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March 10, 2004

Laughing About "The Passion"

Dear Friedrich --

Have you read Paul Rudnick's humor piece in the current issue of The New Yorker? It's a riff on "The Passion" and it can be read here. If you do get around to looking at it, would you let me know how you react? I found it pretty funny -- Rudnick, who's a playwright and screenwriter (and who also writes the sometimes-hilarious Libby Gelman-Wexler column in Premiere), can be one mischievous imp.

Still, still ... I was left wondering: would The New Yorker run a humor piece that tried to get similarly impish laughs at the expense of, say, Judaism or Islam? Your hunch, please.

By the way, that loose cannon Anne Coulter hits a few bullseyes with a column about the New York Times and its coverage of "The Passion." It can be read here.



posted by Michael at March 10, 2004


I don't know about the bigger-picture question, but the column is hilarious. It actually kind of fits with the teenage-girl flick FvB saw with his daughter.

In a only-sortof-related matter, I just read this on the internet about the technical aspects of the movie--My Goodness, is it true?

"Mel Gibson’s controversial movie continues to generate big bucks at the box office, but film buffs have been busy chronicling the movie’s errors — and some of them are doozies.

“In the shot where the Romans start punching the nail through Christ’s left hand, you can see just behind the hand being nailed, the actor’s real left hand,” reports

Another shot that perhaps should have been a retake, according to the site: “While Mary is holding Jesus after he dies, you can see him blink a few times.”

Posted by: annette on March 10, 2004 2:54 PM

It can be done. The surprise hit in the Dutch cinemas at the moment is "Shouf shouf Habibi" [Look look Baby]. Which is a comedy about the problems Moroccans have integrate in our society. Done by a second generation Moroccan immigrant of course.

But yes, it probably would have been something else if it had been done by a native Dutchman of course.

A not completely objective review of the movie:

Posted by: ijsbrand on March 10, 2004 2:59 PM

Ummm, certainly not Islam. That's absolutely off limits, baby.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 10, 2004 4:10 PM

The great advantage of being a minority is you can make fun of the majority, and the majority looks bad making fun of the minority.

Posted by: matt on March 10, 2004 4:18 PM

An interesting point regarding the Judaism / Islam targets. I've read stories/pieces poking fun at Judaism. Does anyone out there know of any writers who've been willing to skewer Islam? And they don't have to be (currently) living....There've got to be some good Islamic jokes or stories worth dying for.

Posted by: DarkoV on March 10, 2004 4:37 PM

Well, there's Rushdie.

Posted by: Mike Snider on March 10, 2004 4:46 PM

It didn't hold my interest.

But Michael, more importantly, does it offend you?

Posted by: David Sucher on March 10, 2004 4:46 PM

Ann Coulter doesn't quite "get" Christianity either, though she would like to think she does. She really gets her knickers in a twist about "liberals" like Andrew Sullivan and Charles Krauthammer who decry Christianity's anti-Semitic leanings, without realizing that these concerns were articulated almost forty years ago by the Catholic Church itself! Whoopsie!

By the way, that's the best reason for Christians like me to condemn Gibson's Passion. The film is the last gasp of anti-Semitic religious invective, a tradition which Catholics and most Protestants have rejected over the past half-century. (If you don't think Passion is anti-Semitic, check out a few anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda films and compare frames. The similarities are, shall we say, interesting.)

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on March 10, 2004 4:58 PM

David -- I'm an irreverent downtown guy, and if a Christian or two feels offended by Rudnick's piece, that's OK with me. On the other hand, if at the time of all the solemnity about "Schindler's List," a Catholic had written an impish and impious piece riffing on Schindler, would The New Yorker have run it? I wonder. Too bad, in any case, that the fuss over "Satanic Verses" seems to have put an end to anyone ever being impish and impious about Islam in a mainstream publication.

