Music in a Countercultural Key

Six months after its theatrical release, The Passion of the Christ continues to drive its critics crazy. By "crazy," I mean into irrationality and incoherence. The film's commercial success, an estimated worldwide box-office of $600 million, only serves to ratchet up the hysteria. Case in point: The reaction to the recent DVD release of the movie. Critics once again labeled the film "anti-Semitic" and "cruel." Some of them even criticized director Mel Gibson for transgressing against Catholic teaching which, coming from secular liberal critics, is particularly galling. One magazine even gave The Passion a lower grade than the special edition of Showgirls, a film synonymous with words like flop and turkey. It's gotten so bad that The Passion, which many other critics praised, may not be submitted for Academy-Award consideration. In this atmosphere, associating yourself with The Passion of the Christ isn't a great career move. Yet that's exactly what some of the music industry's biggest names have done in a new album. The album is called "The Passion of the Christ: Songs." Each of the twelve songs was inspired by the artists' viewing of the film. Some of the songs, like "I See Love" by, among others, Steven Curtis Chapman, describe the impression The Passion left on the artist. Others, like "New Again" by country music stars Brad Paisley and Sara Evans, are musical re-creations of what happened in the film. Regardless of their respective approaches, Chapman, Paisley, Evans, and the rest have one thing in common: Their motives and intentions are certain to be misunderstood and/or misrepresented among some critics, just as Gibson's had been. Christopher Orr, writing in the New Republic Online, dismissed the idea of songs inspired by the film as a money-making gimmick, part of what he called Gibson's "blood money." Crude comparisons to Judas aside, apparently the idea that the film might actually inspire someone was beyond his imagining. Then there's the reviewer for the Cornell Daily Sun. He urged readers "not to purchase this shameful [product] that discretely commercializes our common faith." Never mind that, judging by the rest of his sacrilegious and profane piece, references to "our common faith" are almost certainly a sophomoric attempt at humor. What stands out about this bit of "music criticism" is that the author begins by admitting that he never listened to the CD! He didn't need to. He knew that there was no way that the musicians on the album could capture "Jesus' divine love and selfless suffering." Imagine if the tables were turned and Christians were caught in the act of panning a recording or film that they hadn't seen. Imagine if they mocked the beliefs of the artist in the process. The cries of "close-minded" and "bigot" would drown out the music. Yet, that's exactly what is happening here. This kind of hostility makes the recording not only an artistic act, but a courageous one as well. While it shouldn't be this way, it's gratifying to see that some people won't let the hysteria stop them from saying what many of us already know: The Passion of the Christ is a moving picture in more ways than one. For further reading and information: Lynn Vincent, "Scott Stapp's new creed," World, 25 September 2004. Listen to clips from the CD "The Passion of the Christ: Songs." Chris Orr, "Baser Passions," New Republic, 8 September 2004. (Article available to subscribers only.) Chris Kakovitch, "Roll Over, Jesus," Cornell Daily Sun, 16 September 2004. (Warning: profanity.) "The Passion of the Christ: Songs," review, Christianity Today. "Rock critic's song on Passion CD," BBC News, 8 April 2004. Larry Blumenfeld, "Is Mel Gibson Changing His Tune?San Francisco Chronicle, 14 April 2004. Henry Jenkins, "The Christian Media Counterculture," Technology Review, 5 March 2004. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040227, "Art that Transcends: The Passion of the Christ." BreakPoint Commentary No. 040406, "The Passion in Music: Two Versions of the Passion." BreakPoint has produced a helpful Viewer's Guide to use before and after watching The Passion of the Christ.


Chuck Colson


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