Monday, March 01, 2004

Under Southern Eyes

Dean Bocobo at Philippine Commentary has a unique perspective on the controversy surrounding the Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. He describes how Filipino penitents re-enact the Crucifixion to the extent of having themselves actually nailed to a Cross. Although no vital damage is ever done, the process is still pretty painful. Bocobo has attended a re-enactment featuring not just one, but 10 Crucifixions including one involving a Belgian nun. He may even post up a video of it at some point.

There are three points to be made in this respect. The first is that most American and European Christians will find the Filipino Lenten practices about as incomprehensible as non-Christians may find the cinematic rendition of Jesus' sufferings. The second is that the Filipino penitents are entirely sincere in their devotion. The inability of Westerners to understand this Filipino tradition in no way reduces its value to the people of that Archipelago. The third is that anti-Semitism is wholly unknown, indeed, incomprehensible to Filipinos for the simple reason that they have never encountered Jews in any quantity. The average Filipino has never nor will probably ever meet a Jew. Anyone who takes the trouble to view a Filipino Lenten commemoration will see Romans depicted as the villains and the Jews -- in one glorious lump including "the Apostles, Mama Mary and the other Mary the Magdalene, Pilate, Caiphas, Barabas (he was loudly cheered), Judas, and of course Jesus Christ himself" -- played by the townspeople themselves.

Most Christians now live in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  They far outnumber the dwindling congregations of Western Europe. The vast majority of Third World Christians know nothing about the historical conceptions of anti-Semitism -- the Ghetto, the Pogrom, the Holocaust. To a very large extent, the debate over the anti-Semitic content, or lack thereof, in The Passion of the Christ is not between modern day Christians and Jews, but across a fault line in Western and Middle Eastern history.