Tim -- You didn't think Coulter's two main points were pretty good? As I recall them, 1) that the Times treats Christianity as this incomprehensible, foreign thing. And 2) that it's striking how the Times after 9/11 ran tons of stories about Islam, religion of peace; while its coverage about "The Passion" has largely been to fret about anti-Semitism. I dunno, point one seems self-evidently true to me -- The Times lives in a bubble (always worth pointing out) and has no idea how important Christianity is in much of the rest of the country. Point two I think is pretty hilarious. That the same people who are getting into a huge lather over Mel's movie are the same people who were quickest to defend Islam is pretty amazing -- seems to show a slight lack of perspective, at the very least. Call me naive, but I doubt the film represents anything like the threat that terrorism does. On the other hand, maybe their takes on the topics sell.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 10, 2004 5:56 PM

There is a large segment of Christian hating Jews that have come forward since Mel Gibson's movie came out. To me, this was the biggest surprise of late. Just don't mention that observation in public or you will be denounced as anti-Semitic.
Anyways, the piece is designed to make fun of one stereotype of Christians that is held in some Jewish communities. If this was written about any other religion it never would have seen the light of day at the New Yorker.

Posted by: James on March 10, 2004 8:54 PM

Is it a problem that Islam is off-limits? So is making fun of African Americans if you're not white. We have these taboos, perhaps they are silly but perhaps not. Racial violence (hate crimes) against muslims (or any South-East Asian who wore a hat) was a serious problem in the USA following 9/11. Look at the statistics. It's also important to show the world and ourselves that we have some understanding of Islam that is not simply "other" and "enemy"--that we don't think Islam is all terroristic.

So we have taboos on discourse and they have good and bad attributes. Consider reading this article on Slate about Dave Chappelle which touches on how white commedians can't make racial jokes but black comedians are exempt.

I find it amazing that you, Honorable Mr. Blowhard, could take any of Coulter's points seriously. Let me prefix this brief discussion by noting that I'm Jewish, but: I have read all of the Christian bible several times, I think it's wonderful and amazing and I love the Gospel of Mark and I have a very strong affinity for Christianity thanks to Kierkegaard. So with that in mind, Christianity is (WONDERFULLY)incomprehensible, it's central belief is paradoxical (if not "absurd" to use Kierkegaard's vocabulary). And, well, "The Passion" doesn't touch on that in my opinion; it doesn't excite my enthusiasm for Christianity one bit and I must say to the chagrin of my mother I've got quite a bit of enthusiasm to go around.

Just compare Passion to "Last Temptation" and, for my part, it's obvious which is more Christian and which has a more sophisticated and richer understanding of Christianity: the latter! The mystery of Christ as both man and God is fully articulated, and Jesus's belief in Satan (which was fairly common in 1st century AD Judaism but was definitely unorthodox) is also fully dramatized.

The suffering of Christ is a fascinating component of Christianity and this is what Passion was after. But compare those grueling celluloid hours to this one line of dialog from Mark:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Which encapsulates EVERYTHING important about His suffering, and you see why one who entertains some sophisticated understanding of Christianity might have a dismissive attitude towards Passion.

Posted by: nick kallen on March 10, 2004 8:55 PM

Sorry Michael, I agree with Mr Kallen above: you disappoint me greatly in your apparent belief that Ann Coulter can and should be taken seriously.

Posted by: James Russell on March 10, 2004 11:51 PM


Yes, the Times is pretty clueless about Christianity on the whole. In this case, however, they happen to have gotten it right: Most Chrstian denominations officially condemn anti-Semitism, save for a sizable contingent of fundamentalist churches who still toss around the old "blood curse." Gibson's film really panders to the flat-earth crowd, and thus doesn't really represent the mainstream of Christianity today. But inasmuch as its popularity seems to herald a resurgence of some of the old nastiness, it's something to get a bit worried over.

That the same people who are getting into a huge lather over Mel's movie are the same people who were quickest to defend Islam is pretty amazing -- seems to show a slight lack of perspective, at the very least. Call me naive, but I doubt the film represents anything like the threat that terrorism does.

Oh, just you wait till the film plays Poland. (Or France, for that matter.)

But again, some of the film's most prominent detractors -- Sullivan and Krauthammer -- have been quickest to condemn Islamist fundamentalism as a source of terror, and some of the film's most prominent supporters -- like the First Family -- were quick to state, after the 9/11 attacks, that Islam means peace.

