Mel Gibson needs to have less passion and more compassion

Passion is a wonderful thing. Some say it is the antidote to our lives that are otherwise filled with tedium, ordinariness, routine and obligation. Without passion, life would hardly be worth living. A soul stirred is a soul alive, and if you’re lucky something or someone has stirred you at one time or another. But excessive passion — especially in matters of religion — can easily morph into zealotry. Too much passion — like too much salt — runs the risk of ruining the soup.

It’s easy to spot the religiously zealous. They can hardly contain themselves or their passion. They are expansive and expressive souls who very much want to bring you under their tent. They have an air of certainty and sureness about them that is often charismatic. It can be mesmerizing being with someone who absolutely knows the truth. You want to believe, too.

True believers know that they have been touched by or spoken to directly by God. They want you to know it, too. They will tell you about their transformation many times over — whether the opportunity presents itself or not. They have an urgency to change and enlighten you. They really want to get the word out.

Once you’ve been reborn, your life is purposeful and clear. Gone are the uncertainties and doubts. You now know what God wants — for you and everyone else. Your life becomes a mission. At the top of your “to do” list is the need to show others the way.

It’s compelling. You’ll tell friends, family and even strangers. A great day is convincing or converting another to your thinking. Saving people is a rush. You help another see what was previously obscured or hidden. It feels very good. I’m told it can be better than sex.

Mel Gibson is a true believer. He wants to save your soul, the souls of millions, in fact. He’s the child of true believers, as well as true unbelievers in the Holocaust. He’s also very handsome. He doesn’t look anything like those folks handing out the WatchTower or screaming into a megaphone on some street corner.

He’s a movie star. A lady’s man with lots of money. He spent $25 million of his own money and wants to get his message out in his new movie. He doesn’t need a megaphone. He has access to movie cameras and digital editing machines and sound rooms and knows just how effective the medium is. And boy is it effective. Just ask anyone who is greatly admired and respected, like Atticus Finch, I mean Gregory Peck. They’ll tell you how effective the movies can be in getting across images and making them stick.

Gibson has passion. Lot’s of it. But he doesn’t seem to have a lot of compassion. Why? Because he doesn’t seem to care about the likely consequences of his new film, “The Passion of the Christ.” He insists on telling a story. His version. One that is seriously flawed historically (he has acknowledged that it is his amalgamation of four Gospel stories) and one that portrays Jews as the bloodthirsty killers of Jesus with Pontius Pilate as their hapless stooge. In doing so, Gibson returns to the centuries-old Jewish deicide image, graphically and shamelessly.

Gibson certainly has the right to make any picture he chooses. That’s not the issue. The real question is not about artistic license or the First Amendment. The issue is whether making it is the right thing to do. In this respect the issue is relatively simple: Would Jesus or any compassionate Christian make a movie depicting Jews as bloodthirsty conniving murderers if he or they knew — or even suspected — that the movie would increase hatred toward Jews?

Would Jesus, or any compassionate Christian, knowing that for 2,000 years Jews have been vilified and persecuted as “Christ-killers,” add to the pot? Even were Gibson’s account absolutely true, which it isn’t, is the telling of it the Christian thing to do? Does Christianity need more suffering? Wasn’t Jesus’ death enough? Wasn’t that the point? Didn’t Jesus voluntarily take on mankind’s sins and allow his own crucifixion so as to take onto himself the sins of mankind? If so, why was there ever a need to blame anyone or any group? Why do so now?

Gibson has the right to tell his story. He also has the right, I suppose, to try to reverse the last 40 years of attempted reconciliation between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews. But why and to what end? How important is Gibson’s truth? Is it useful or helpful? Is it needed?

It is strange that amid all Gibson’s talk of the “Passion” there is so little concern about compassion. A meditation teacher I know reminds his students that it’s “better to be a Buddha than a Buddhist,” better compassion than passion. I think Jesus would agree and I have my doubts whether he would like Gibson’s new movie.

Maybe we all need to pray for Mel Gibson.

Ian Zimmerman is a lawyer practicing in San Francisco and former host of the weekly radio show “Law Talk.”