For some, Ash Wednesday – the first day of the 40-day season preceding Easter – will not begin in church, but in movie theaters.
Although many Christians say the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” released today, will allow them to reflect on their faith, others say the film might cause anything from meaningful conversation to violence.
The movie, which depicts the 12 hours leading up to Jesus Christ’s death, has drawn criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group. The group said the film might incite violence against Jews.
“The cross, for Christians is a symbol of redemption, and for Jews is a symbol of oppression,” said Stephen Feinstein, director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
Historically, European audiences of passion plays – which depict Christ’s crucifixion – left upset and acted out against Jews, Feinstein said.
Jewish fears are rooted in that history, said Sarah Stein, a Jewish student and cultural studies and comparative literature senior.
“This is supposed to be a film rendering of the passion plays,” Stein said. “I’m not saying that would happen in America, but I think the nervousness is from that history.”
Today, the number of Aryan churches, including those in Minnesota, is increasing, Feinstein said.
“I think the country is angry now and it has potential for violence,” Feinstein said. “There is fear that the violent nature of this film is enough to animate people against Jews.”
Feinstein said he hopes that does not occur.
Jewish first-year student Brett Willner said he is not worried that the film will cause much violence, but the few people who dislike Jews might use the film as further ammunition.
Christian and Jewish students alike are quick to point out that Christ was a Jew.
“I’m going to be the first one to admit that I’m the reason he’s on that cross,” said marketing junior Charlie Schaller, a Campus Crusade for Christ member. “I’ll assume responsibility over a Jewish person.”
In addition to worries about resulting violence, questions about the film’s graphic depiction of Christ’s death have also been raised.
Although his group is promoting the film, Campus Crusade for Christ staff member Bob Fuhs said it is not for everybody.
“For some folks, it is just too much emotionally and psychologically,” he said.
The film must be graphic to tell the story accurately, said Thao Giang, a sophomore and member of the Christian student group ALIVE Campus Ministry.
“That’s reality,” Giang said. “You can’t hide all the blood.”
Joe Son, an ALIVE Campus Ministry member, said he thinks concerns about the film’s graphic nature and potential for violence result from people trying to minimize the movie’s statement.
“They want to find what’s wrong in this film,” said Son, a North Central University student in Minneapolis. “They want to play devil’s advocate to make this movie less than what it actually is.”
Son said he sees the film as a tool for evangelism, a view Feinstein said some Jews fear.
Feinstein said Christians might attempt to use the film to convert Jews to Christianity.
“Many Christians see fulfillment of their faith in conversion of the Jews,” Feinstein said.
The potential for proselytizing does not concern Scott Jackson, a statistics senior and a Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists member.
“I think that people who go to the movie know what they’re expecting to see,” Jackson said. “I can’t see it as proselytizing because it’s voluntary to go to it.”
Jackson said he will probably see the movie because biblical events make for an interesting story, but he does not believe they have religious meaning.
For Mike Jones, Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists president, the film will bring nostalgic feelings of his Christian upbringing, he said.
He said he is looking forward to an entertaining, well-produced movie that will likely launch many conversations.
“I’m sure it’ll be interesting,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of talk about it.”
It is not surprising the film has been so controversial, said Roland Delattre, a retired University professor who taught courses on religion in the United States.
Delattre said if people are truly committed to their religions, their faith will likely cause conflict. Commitment to religious beliefs is often very strong, he said, “Otherwise, they’re not really worth holding.”
For viewers such as Giang, facial tissue might be a necessity when watching the film.
“When I think about it, I get teary-eyed,” Giang said. “I’m very excited to see it, but I think I’m going to cry.”