Take a quick trip with me back to the mid-1980s. My first job post-uni I luck out. I make a lot of money twiddling test tubes on the Moomba gas fields in the Cooper Basin (South Australia’s mid-north, up near Cooper’s Creek, where Burke & Wills died).
Moomba is a hyper-masculine world. There are no women, and there are a few men avoiding the watchful eye of the constabulary in their home towns. We work fortnight-on/fortnight-off shifts (fourteen days in the field, fourteen days at home, repeat ad nauseam). It’s the embodiment of Australian ‘mateship.’ It’s also the embodiment of Australian boozing and brawling.
Fast forward several shifts. We newbies aren’t wet behind the ears anymore but we’re still spending more time together than with the old hands. A kid my age and I are having lunch in a transportable behind the main laboratory. His parents are Greek immigrants. My mother’s father escaped the Nazis in ’33 by jumping ship in Port Adelaide and staying on as an illegal immigrant. (He got legal by joining the army in ’39 and served in North Africa and New Guinea.)
I know about the kid’s Greek (and Greek Orthodox) background, because he wears it on his sleeve. I don’t know if he knows I’m Jewish. I’m not a closet Jew but I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve (or my head).
I don’t remember how, but the conversation turns to the then emerging AIDS crisis. It gets a bit tense. The kid’s homophobic and very quickly suggests AIDS is ‘their fault.’ I note that HIV is not ‘just a gay disease.’ Besides, blaming someone for being infected by a disease is like blaming the Jews for being caught in the Holocaust.
I’ve never forgotten his reply.
‘Maybe the Jews deserved it, too.’
I didn’t hit him. I didn’t shout at him. In fact, I didn’t say anything. I walked away and never spoke to him again.
So, do I think Gibson’s film will inflame anti-Semitic feeling? Do I think it will revive the deicide slander?
Yes, I do.
Do I think Gibson should be stopped? That the film should be banned?
Of course I don’t. Supporting freedom of speech means defending speech you don’t like.
Do I think Gibson has guts putting the film together in the first place?
The Western world is still Christendom. Christians of whatever denomination may disagree, but they’re distracted by details. Traditional Hindus decry the secularisation of India but that doesn’t make day-to-day life in India less culturally bound to Vedic myths and traditions.
Similarly in the West. People living here may be woefully undereducated about their religious traditions and mostly clueless about history and theology, but Westerners still equate ‘religion’ with Jesus and Christmas and ‘good will to all [people who look like me or at least dress like me and use the same civil calendar]’.
Making a gory film which says Jesus was the coolest guy ever is about as gutsy as singing a be-bop version of the US national anthem at a US baseball game. It’s different but hardly threatening to the pre-conceived notions the audience has about the material.
For myself, I’m glad Gibson’s film is fomenting the reactions it is. I’ve never trusted the whole post-Vatican II ‘Jewish-Christian relations’ schtick. 2,000 years of slander and blood and murder and suddenly it’s ‘all’s forgiven, we really like and respect you guys?’ Yeah, right.
If Gibson’s film reveals a festering anti-Semitism just under the surface of Western society, I’m all for it. It’s always good to know who your enemies are.