New York Times
February 26, 2004

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Mel Gibson and George W. Bush are courting bigotry in the name of sanctity.

The moviemaker wants to promote "The Passion of the Christ" and the president wants to prevent the passion of the gays.

Opening on two screens: W.'s stigmatizing as political strategy and Mel's stigmata as marketing strategy.

Mr. Gibson, who told Diane Sawyer that he was inspired to make the movie after suffering through addictions, found the ultimate 12-step program: the Stations of the Cross.

I went to the first show of "The Passion" at the Loews on 84th Street and Broadway; it was about a quarter filled. This is not, as you may have read, a popcorn movie. In Latin and Aramaic with English subtitles, it's two gory hours of Jesus getting flayed by brutish Romans at the behest of heartless Jews.

Perhaps fittingly for a production that licensed a jeweler to sell $12.99 nail necklaces (what's next? crown-of-thorns prom tiaras?), "The Passion" has the cartoonish violence of a Sergio Leone Western. You might even call it a spaghetti crucifixion, "A Fistful of Nails."

Writing in The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor, scorns it as "a repulsive, masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film" that uses "classically anti-Semitic images."

I went with a Jewish pal, who tried to stay sanguine. "The Jews may have killed Jesus," he said. "But they also gave us `Easter Parade.' "

The movie's message, as Jesus says, is that you must love not only those who love you, but more importantly those who hate you.

So presumably you should come out of the theater suffused with charity toward your fellow man.

But this is a Mel Gibson film, so you come out wanting to kick somebody's teeth in.

In "Braveheart" and "The Patriot," his other emotionally manipulative historical epics, you came out wanting to swing an ax into the skull of the nearest Englishman. Here, you want to kick in some Jewish and Roman teeth. And since the Romans have melted into history . . .

Like Mr. Gibson, Mr. Bush is whipping up intolerance but calling it a sacred cause.

At first, the preacher-in-chief resisted conservative calls for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. He felt, as Jesus put it in the Gibson script (otherwise known as the Gospels), "If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me."

But under pressure from the Christian right, he grabbed the chalice with both hands and swigged ‒ seeking to set a precedent in codifying discrimination in the Constitution, a document that in the past has been amended to correct discrimination by giving fuller citizenship rights to blacks, women and young people.

If the president is truly concerned about preserving the sanctity of marriage, as one of my readers suggested, why not make divorce illegal and stone adulterers?

Our soldiers are being killed in Iraq; Osama's still on the loose; jobs are being exported all over the world; the deficit has reached biblical proportions.

And our president is worrying about Mars and marriage?

When reporters tried to pin down White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday on why gay marriage is threatening, he spouted a bunch of gobbledygook about "the fabric of society" and civilization.

The pols keep arguing that institutions can't be changed when, in fact, they change all the time. Haven't they ever heard of the institution of slavery?

The government should not be trying to legislate what's sacred.

When Bushes get in trouble, they look around for a politically advantageous bogeyman. Lee Atwater tried to make Americans shudder over the prospect of Willie Horton arriving on their doorstep; and now Karl Rove wants Americans to shudder at the prospect of a lesbian "Dick Cheney's daughter Mary, say" setting up housekeeping next door with her "wife."

When it comes to the Bushes' willingness to stir up base instincts of the base, it is as it was.

As the Max von Sydow character said in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters," while watching a TV evangelist appealing for money: "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."


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