There's also a culture-war aspect to the film. Christians are very much aware that they are increasingly held in contempt by so many in the elites and the arts community. This treatment is everywhere, and runs from anti-Christian plays and movies to dung-and-porn-covered madonnas and attempts to degrade Christians symbols and rituals, such as the ridiculous and swishy Jesus figures in gay parades. After a year-long campaign to destroy Gibson's movie before anybody had seen it, the New York Times ran a review of the film that compared "The Passion of the Christ" to a Simpsons episode. What are the odds that a Times reviewer would compare a serious black play to an episode of Amos and Andy?
Many Christians were clearly relieved that "The Passion of the Christ" wasn't yet another attempt to trample their values. In this context, the hundreds of millions of dollars that "The Passion of the Christ" is ringing up amount to a large cultural statement. The columnist Mark Steyn nicely jabbed at the elites this way: "All those liberal columnists who champion the necessity of brave transgressive artists when it comes to giving us a horny Jesus (The Last Temptation of Christ), a gay Jesus (the Broadway play Corpus Christi), or a Jesus floating in the artist's urine ("Piss Christ") have finally discovered a Jesus it would be grossly irresponsible to show to the public."
On anti-Semitism: a survey released last week by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research reports that Gibson's film is not producing resentment against Jews and may actually be reducing anti-Semitism. According to the survey, 83 percent of people familiar with the film say it made them neither more likely nor less likely to blame Jews today for Jesus's crucifixion. Two percent said they are more likely to blame Jews. Twelve percent said the film made them less likely to do so.
The numbers in the poll were small. It was done in early March when only 146 of the 1003 people surveyed had actually seen the film. But the results are an indicator that the dire predictions of a big wave of anti-Semitism were wrong. Some 40 to 50 million Americans have seen the film, and the mainstream press still seems to be awaiting an explosion of anti-Jewish feeling among Christians. It hasn't arrived. I don't think it will.