Theology students at Glasgow University have been told that they can leave lectures if they find images of the Crucifixion too upsetting. This is under the system of “trigger warnings”, the latest manifestation of the belief that nobody should ever be upset or offended and that all the world must be a “safe space” free of statues of people we don’t like, of opinions with which we disagree, where rudeness is criminalised rather than regarded as ignorant and where hurt feelings can be turned into cash.
Any theology student who cannot cope with the Crucifixion should change course pronto, and my first reaction to the reports of the university’s policy was one of irritation. My next was to think that the reason the Crucifixion comes as a shock to some is that we are surrounded by bland images of it from the moment we can identify objects. People wear small discreet crucifixes, churches display large ones, as do convents and monasteries, and Dracula is always defeated by one. Frequently the cross is bereft of its victim and, while widely recognised as the symbol of Christianity, it is shorn of the horror of its true meaning.
Perhaps then, it does come as a shock to be forced to focus on what a Roman crucifixion actually meant. If so, it is a shock which we should all endure, perhaps by steeling ourselves to watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.
I first saw it at a pre-release screening for film critics, having been asked to write a press article about it. It is unlikely that many of that audience were committed Christians, but at the end everyone left in silence. The only other time I have known a cinema empty in complete silence was after Schindler’s List.
The realism of the film was appalling, but accurate. If you are flogged half to death, have thorns jammed down on your head and nails driven through your hands and feet, then you will bleed copiously. Your features will contort in agony. You will groan and cry out. Mel Gibson did for the Passion what Spielberg did for war in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan – he brought home its real horror.
So, yes, some will be shocked by contemplating exactly what Christ endured, but that might get them thinking about why He did it, which is no bad thing. Perhaps the secret to getting the message across is to forget to be bland and to set out to shock.
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