By Clyde Lewis

When the Blair Witch Project was shown in theaters people saw a depiction of what primal fear can do when a group of campers get lost in an "urban legend." I remember giving an off hand comment that perhaps the next step in film would be a "snuff film" where the brutal killing of an innocent victim would be so dramatic that it would cause a controversy. Mel Gibson has brought us closer to that idea with his new movie about the killing of a messiah.

When I was a child I remember going to the doctor’s office and in the waiting room there were these books that contained bible stories. They were graphic novels drawn in a style similar to John Cullen Murphy’s Prince Valiant.

These books were actually the first exposure I had to any biblical images. It was actually a sad day when I was told that I had to read the bible and realize that there were no pictures to help my young mind understand what I was reading.

There was a time that I looked for Christian imagery and iconography in order to feel closer to the gospel. What I was seeing was neat and clean depictions of men with well trimmed beards and clean clothes. Jesus had long flowing hair and a perfect beard. It was parted in the middle and his eyes were always drawn a bit larger and with a look of compassion.

Even the crucifixion was drawn showing Jesus with a proud face and the blood coming from the hands and feet was always minimal.

As I grew I was shown Hollywood’s version of the bible.

From the mind of Cecil B. Demille came "The Ten Commandments," and later there were other films like "The Greatest Story Ever Told" that gave a depiction of the mythological or the renaissance Christ that seemed less human and more godlike and sacred.

Jesus has always been depicted as the great white God, always tender, always meek and always right. All I knew of Jesus and the visual interpretation could be summed up by some Hallmark card that I would get at Christmas or at Easter.

It wasn’t until Martin Scorsese directed "The Last Temptation of Christ" that I saw Jesus in a way that was gritty and less neat. This created a rift amongst the true believers. I was working a news job at the time of it’s release and was given the assignment of covering the opening of the film in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was looking forward to it until the day prior to its release. The film was condemned by every religious denomination at the time because it showed Christ as a confused human being trying to find his divinity.

There were protests, boycotts, and in the case of the theater where I was to view it, bomb threats and vandalism to the theater’s large silver screen.

I received a call from the theater manager telling me that the print of the film was stolen and that vandals had broken into the theatre and carved a cross into the screen. He had a new print of the film sent to him and the screen had to be repaired with duct tape. The show went on as planned, however the theater had blown out its large doors and a wall was built with drywall making a small door where the Salt Lake City police stood with a "wand" checking patrons for guns and bombs.

When I arrived at the theater with my morning show partner Brett Connor we were yelled at and people would throw things at us as we waited to be frisked by the police.

The film was considered a malicious attack on Christianity.

I thought that the derision was a bit hypocritical. I felt that if the Christians were denying that Christ was a human being reaching divinity then all of them were heretics.

I actually was impressed with the scene where Jesus rose Lazarus. The tomb opens and the disciples fell to their knees in disgust because I am sure the smell of the rotting dead made them sick. Jesus played by Willam Defoe was interesting to watch as he commanded Lazarus to rise. He looked as if he was going to double over as Lazarus embraced him.

It seemed so real to me that I felt liberated to see Jesus acting like a human instead of an emotionless God that mimicked Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in Star Trek.

Now, our reality is about to take a giant leap because it is not enough to have the human Christ developing into a God, we have the Godlike Christ bleeding and suffering like a human in the new movie "The passion of Christ."

As I have said many times, the ultimate mental conundrum lies in the symbol of the dying Christ. It is awfully confusing to see a suffering and dying God on a stick and be told that it means that there is hope.

Sadly, it was Charles Manson who said it best:

"It’s an act, it’s all a fucking act, the only thing that is reality is death and then they put it on cross and they pray to it, that is the only reality people understand." –Charles Manson

In 2004 it is obvious that they will not only kneel down and pray, they will gather in long lines to watch in horror as the Christian god is exploited in what can be termed a "spiritual splatter" film.

I have been told my whole life that most Christians worship the living and resurrected Christ. In my life experience I am beginning to see it quite differently.