Nick: The author of Mark is a very interesting storyteller, isn't he? He moves in fits and starts, fixing on irrelevant details and leaving major points entirely unexplained. I find Mark a compelling gospel -- it also happens to be the only one that (to my knowledge) hasn't been committed to film.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on March 11, 2004 1:05 AM

Coulter's piece on the Times and The Passion seems as smirkingly full of self-regard, arrogance, and bile and as empty of reason, coherence, and serious moral argument as everything else I've ever read by her.

I've read the Times daily for twenty years. I have no idea what Coulter means when she claims that "liberals"--by which she means the Times--"haven't the vaguest idea what Christianity is." Evidently she hasn't noticed Peter Steinfels "Beliefs" column, which has been running for ages, nor the Times frequent reporting of religious issues in its "Ideas" section.

The complaint by "liberals" isn't that Gibson should show a happy face Jesus (for Coulter, the liberals' ignorant icon of Christianity) rather than a suffering one ("real" Christianity). It's that Gibson uses cinema technology to evoke the sadistic torture and suffering of Jesus with absolutely unprecedented force. And that this representation constitutes unabashed rhetoric. And that this rhetoric has despicable political content and, very likely, consequences.

If the Times has emphasized over and over the peaceable character of most strains of Islam, its because most people still believe, as Coulter phrases it so delicately, that Islam's central tenet amounts to "kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed."

Coulter and Gibson share this in common: they both deploy a highly charged rhetoric designed to overwhelm thought and inflame outrage. I don't fear their absurd ideas in the slightest. But I do fear the potential for violent action by members of the crowds they enrage.

Posted by: Michaela Cooper on March 11, 2004 1:59 AM

Michael, I followed your link to the Rudnick piece. Y'know, for as light and silly as it may have been intended to be, I found it not only amusing but charming, and somehow touching. Especially that last entry, where Debbie realizes something way beyond her comprehension has happened. Good job, Mr. Rudnick.

Posted by: Dwight Decker on March 11, 2004 5:54 AM

Nick -- You write, "Is it a problem that Islam is off-limits? So is making fun of African Americans if you're not white." And I take you to mean that those arrangements are fine with you. We disagree about that. I think it causes terrible resentments and cognitive dissonances when some groups are allowed to have open season while others have to watch their step. Seems to me like elementary psychology: decent respect between groups can and needs to be shown. But when one group's allowed total freedom and another's hamstrung, it's a form of censorship, and instead of promoting civility it creates festering (and often uncontrollable) angers and hatreds. That strikes me as anything but liberal, let alone desirable. And I do have trouble with the idea that an organization that presents itself as an objective news source should play judge and enforcer where such matters are concerned. By the way, where did you get the impression that there was a plague of anti-Muslim violence in this country after 9/11?

James -- Did I suggest taking Coulter seriously? I take her as a rightwing Lenny Bruce, funny about as often as he was (maybe one in ten tries), and very occasionally hilariously on the money. Sorry if you don't share my taste for her humor, but I'm a long way from suggesting that anyone take her as a reasoned political thinker. As a comedian, though, I think she occasionally (very occasionally) hits something useful and valid on the head. Do you take issue with her two points here? (Ie., that the Times treats Christianity as something almost Martian in its strangeness; and that the contrast between how the Times has treated Islam post 9/11 and how they're treating Christianity circa "The Passion" is striking and weird.)

Tim -- I'm not defending the film, which I have no intention of seeing. I am questioning the overwhelming emphasis the Times has put on the movie's apparent anti-semitism, and I'm doing so from a news-centric p-o-v: there are many, many other sides to the story. A news organization has to be quite obsessed or quite blinkered (or both) to weight its coverage of a phenonemon like "The Passion" as extremely as the Times has. (And other news outlets, including the showbiz trades, have shown much more openness than the Times has to the story's other sides.) Whether or not the film might promote anti-semitism is obviously an important question and aspect of the story. But it's not the one and only thing about the phenomenon worth taking note of and discussing.

