Jesus in Contemporary Culture: Part 4; Restraint and Masculinity (Skinner)

Muscle JesusOver the past three weeks, I have been blogging my way through a new course that I’m currently team-teaching with a colleague from my department. The course is called, “Jesus in Contemporary Culture.” Here are the first three installments if you need to catch up (1, 2, 3). On Monday our class finally finished watching The Passion of the Christ. Our past two sessions–Wednesday and today–have served as our “wrap up” before moving on to our next film, The Last Temptation of Christ.

During our Wednesday class, one of the students commented on Jesus’ “composure” just before and during the flogging scene. That scene in particular seemed to stick with students more than any other part of the film. The student was interested in how Jesus was able to remain so restrained in the face of cruelty, mockery, and suffering. As I was watching the Passion again this time, it hit me that there are some striking similarities between the torture Jesus undergoes and the final scene from Braveheart (another Mel Gibson film). In the scene in question (embedded below), William Wallace (played by Gibson) has been captured by the English authorities and is mocked and tortured relentlessly before being “drawn and quartered.” Just like the Passion, William Wallace’s last moments unfold before a bloodthirsty crowd that calls for his death. Just like the Passion, there are continued cutaways to Wallace’s followers who stand disguised in the crowd and stoically watch his death. Just like the Passion, Wallace displays both strength and defiance in the face of cruelty. And, just like the brief hint at resurrection at the very end of the Passion, there is a brief battle scene at the end of Braveheart that reveals the ultimate victory brought by Wallace’s death. In light of these parallels, it’s hard to deny the influence Gibson’s Christianity had on his shooting of Braveheart. (For what it’s worth, I think Simon Joseph’s recent blog post on Jesus in film is helpful and has some points of contact with my recent discussion here).

Today’s session was devoted to looking at Jesus and masculinity. We looked at Fight Club churches, some quotes about the “masculine Jesus” from prominent evangelicals like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, and other phenomena that emphasize a muscular Christianity rooted in a “punch-you-in-the-face” type of Jesus. There is little doubt that this conception of Jesus in contemporary Western culture influenced Gibson’s Christ who “takes his beating like a man.” Though we sought to problematize this understanding of Jesus and related conceptions of Christianity, many of our students indicated that these ideas were quite familiar to them.

I’m really looking forward to next week where we look at Willem Dafoe’s Jesus who is anything but “composed” and “restrained.” I’m hoping the contrast will spark some good discussion.