The new offering from Hollywood confirms my suspicions even more. I guess I will never understand the idea that in order to be a good Christian you must live under the constant horror of the torture symbol known as the cross.

It would be a harsh reality for dyed in the wool Christians that the symbol itself is a Babylonian symbol of the sun god and many historians debate that it shouldn’t have any association with the death of Christ.

"Crosses were used as symbols of the Babylonian Sun-god...It should be stated that Constantine was a Sun-god worshipper...The evidence is thus complete, that the Lord was put to death upon and upright stake, and not on two pieces of timber placed at any angle."-- EW Bullinger , The Companion Bible

The "cross" and to "crucify" are nowhere to be found in the Greek found in the New Testament. In fact the origins of the cross go back to the Babylonian God Tammuz. The cross is more or less a simulacrum to the mystic Tau or the initial to the Tammuz’s name. The Tau or T, in its most frequent form, with the crossed line lowered was adopted as pagans were allowed into the primitive churches to increase ecclesiastical prestige.

While it has been translated that Christ may have been impaled on a stake, it is also important to point out that upright poles or in the Greek tongue "stauros" could be attached with a beam to the pole making the cruciform symbolism. This would mean that Christ did not carry a cross at all but a crossbeam. It was later affixed to the "stauros."

Jesus was then forced to lie down on the pole, with his wrists and hands tied to the beam. Later his wrists and hands were nailed to the pole. Scriptural descriptions of the Crucifixion mention the nails in the palms because the people of that time considered the wrists to be part of the hands, along with the palms.

The wrists could support the upper body.

To support the weight of the body nails were driven into the feet. He was later lifted up and the pole was dropped into a deep hole causing the wrists and hands to rip.

The main effect of crucifixion was to make breathing difficult. It was more difficult to exhale. It is recorded that Jesus spoke from the cross. Which we can determine was very painful. His last words screamed from the cross probably caused Christ’s heart to fail, or even explode.

The point of this explanation is to illustrate that if all of the events happened in the 3 to 4 hours of his suffering he most definitely died on the cross. It is a horrific way to die and it was crucifixion was usually carried out on criminals and slaves. It is also a horrible picture to be formed in the mind’s eye and is a troubling visage to dwell on and yet I see that the focus on the "passion" (which literally means to suffer) causes one to feel unsettled and far from spiritual.

The dogma that Jesus died for the sins of mankind is one of the central tenets of Christian theology. However it should be stressed that his resurrection was a triumph and that without the ritual and the redemption there is no hope.

It seems that an overwhelming majority of critics and religious clerics have already painted Mel Gibson’s new movie as a 2 hour and six minute "Jesus meets Jason Chainsaw Massacre" focusing on the brutality over the triumph.

It has been called an assault on the spirit and even believers will squirm and suffer along with the movie and some feel that this is important to show their faith. Just prior to the opening day I appeared on the Rick Emerson Show while a CNN reporter reported that he saw the film and he declared that it was not for the faint hearted.

I had declared that I was torn about seeing a film that sounds like a film for death fetishists. I was torn in many ways because of my religious background, and my bitterness about the ratings system in the movie industry. I had been told about scenes where Christ’s ribs were exposed, slow motion bloodletting, flesh being torn from the body, and the crucifixion that leaves you feeling relieved.

If someone else had been tortured and killed in the film it would have received an "NC-17" rating, since it is an image of Christ it gets an "R" rating and it is recommended viewing for evangelical families. No matter that you have been warned. No matter that it is not for the faint hearted, bring the kids, the dog and your grandmother.

The morning of the film’s opening a rumor was buzzing around the newsroom that a woman had died while viewing the film at a screening in Kansas. I thought it was a bad joke that reminded me of the tricks that William Castle used to play on his audiences on opening day of his schlock horror films. Castle used to have people sign wavers that would not hold a theater liable if you just happened to die of fright.

It was no Joke.

It happened at a 9:30 Am showing at the Warren Theatre East in Wichita. Peggy Law, who apparently was a former television personality collapsed during the crucifixion scene.

She was pronounced dead from a heart attack.


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