- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Untutored viewers

“Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ … is scheduled for public release on Ash Wednesday. … It is a gross understatement to say it is an extraordinary film. …

“There is a complication, however, in that the film … portrays Pontius Pilate sympathetically. … So who are left as the really, really bad guys — the people who hated Jesus and were adamant that he be killed? By default, the answer is: the religious leaders and the mob they whip into a frenzy of bloodlust, all of whom are Jewish. But then, so are the members of the Sanhedrin who protest the proceedings, so are a large number of the crowd who are depicted as sympathizing with Jesus, so are Mary and the disciples and, above all, so is Jesus. …

“If the untutored viewer of ‘The Passion of the Christ’ comes away thinking that ‘the Jews killed Jesus,’ the fault is not with the film. The fault is with the many people, Christian and non-Christian, who do not understand the inescapably Jewish matrix of the story of salvation. For that failure, Christian teachers bear the chief responsibility.”

Richard John Neuhaus, writing on “The Passion of the Christ,” in the February issue of First Things

Skinny pills

“One day last September, as Britney Spears was about to board a flight to Los Angeles from London, a rectangular blue bottle fell out of her purse. She quickly stuffed it back in, but not before the paparazzi recorded the event. … Spears was apparently carrying Zantrex-3, one of the most popular weight-loss supplements currently sold in the United States. The pill, which retails at about $50 for a month’s supply, contains a huge dose of caffeine, some green tea, and three common South American herbs that also act as stimulants. …

“There are hundreds of similar products on the market today, and they are bought by millions of Americans. … Almost all of these compounds suggest that they can help people lose weight and regain lost vigor, and often without diet, exercise or any other effort. …

“People want to feel in control of their own health. Supplements, with their ‘natural’ connotations and cultivated image of self-reliance, let them do that.”

Michael Specter, writing on “Miracle in a Bottle,” in Monday’s issue of the New Yorker

No translation

“[A] program called CultureConnect run by the U.S. State Department … sends prominent American writers, artists and musicians to foreign countries to serve as ‘cultural ambassadors.’ And they, in turn, pick artists from those countries to visit the U.S. ‘It gives us a vehicle for people of good will to connect,’ says Patricia S. Harrison, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. She explains, ‘One easy way to do this is through art and music because you don’t need translation.’ …

“In the next several months the program will be sending cellist Yo-Yo Ma to South Korea as well as somewhere in the Middle East and singer Mary Wilson to Ethiopia, Oman, India and Bangladesh. … [T]hese artists will not just be giving a free performance and then jetting off to their next engagement. Rather, they will be meeting with high-school and college students in each of these countries, giving master classes and hosting discussions. …

“And in countries where young men and women are encouraged to believe their ‘place’ is to act as explosive material in the holy war against America, it’s hard to overestimate the utility of these conversations.”

Naomi Schaefer, writing on “Art as Diplomacy,” Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal

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