Jay Michaelson
Passion and Violence, p.5

John Locke said, three centuries ago, that there are different kinds of decisions we make in our lives, and different criteria we should apply to each. If believing that you are the Messiah is purely an internal matter, and has no impact on others, then Locke says, you are entitled to act on that belief without much skepticism, if you like. However, if you are going to act in a way that affects others, you should only act publicly regarding that of which you are certain, and which can be externally proven.

This accords with the contemplative path as well. Our personal religious enthusiasm, our mysticism - we may be certain of these, but what do they mandate of us other than love? It is when religion becomes attached to myth - whose details we can only be certain of through an leap of personal faith, i.e., not verifiable, not externally provable - that other mandates are created. Those are precisely the mandates which, says Locke, must be strictly examined and made to conform with reason. No one died as a result of mysticism. People die when mysticism is married to myth, religion, and power, without ample compassion, wisdom and skill to counterbalance them.

We may feel most certain when we are angry, inflamed by violent imagery. But that is precisely the worst time to act. In fact, it is precisely the time to question. Therefore, it is neither skillful, nor wise, nor compassionate to invite people into a movie theater and broil up their passions in the context of a myth with living enemies. If anything, it is irresponsible. Let go of doubt when you are dancing, praying, or painting. Invite it back in when you are thinking of harming another - or inflaming his passions with a heartfelt but deeply disturbed vision of Divine sacrifice.

I feel the power of Christ myself, although I do not generally express it in those mythical terms. I feel the presence of forgiveness in my own life, and understand how it is possible for a perfectly enlightened being to be the Son of God. It is, in a way, a beautiful myth, and I was inspired by its rendition in The Passion. But because that power of Christ, the power of the One, is married to a myth of violence, and a myth with venal enemies of whom I myself am one, I fear the film much more than I love it. It is as if a great inspiration and also a great evil has been simultaneously unleashed on the world.

Gibson's often brilliant film illustrates much of what is beautiful about religion, and much of what is terrible about it. The radiance, healing, and love that are born of mysticism, and also the violence and the hatred that spring from it, nourished by it, when that energy becomes attached to a fixed and fundamentalist myth. And most of all, the power, the strength, the source of the ecstasy and of the evil: passion.

[1]       [2]       [3]       [4]       5
Image: Salvador Dali, Christ of St. John of the Cross

For a printer friendly version of this article, click here.

Jay Michaelson is Chief Editor of Zeek Magazine and author of Antilawyerism, Antisemitism, and the Secret History of the Soul.

Related articles:

Harvard Death Fugue:
The Exploitation of Bruno Schultz
Prof. James Russell
Historical revisionism and the new antisemitism in academia.
January, 2004

You are God in Drag Jay Michaelson
Notes from and after retreat
February, 2004

Thinking Despite Doubt, Feeling Despite Truth Jay Michaelson
Between contemplation and affirmation
January, 2004

Are the Ten Commandments Really Carved in Stone? Joel Shurkin
The ambiguous truth behind the two stone tablets, recently removed from Alabama's judicial building.
December, 2003

French Antisemitism Michael Shurkin
Is France Antisemitic?
November, 2003

Surrender Niles Goldstein
November, 2003

No Pulp Dan Friedman
The superficial thrills of Kill Bill
November, 2003

Primal Scream Judaism Temima Fruchter
October, 2003

Radical Evil Michael Shurkin
Bernard Henri-Levy on the death of Daniel Pearl
September, 2003

More than This Dan Friedman
Lost in Translation: A snapshot of the evansescent
October, 2003

With a Bible and a Gun Samuel Hayim Brody
The prophetic justice of Johnny Cash
October, 2003

Holocaust Video Testimonies Dan Friedman
The other reality TV
August, 2003

The Red-Green Alliance Dave Hyde
The weird and worrying links between the radical Left and the Islamist Right
April, 2003

Germanophobia Michael Shurkin
Fearing the Germans for the Wrong Reasons
April, 2003

When I Met Humility, I Saw Letters Abraham Mezrich
June, 2003

Constriction Jay Michaelson
Dick Cheney and the New Age
March, 2003

What the World is... Jay Michaelson
...and what to do about it
February, 2003

On Being a Leftist and a Zionist Jay Michaelson
It's a lonely world when you're both an anti-globalization leftist and a Zionist.
May, 2002

9/11: Tony's Story Dan Friedman
CBS's packaging of the '9/11' documentary reveals exactly what America fails to understand about September 11.
April, 2002

Mystical Nazi Sex Gods Jay Michaelson
What draws protesters to banal holocaust art?
April, 2002

Skepticism Does Not Exist Jay Michaelson
With stories today about space aliens and the power of prayer, what are the limits of your enlightened skepticism?
March, 2002

March 2004

Passion and Violence
Jay Michaelson

A Song of Ascents:
The News from San Francisco
Sarah Lefton

Bush the Exception
Samuel Hayim Brody

The Wrong Half
Margaret Mackenzie Schwartz

God Had a Controlling Interest
Hal Sirowitz

Eliezer Sobel

Josh hosts a party
Josh Ring

Our 450 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
Winter 2003-2004 issue now on sale!

About Zeek

News & Events

Contact Us

Tech Support



From previous issues:

Eminem & Class Rage
Dan Friedman

yom kippur
Sara Seinberg

Abraham Mezrich