Michaela -- I guess we disagree about how the Times views the rest of the country. Though I honestly don't know how anyone can look at the Times and not be struck by what a bubble it often seems to live in. I'll cite Tim's "they're pretty clueless about Christianity" reaction as one piece of evidence -- he disagrees with me about much, but not about this. But really, I'm overwhelmed every morning when I look at the newspaper by how provincial their vision is. (Happy to agree that since Raines got canned and Keller took over the Times seems to have thrown open a few windows.) I come from mid-America, and I don't recognize the mid-America I know in their coverage of it. I find it funny, for instance, that they've seen fit to assign a reporter to the "conservative" beat. I mean, it's a step in the right direction. But it still bespeaks an attitude of, "well, there's this incomprehensible thing called conservatism and it's our duty as journalists to pay it a little attention." Good for them. But you wouldn't know that 50% of the country's pretty conservative, and has been forever -- it's strange to them, not normal. They're just waking up to the fact; aren't journalists supposed to be a little less clueless than this? So why not rib them a bit about their naivete and obsessiveness? I have to giggle a bit when you object to the movie because it overwhelms rational thought. Do you mean to say that you think movies shouldn't do that?

Dwight -- It's a funny piece, isn't it? When Rudnick goes full-length (in screenplays or plays) his weaknesses show. But when he writes short he's often charming.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 11, 2004 9:15 AM

I second Michaela Cooper on Coulter. And I'd say that Coulter and bin Laden and Khoumeni and Sharon and Advani in India all sing from the same hymn book. It's not a matter of conservative vs liberal—remember that Bush himself has out-Timesed the Times in his proclamations of Islam as a religion of peace. Personally, despite the fact that there probably arepeace-loving majorities in all the major religions, I find it difficult to think of any religion as a source of peace. Their histories and their centuries-old books are full of blood and hatred for the fanatics who choose to use them.

David, I loved Satanic Verses and thought it was hilarious, but it's the only thing of Rushdie's I've been able to read.

Posted by: Mike Snider on March 11, 2004 9:23 AM

Michael B—sorry for the double comment, but I wanted to acknowledge the justice of your comparison between Lenny Bruce and Anne Coulter. I might go so far as to say she's funnier, especially compared to Bruce's last years—but I prefer to ignore them both.

Posted by: Mike Snider on March 11, 2004 10:03 AM

Still, still ... I was left wondering: would The New Yorker run a humor piece that tried to get similarly impish laughs at the expense of, say, Judaism or Islam? Your hunch, please.

Hunch? Hunch? I don't need no stinkin' hunch. The answer is a stone cold lock NO. Of course they wouldn't - because they are gutless.

Keep up the good work out here. Great stuff.


Posted by: ZEKE on March 11, 2004 5:44 PM

I think Ms Coulter likes to jab that sharp stick into the eyes of fellows like Mr. Russell.

Well done madam.


Posted by: ZEKE on March 11, 2004 5:50 PM

Look here for some stats on post 9/11 violence. "[A]nti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 1700 percent during 2001."

If this is true (and note that there were less than 3 months after 9/11 for the statistics for the ENTIRE YEAR to raise 1700 percent!), then it behooves intellectuals, politicians, and the media to remind people that Muslims are not the enemy simply because they are Muslim. As Mr. Cooper has pointed out, Coulter says:

(as opposed to other religions whose tenets are more along the lines of "kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed").

The problem is that, despite the humor, this is understood half-earnestly, and it passively allows such irrational anti-muslim violence to take place.

Perhaps--I'm not sure--intellectuals like Coulter should recognize that they have a responsibility to not use such humor because it may perpetuate violence. People are easily influenced by the media, and aside from hate crimes there are a multitude of ways in which muslims, or south-east asians, can be the objejct of discrimination. There was a wave of violence and fear and it strikes me as fairly reasonable that individuals like George Bush felt compelled to emphasize that Muslims are not the enemy.


And yes, Mr. Blowhard, we disagree about racial taboos and such. Call me a hypocrite but I'll make fun of jewish people any chance I get. But if non-jews do it, then I don't think it's funny. Of course, there are some exceptions, I'll let close friends make fun of MY jewishness (but not third parties)...

