome to the neighborhood. "The Passion" is about some very nasty and violent business. Still, many in the crowd looked away from the abundant brutality. Myself, I wasn't surprised, and I even thought that the violence was showing just how horrible this event really would have been. As little as I knew of Christianity, I did know about the Passion. I thought the point of the Passion was how a man called Jesus suffered physically for the "sins" of mankind. There's nothing light and cheery about this. The movie is not called "The Passion Sanitized" or "The Passion for Kiddies." How is it that this merry little Pagan understood what shocked the faithful?

What's important to bear in mind in regard to "The Passion" is that it is a movie, one man's vision and interpretation of a given set of events. It wasn't written or filmed by deity and it isn't stamped with any divine seal of approval. It's unlikely that DVDs of "The Passion" will start being included in a pocket along with the Bible. "The Passion" is a film like "The Matrix" or "Star Wars." I can't get into Mel Gibson's head and know what he has been thinking, but I'm sure all of the publicity that would come with making a film on a touchy subject must have crossed his mind. Maybe that's the Pagan in me, that I can be so detached. I certainly don't fault anyone who feels they've gotten something of a divine experience from seeing this film. But regardless, it's still a film, a Hollywood product wrapped, cut, and shipped out to thousands of theaters across the United States. I could be wrong, but I'm not aware of any cut of the profits earmarked for Christian charities. If Mel wanted to be taken seriously as trying to get a message across to millions, he might have started by showing his film free of charge. "The Passion" is trapped in the money-generating machine, and I, even as a Pagan, think that's a tragedy for the Christian faith.

Towards the end of the film I had something of an epiphany. Maybe the trick to appreciating "The Passion" is to not feel bound to it by faith. The film is an emotional hurricane, but it seemed to me that those emotions were more attuned to primal humanity than any kind of spiritual belief. We'd all like to think that people in general would feel compassion for a suffering man. That cuts across all superficial divisions like creed or gender or race and goes right to what we all have in common - our humanity.

Emilie J. Conroy

Bio: Emilie Conroy (Pepsishark), a historian and religious scholar, is a freelance writer from Philadelphia, PA. A lifelong alternative spiritualist, Emilie is involved in the Pagan community as an advocate of education, religious freedoms, and interfaith understanding.

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