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The Fashion of the Christ
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. B.L.T.
I've got a Jesus watch upon my wristThe Bible tells us to "Put on the whole armor of God...," so that we might protect ourselves from the "wiles of the devil." We wear our armor proudly, but strictly for protection, not to make a fashion statement. The term armor in this scriptural passage is used figuratively, functionally, but certainly not with reference to fashion. So why have manufacturers added fire to the flame of controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ by manufacturing, marketing and distributing all manner of The Passion of The Christ kitsch? These items reportedly include, but are not limited to, T-shirts; trinkets; and replicas of the nails that pierced Christ's hands in The Passion of The Christ.
Conservative Christian activist Pat Robertson, recently interviewed about the movie on FoxNews network's Hannity and Colmes, was asked about such products, some of which were linked to Mel Gibson himself. An avid believer in the legitimacy, cultural significance, and profound spiritual value of The Passion of the Christ, Robertson responded that he could only go so far in his support for the Hollywood actor and movie producer.
I'll let the theological clerisy debate the theological and historical accuracy of the movie and the degree to which it is fair in its portrayals. I'm simply a shrink who thinks in musical notes, and finds the idea of selling junk for Jesus a little bit like a note from a possibly well-intentioned tenor gone sorrowfully sour.
The two questions I wish to address from a psychological point of view are these: 1. Is it morally wrong to create fashion out of The Passion, and to make kitsch out of the Christ? 2. Are manufacturers of The Passion of The Christ mementos guilty of blasphemous, crass commercialism and opprobrious opportunism?
First of all, I feel compelled to answer this: Should a psychologist be addressing questions of a moral nature at all? Aren't such questions best left to ministers and priests? To effectively answer this question, one must only look into the cannon of psychological literature where Kolberg's stages of moral development find their permanent home. Kolberg is one of a multitude of seminal theorists in the field that have tackled questions of a moral dimension and have set a precedent for modern psychologists.. Jean Piaget is another prime example. Freud himself staked out moral territory for psychologists as legitimate ground when he introduced the notion of the super-ego, a primordial structure of boundaries, rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. It is a structure resembling what others refer to as the conscience.
Many psychologists have in fact contributed to the erosion of society by assuming a "PC" posture, and eschewing questions of a moral nature altogether. The sensitivity of many of my colleagues to environmental antecedents of behavior has contributed significantly to our understanding of human behavior and its contributing factors. However, such sensitivity is more often than not accompanied by an adamant refusal to hold individuals accountable for their actions. Jesus holds each of us accountable for our own wrongdoing. That's why he deemed it necessary to pay the ultimate price for our sins on the cross.
On the question of the morality as it applies to commercializing the cross of Christ, I look towards the original message of the gospel and how it was delivered. It was delivered with passion and compassion, not with fashion. Christians are called to be the salt of the earth. We are not called to be salt salesmen. So how does one draw the line between crass commercialism in the name of Christ and the legitimate use of religiously based products as a tool for spreading the gospel? Well, that question touches upon another legitimate domain for psychologists-motivation.
Jesus spotted the motivation governing the actions of the moneychangers at the temple who turned a place of worship into a marketplace. While there are distinct differences between the two sets of circumstances, I think we can glean from Christ's angry response to the moneychangers that Christ would be morally opposed to the idea of creating fashion out of The Passion, and making kitsch out of the cross on which he died. So, I ask again: Are manufacturers of __The Passion of The Christ__ mementos guilty of blasphemous, crass commercialism and opprobrious opportunism? Should we be going after those modern-day movie promoters who would milk this ground-making movie for all it's worth?
There is one difference between the psyche of Christ and the psyche of the common mortal man or woman. Christ could see the motives of those with whom he interacted. We, as mortal human beings, cannot possibly conclusively claim to know anyone's motives. At best, we can put forth hypotheses or educated guesses. In most cases, humiliating though it may be, that leaves us with no choice but to give others the benefit of the doubt. That is not to suggest that we must remain silent on the issue. There is certainly room for speculation about the motives of others. But we must proceed cautiously in our criticism, and preface our statements with some sort of acknowledgement of our limitations as mind- or motive-readers.
Now, before you think I am giving you a blank check, I have a few choice words left for all of you peddlers of "passion fashion" and "Christ kitch." Ask God to shine a light upon your motives, and examine your heart to determine if your motives are pure. If they are, proceed with dignity, not ignominy. Stay out of the morass of the crass. And if you find a single motive that would a way you away from the footprints of the savior, stop in your tracks and realign your mind to conform to the image of Christ..