What I see as the fact of the matter is that humor and language are tools of power. They enable us to form bonds, to form exclusive groups, to exclude other from privileged positions (in companies, in the media, in politics). This is why it is important, in my opinion, that marginalized groups are able to co-opt linguistic forms of oppression:

for example, that gay people can call themselves "fag" and african americans "nigger", and it is understood as totally inappropriate for anyone who is not part of that group to use the term. And this is for the simple reason that the terms outside of the group they designate are no-longer co-opted terms of empowerment, but rather original forms of oppression. Perhaps this is a bit tenuous and theoretical (not to mention, my god, "liberal"), but I believe the reality of the situation merits this explanation. I offer that you, Honorable Mr. Bloward, walk into South Central L.A. and endearingly refer to a stranger as a "nigger" and see what kind of reaction you will generate and then ask yourself whether such a reaction, based on the current and historical reality of racism against black peoplpe, whether such a reaction is justified or not.

So yay taboos.

Posted by: nick kallen on March 11, 2004 6:34 PM

Nick -- Take a look here. Try this too, here. They'll set your 1700% in context. There's been some question as well about how many of the reported anti-Muslim "hate crimes" might have been fabrications: see here.

You might also note what the hate crimes consisted of. I think the tendency is to imagine Matthew Shepherd horrors, but in fact more than half the hate crimes are described as matters of intimidation, followed by vandalism.

So, let's throw out a handful of bogus reports, let's subtract more than half to account for intimidation or vandalism ... Well, that leaves fewer than 200 moderate-to-serious hate crimes against Muslims in a country of nearly 300 million.

And how serious, exactly? Well, in the figures I found about hate crimes generally for 2002 (couldn't find 2001, sorry), out of the country's 7462 listed hate crimes that year (2500 anti-black, 931 anti-Jewish, and 719 of them anti-white, by the way), how many were murders? 11. That's considerably less than 1%.

Well worth addressing, of course, but, for my money, calling this a "serous problem" of "racial violence" is overdoing it. (And concluding that our media need to be taking strong moral stances rather than reporting the news ... Well, I don't know. Do you know people in the media? I wouldn't want to be taking moral instruction from too many of the ones I've known, though they're often good at digging up and reporting facts.) Sounds to me, to be honest, like the citizens of the US showed a lot of class. As I'm not the first to point out, Oliver Stone's movies have inspired more copycat violence, and have been responsible for more actual deaths -- yet Stone was for years a darling of the media.

By the way, there are lots of informal arrangements we make in order to get through the day. I can tease my sister, for instance, in ways that she and I would never allow anyone else to do; this kind of thing is true of many groups -- sports teams and school classmates as well as racial and ethnic groups. And respect for these kinds of arrangements is basic to the operation of society. What's offensive and potentially destructive -- what at least drives people pretty nuts -- is when rules are messed with by officials in order to favor one group over another, and when those rules (which are probably best left informal), are made formal, or enforced by authority figures. If a magazine editor decided that your neighbor's family could tease and insult you as freely as they tease and insult each other, but that you and your family were forbidden to respond in any similar way, how would that affect you?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 11, 2004 7:28 PM

Mr. Blowhard. Those links do set my 1700% in context, so thank you for pointing that out. They do not, of course, dismiss the fact that prejudice toward Muslims is and was a real problem in this country (the joke by Coulter is proof), and furthermore, we as Americans have a big public image problem to worry about: namely, that the rest of the world, and the muslim world in particular, harbors much antagonism towards us, and we should engage in as much "sweet talking" as possible so that our legitimate interests (in Iraq, in Iran) are not simply dismissed out of hand as racism and imperialism.

The very large anti-war protests immediately proceeding the Iraq war were mostly initiated by a Marxist group called ANSWER: "Act Now To Stop The War and End Racism". To say the least, I have no sympathy for this organization, but it has long occured to me that a lot of the world's antagonism towards the united states stems from the perception of our actions as racist, imperialist, about oil, etc. Our politicians (e.g., George Bush) and media are at their best when they employ rhetoric that makes such claims seem absurd.

As for self-imposed censorship of the media (Oliver Stone and what-not), I'm ambivalent and tend to favor freer discourse. Still, I tend to be less torn when the individuals are ignorant twits like Coulter and I think to myself: my, why don't they just shut up?

