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Two opposing world views.

Occasionally the impact of something requires time to settle; one does not appreciate its full significance until later. Such is the case with two events: Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, and the bizarre cannibalism case in Germany. And there is a connection.

The Passion

I originally saw The Passion only because I had agreed to discuss it on a television program. On the program I advanced several criticisms (the seemingly unending scourging; the ludicrous portrayal of Barabbas; the representation of the high priest, Caiphas, as bloodthirsty rather than calculating, etc., etc), all of which, in retrospect, seem to me fair but beside the point. Yes, the movie is flawed; more important, it is powerful and noble, and it conveys the 12 hours of Jesus' Passion in a way that one no longer hears about in the modern milquetoast, feel-good church. For that reason, Christians should see it.

A twenties-something couple left the theatre immediately ahead of me; "Well, I didn't get anything out of that," he said; "No," she agreed "a complete waste of time." If these two are representative, the film will have a negligible impact on the secular young. Those who expected that Gibson's movie might spark a "great awakening" will be disappointed.

But for Christians, particularly in those denominations that still recite the ancient church creeds, the words "suffered under Pontius Pilate" will never again fall trippingly off their tongue or be recited by rote. What Gibson's Passion does, if nothing else, is to drive home how great was the sacrifice Jesus made on Calvary.

I have encountered no Christian who, having seen The Passion, regrets having gone. But I met some who did not go. Their reluctance is understandable. It is an almost unbearable film to watch. I would not go again. But nor would I have missed it.

It might seem a blasphemous leap from The Passion to the case of Armin Meiwes and Bernd Brandes, but it is not; the German cannibalism case represents the triumph of a worldview Jesus died to oppose.


It was three years ago that Meiwes placed an Internet ad seeking "a young, well-built man" willing to be eaten. Brandes responded. They met and Meiwes ate Brandes. Last month Meiwes was sentenced to eight years in jail.

This case poses problems for liberals. They assert that criminal law must be concerned only to prevent harm to unwilling victims. This is why liberals oppose laws against so-called "victimless" crimes, like prostitution. If the putative "victim" consents, then why object?

Strip criminal law of its normative content; disabuse your mind of any notion of natural law; remind us that we are autonomous, evolved animals, not creatures made in the image of a loving God; bang on endlessly about how we now live in a secular, pluralistic society--and just why should one man's meat not be another man's flesh? Just don't hurt an unwilling victim. Indeed, that was part of Meiwes' defence; his lawyer said his client "killed on request." Brandes wished to die, and Meiwes simply accommodated him.

Of course, a liberal might say that certain practices are inherently repulsive, cannibalism being one. But if all one can advance are aesthetic objections, then one is immediately met with the response that tastes differ, tastes are highly subjective and idiosyncratic. If, as Pierre Trudeau famously observed "The State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation", well, perhaps the State should stay out of the kitchen too. "Different strokes for different folks" is the nearest we have to a creed in liberal Canada.

Charles Colson recently wrote: "Once we stop believing in the sanctity of human life, or in the dignity of each person created in the image of God, or in an absolute moral law, how can we argue with an individual's decision to throw away his own life? How can we ask the state to step in to protect his life, to save him from himself?"

In the U.S. Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v Casey, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

Armin Meiwes took the Supreme Court literally. Meiwes defined, and then ate Brandes out of existence. What's wrong with that? In a post-Christian world, nothing.

Mel Gibson's Passion tells us that everything is wrong with that. But the film's message may resonate only with those who already understand why.

Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the U.W. O, London Ontario
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Title Annotation:Columnist
Author:Hunter, Ian
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
Previous Article:Corrections.
Next Article:On "Being Eucharist".

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