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Gibson's right to his 'Passion'

Overreaction will cause more anti-Semitism than movie itself

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Any honest discussion of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" must begin with recognition of a few undeniable facts:

The movie has been made and will open in thousands of theaters worldwide this month. It will draw eager audiences and become a box office hit - due in part to prerelease controversy, the "must see" factor has reached an almost unprecedented level of intensity among both committed Christians and the cinematically curious. Mainstream Christian leaders of every denomination will embrace the film as the most artistically ambitious and accomplished treatment of the crucifixion ever committed to film. Some critics and scholars will criticize Mr. Gibson for his cinematic and theological choices in shaping the film. But any attempt to boycott or discredit the movie will, inevitably and unquestionably, fail.

No one who has actually seen the movie, as I have, would seriously challenge these conclusions.

All the debate about allegedly anti-Semitic overtones misses the point: The organized Jewish community and its allies in interfaith dialogue may not welcome "Passion," but overreaction will provoke far more anti-Semitism than the movie itself.

Gibson financed the film on his own precisely due to his determination to realize his own traditionalist Catholic vision of the Gospel story without compromise to the sensitivities of profit-oriented accountants or other religious perspectives. Jewish leaders feel wounded that he never consulted them on the script or historic details, but he also left out Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The possibility of anti-Jewish violence in response to the film has been irresponsibly emphasized and has become, self-fulfilling prophecy. In parts of Europe and the Islamic world, anti-Semitic vandalism and violence occur daily, and hardly need a film by a Hollywood superstar to encourage them. In this context, Jewish denunciations of the movie only increase the likelihood that those who hate us will seize on the movie as an excuse for more of hatred.

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