As for your family magazine analogy, my problem with it (and let me be clear that I'm fairly ambivalent about this issue) is simply that your two families do not have a history of lynching, slavery, etc., and a present reality of 1 in 5 black males in jail, the relative poverty levels of blacks to whites, the quality of public schools in black ghettos, etc. etc. If family 'B' had killed all the members of family 'A' and continues to make 'A's lives much harder than it ought to be; maybe 'B' forfeits their rights to joke about 'A's woolly haircut.

Posted by: nick kallen on March 11, 2004 8:29 PM

I don't want to hold either Oliver Stone or Mel Gibson responsible for acts that may be inspired by their movies. Doing so seems ideologically dangerous.

Posted by: Joperd on March 11, 2004 11:04 PM

"Kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed"? Oy vey. With bullseyes like these, you don't need misses, that's for sure. I feel like I've been slimed.

I recommend instead The Passion of the Christ: Blooper Reel by the brilliant Paul Ford.

IMHO, who's making cracks about whom isn't so much a social taboo problem. It's just that self-deprecation is very different that the deprecation of others.

Posted by: Franklin on March 12, 2004 7:31 AM

What doesn't Ann Coulter "quite get about Christianity"?

I'll assume, charitably, for the moment that the premise is some Christians sometimes have anti-Semitic thoughts. What anti-Semitic thought was spoken or otherwise clearly expressed by action, and who expressed the thought?

Posted by: P Murgos on March 12, 2004 12:31 PM

Michael, is it possible that there was so little violence against American Moslems 9/11 *because* there was considerable social pressure not to blame them for 9/11?

I thought the Rudnick piece was mostly tiresome--the idea that teenage girls are silly is nothing new.

I'm not impressed with Coulter. She can pretend that there wasn't a long tradition of Jewish anti-semitism, but it really did happen. I don't follow the Times regularly enough to judge their writing about the Passion.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on March 13, 2004 5:59 AM

Well, to kill the joke entirely by getting hyperexplicit ...

Crazy Islamic fanatics kill thousands of people, destroy billions of dollars of property, and change the entire gestalt of the country. The Times' reaction? To go on and on anxiously about how Islam is a religion of peace. (Highly debatable, by the way -- ask India's Hindus how peaceful they think Muslims are.)

A movie about Jesus becomes a sensation. The Times' reaction? To fret endlessly about how it's going to -- er, might -- provoke anti-Semitism.

The Times, in other words, is willing to cut the average Muslim a lot -- a heckuva lot -- more slack than it'll cut the average mid-American Christian. Actually, the proportions here are, ot my mind, comically out of whack -- thousands and billions vs. nothing reported so far.

Doesn't strike anyone else as all-too-characteristic of the Times' worldview? Ie., anyone with any connection to the third world deserves an infinite amount of understanding, where mid-American Christians have to be relentlessly policed.

Also -- separate issue -- why would anyone look to the Times for moral guidance? And why shouldn't we tease the Times for its moral pomposity, and its eagerness to play the lawgiver role. They may be an impressive newsgathering and newspresenting organization, but what special training do Times editors and reporters have in ethical counseling? Yet they're unbelievably fast to lecture the rest of us in how we should be viewing things. To my mind, the fact that they freak out at a Jesus movie yet counsel infinite understanding when terrorism strikes is a pretty convincing demonstration of how ethically clueless they are.

But I suppose people can disagree about this, sigh.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 13, 2004 12:00 PM

Michael, ok, when you unpack it that thoroughly, you've got a point.

So far, there's been some vandalism and insults based on the movie (see Divided Passions, March 11, at (and check out the first comment), but no physical attacks on people. You're quite right that at the Times, Moslems are being judged by their ideals (and even those may be somewhat sweetened for propaganda purposes) and Christians are being judged by the actual history of their religion.

Well, actually I'm not *quite* so sure that the Times consistantly leaves out Moslem violence--any Times junkies care to weigh in on the question?

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on March 13, 2004 3:22 PM

Realized that I should have put this in, but I hit the post button a little too fast.....

