Passion of the Christ

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Date Submitted: 11/14/2012 11:26 AM

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Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League declared recently that Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is not antisemitic, and that Gibson himself is not an anti-Semite, but a "true believer."

This doesn’t mean Foxman is a fan of the film, or of Gibson. Foxman has been one of the film’s most outspoken critics; he has described the film’s portrayal of Jews as "painful to watch," and expresses worries that while the film is not itself antisemitic, it may fuel latent antisemitic sentiments in some audience members.

Another reason for his concern, interestingly, has to do with Gibson’s Traditionalist-leaning antipathy toward Vatican II and John Paul II — two touchstones of Catholic opposition to antisemitism. Although Gibson, unlike his sedevacantist father Hutter Gibson, appears not to be in schism from Rome, the younger Gibson does have Traditionalist sympathies that worry Foxman, who reasonably enough would like to see modern-day Passion plays be in the spirit of Vatican II and John Paul II.

Yet Gibson recently unequivocally denounced antisemitism in a prime-time interview with Diane Sawyer, declaring that "to be antisemitic is to be not Christian," and Foxman appears willing to take him at his word.

These are positive, constructive steps. For their part, Catholics and other Christians need to recognize that antisemitism is more than a mere canard or bogeyman.

Scapegoating "the Jews"

Though much atrophied from what it once was, and much more a fringe phenomenon, antisemitism continues to exist today. Readiness to blame "the Jews" for a raft of social, economic, and political crises, from the war in Iraq to anti-Catholicism in Hollywood, is still with us. Probably most common in Islamic and Arabic circles, it can still be found among Christians as well, both Protestant and even, despite magisterial condemnations, Catholic as well.

An extreme if vivid illustration was recently provided by vitriolic comments in the media recently from Gibson’s...