It's also quite true that Christian generally have cut way back on anti-Semitism. On the other hand, anti-Semitism (including the violent sort), isn't entirely dead yet.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on March 13, 2004 3:28 PM

If anything, self criticism is more legitimate than criticising others whom we do not understand. It is precisely comments such as this:

(... ask India's Hindus how peaceful they think Muslims are.)

That illustrate that we do not understand the issue very well; for example we ignore the enormous amount of anti-muslim violence in India--what was the name of that thousand-year-old Mosque razed in a riot a couple years ago? and what do you make of the culture of extreme hindu nationalism that put the current party in power(which turned out to be a good decision, incidentally)?--or the fact that India occupies all the valuable territory in Kashmir, despite that the territory is by majority Muslim?

This is really a political and economic conflict as much as it is a religious one. To blame it on Islam seems to me misplaced.

To my mind, the fact that they freak out at a Jesus movie yet counsel infinite understanding when terrorism strikes is a pretty convincing demonstration of how ethically clueless they are...

I don't think I can disagree with this argument except to say we all have a very peculiar way of interpreting the Times. I'm a Times junkie (of the movie section) and I didn't see them "freaking out". The movie generated a lot of controversy and so they dedicated, what, 4 or 5 articles to it rather than the normal 1. Not one of them, to my knowledge, condemned the film as being anti-semitic, although some included interviews of Rabbis and such who found the film such. A.O. Scott's review, which was "the final word", more or less dismissed the anti-semitism issue altogether but didn't like the film for cinematic reasons.

Really this is all much ado about nothing. It's, imho, a grave mistake to condemn or praise the Times based on all of our very shoddy recollection of articles that were printed over months and months by different authors years ago. As if there were only one viewpoint advanced by the Times. And are we identifying the op-eds with the Times too? Are we talking about what Safire said or Krugman or Dowd or Friedman? This debate is about as specious as it could possibly be, and smacks of being reactionary.

Posted by: nick kallen on March 15, 2004 4:00 PM

How anyone can even think of linking to Coulter with a straight face is beyond me. If you're into that kindergarten-level of name calling and bullying, then I really don't even know if a comment is worthwhile. The fact that she gets things right 1 out of 10 times is no proof of worth. A lot of complete idiots can match that rate of success.

As for Coulter's statement "liberals haven't the vaguest idea what Christianity is," she is absolutely clueless that

a. a heck of a lot of conservatives (i.e. non-Christian ones) probably don't know much about Christianity either, and

b. there are a vast number of liberal Christians in the U.S. especially in seminaries, where one finds the people who are most knowledgeable about Christianity. Read the Right Christians, Clutter and similar blogs for examples.
As for Islam, atheists like myself are against both Islamic theology and Christian theology. Why I Am Not a Muslim is very popular in the secular circuit.

(Warning: offensive paragraph ahead.)Religion is based on an irrational leap of faith anyway. Although the impact of the latter is infinitely worse, having faith motivate you to receive communion every Sunday is just as irrational having faith that crashing a plane into the twin towers will take you to heaven. At a basic level people who do the former who criticize the latter are just saying "It's ok to be irrational as long as you're irrational in my way."

And when it comes to condescencion, conservatives are just as bad as liberals.

Posted by: Chris Martin on March 15, 2004 6:17 PM

I was also astonished that you would even mention Coulter's name. But then again, we are all liberals here.

Posted by: David Sucher on March 16, 2004 8:32 AM

There are enough other things to make fun of, aren't there? We're a civilized nation, are we not? Then why are we impelled to abuse religion for amusement?
I must admit that Ann Coulter's piece is itself a joke, haha.
Chris Martin, I invite you to read the Quran itself(if you haven't) a bit of early Islamic history and then compare it for yourself with "Why I Am Not A Muslim". You'll find, as I did, that Ibn Warraq's work is full of glaring errors, crude assumptions and baseless generalizations presented under the guise of years-old research.

Anti-Semitism is hardly dead, it is certainly resurging in Europe. I haven't read the Gospels, but I'm curious to know the following: if Gibson's movie accurately depicts the narrative of the Gospels, then should his supposed negative portrayal of Jews be considered anti-Semitic? I'm no Christian scholar...but if Christians believe that Jesus died for their sins and that God had written crucifixion down as His "son"'s destiny...then does the identity of the villains in Christ's crucifixion matter? After all, Jesus wasn't supposed to commit suicide or die of natural causes...he was to be murdered (according to the Bible) Someone had to implicate him, yes?

Posted by: Fayez on March 16, 2004 2:51 PM

Fayez, you ask a very difficult question regarding the culpability of the Jews in Jesus' crucifiction. The argument from determinism has always been a bit problematic. There are plenty of instances in the bible where villains are not really culpable for evil behavior (e.g., the Pharoah whose heart was "hardened" by the lord).

Then again, textual analysis for the last hundred years has fairly convincingly argued that both the dialog by Caiaphus and Pilate in Matthew and the character of Judas were probably redacted into the Gospels fairly late in their development (which were probably orally transmitted long before they were written down), and almost certainly for the explicit purpose of condemning the Jews (who began aggressively persecuting the early Church not long after the destruction of the second temple (70AD) as a way to ensure the preservation of traditional Jewish culture). This must have happened sometime after the Pauline innovations (namely, after deciding that uncircumcised Gentiles could become Christian).

Each of the Gospels differ to some degree or another in how they represent the Romans and the Jews. Luke was presumably writing for a Roman audience and takes pains to represent the Romans fairly sympathetically (and he's less interested in condemning the Jews than Matthew), and to establish that Christianity is not an anti-colonial, revolutionary force.

Probably the "contradiction" most often discussed is that Jesus, in accepting Judas as a disciple, must have known that Judas would betray Him. Jesus knew he himself must die (cf., "Get behind me, Satan!") in order to be the redeemer. So, in some sense, Jesus chose Judas to betray him, and Judas was doing the Christ a service. The movie "The Last Temptation of Christ", deals with one interpretation regarding this; namely, that Judas was Christ's closest disciple and made the biggest sacrifice in betraying Jesus.

There is also a short story by Borges which argues along similar lines to show that in fact Judas was the Christ and not Jesus.

One is a great movie, the other is a great short story, you should read them (and also the Gospel of Mark, another great story). But even insofar as they engage in persuasive sophistry, it's fairly certain, based on historical evidence, that both Caiaphus and Pilate and Judas were depicted for the explicit purpose of placing culpability on the Jews.

Posted by: nick kallen on March 16, 2004 3:33 PM

Nick, from what I have read Fayez' question can be answered with a very simple, "No, according to the weight of Biblical scholarship, Gibson's movie is not an accurate recounting of the Gospels."

Of course why Gibson's "accuracy" is an issue at all I am not sure as I don't do nuance either.

Posted by: David Sucher on March 16, 2004 7:58 PM

A group of Jewish people murdered, out of religious zealotry, an innocent Jewish person. The retelling of such a story by a non-Jewish adorer of the innocent Jewish person still can, but not must, have an anti-Jewish purpose. One needs more evidence. Many non-Jewish people have used the story in an effort to demonize Jewish people. So it is quite possible the storyteller is anti-Jewish. However, many non-Jewish people tell the story in an effort to encourage all people to believe the innocent Jewish person died to save them from hell. The conclusion a person draws says something about the person rather than the storyteller.

Posted by: P Murgos on March 20, 2004 2:36 AM

Obviously, it's not popular to defend Ann Coulter, so that's why I'm going to do it. Obviously, not everything she says is to be taken seriously, but anyone who condemns her is missing the point in a strikingly obtuse way: she's the answer to decades of liberal abuse, and we conservatives are ready to match up insult for grievous insult. Also, if the liberals in this country showed as much anger towards Muslim fanatics as they do towards the average American Christian, people like her wouldn't be necessary.

Secondly, to illustrate another point, and you can take this from a man who is not Jewish, Christian or Muslim, the rise of Hindu nationalism in India is a DIRECT result of nearly 1,000 years of Muslim oppression and violence.

Lastly, I thank you people for having the intelligence to realize that the so-called "anti-war" movement is not anti-war, but pro-enemy.

Posted by: Dave Hughes on July 20, 2004 2:36 PM

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