The dark gospel of Martin Scorsese

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The dark gospel of Martin Scorsese In his infamous lecture, 'Why I am Not a Christian' – presented 80 years ago this month – Bertrand Russell remarked that the word Christian "does not have quite such a full-blooded meaning now as it had in the times of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. In those days, if a man said that he was a Christian it was known what he meant … Nowadays it is not quite that." This comment reflects the state of atrophy into which Christianity has descended, the continual process of being alienated from its own essence, of growing ever more vague and indistinct.

And yet it is truly a peculiar aspect of our time that shards of a lost authenticity can be found in the most 'anti-Christian' of sources. As Marx put it, referring to Feuerbach: "Shame on you, Christians, both high and lowly, learned and unlearned, shame on you that an anti-Christian had to show you the essence of Christianity in its true and unveiled form!" Perhaps one of the paradoxical tasks left to us, then, is to try to make out the truth in the likes of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, or buried deep in the pages of Darwin’s scientific notebooks, or even amid the moving images of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

There is a disturbing dimension to Scorsese’s films that is far more profound than just on-screen violence. It is conveyed by the stark inelegance of the cinematography, the absence of warm tones, the chilling sense of an austere world in which kindness, let alone love, is not possible. Scorsese’s is a fallen world. Like Cain, his tortured characters are driven further into the wastelands – whether the desert or the untamed streets of New York – by their acts of almost mythical violence, until any remaining vestige of hope or virtue is finally extinguished.

And it is in this world that Scorsese conceived his own Christ. Drawing inspiration from Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ presented a radically different version of the Jesus story than other, more sanitized depictions. Scorsese’s Jesus, like all of his protagonists, is a tortured soul, haunted by a divine vocation that brings with it, not enlightenment, but darkness, confusion, oppression.

Jesus’ experience of God is of an expansive, entirely free presence that can no more be apprehended by the young Galilean’s marginalized psyche than it can by the temple in Jerusalem. The psycho-spiritual journey of the film, then, is not toward some deep sense of Jesus’ 'secret identity', a clearer realization of who he is and what he must do, but rather away from any such security. He is plunged into the divine void, and need only be willing to resign himself to it to find salvation, and sanity.

The dark gospel of Martin Scorsese This is where the film’s near fatal weakness lies: it reduces Jesus’ message to an anti-establishment spiritualism, or even vulgar pantheism over against the rigid formality of Jewish ritual. (As Jesus puts it at one point in the film, 'God is an immortal spirit who belongs to everybody, to the whole world!') By casting God as an all-embracing life spirit, rather than some tribal deity, the film locates the critical opposition as being between Jesus’ free spirituality and Judaism’s stale religion.

But although The Last Temptation of Christ is undeniably wrong here – in the Gospels, Jesus sets the conflict within Judaism itself, between the holiness code and prophetic traditions – the film in equal measure gets something remarkably right. A strong temptation did bedevil Jesus his entire life, one that was fully as much domestic and familial as it was national and political. And while this temptation wasn’t purely internal, neither was it entirely external, for it went to the heart of Jesus’ self-understanding.

Take, for instance, the Gospel of Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. What is usually missed in those banal readings of this account is that the expectations and birthright of the messiah – refracted here through allusions to Psalms 2 and 91 – are themselves presented as temptations, and from the devil’s own mouth, no less! The effect of this outrageous assertion is that one is forced to reinterpret Mary’s and Zechariah’s hallowed songs – both of which eagerly anticipate the coming deliverance of Israel from its Roman oppressors – as nigh on 'satanic utterances'.

Jesus’ refusal was an absolute rejection of the notion of 'messiah', and thus of his family, his nation, and ultimately, of that God known as 'Yahweh' – an implication perfectly captured by Scorsese’s Jesus when he cries, "God is not an Israelite!" The prophetic path on which he then embarked was one of urgent warning: that the nationalized structures of holiness and resistance will lead unavoidably, not to deliverance, but to the destruction of Jerusalem. And it was the necessity of this protest – which entailed an altogether different conception of God, defined by mercy, but whose dark purposes include his own death – that was burned indelibly into his self-understanding.

Jesus’ crucifixion – a form of execution reserved exclusively for insurgents, rebels against the Roman occupation – was then the final symbolic act to warn that further revolt would end in national catastrophe, that this was the fate that awaited them all if they remained fixed on messianic resistance.

At this point, Scorsese’s is unique among those cinematic depictions of Jesus’ life, for he accurately connects the necessity of his crucifixion with the impending destruction of Jerusalem. If the 'last temptation' of Jesus was to succumb to the weight of those national and familial expectations, to pull back from the darkness and uncertainty of his vocation, perhaps our temptation this Easter season is to give in to the security of those all-too-familiar portrayals of Jesus, and thus miss the power of his resurrection.



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The effects of Jesus’s spiritualism and Bacon’s materialism On the present world
By Allama Muhammad Yousuf Gabriel
"When time Allur'd think how Bacon shined,
The wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind".
(Alexander Pope)
Of Jesus was a light as shining as of the truth. It appeared and it dazzled and it left a dazzling reflection in the eye of mankind to the day of judgement. Jesus was the harbinger of pure spiritualism, and was a destroyer of materialism. Bacon in seventeenth century arose as the champion of materialism and as an antithesis to Jesus Christ. Of all the false prophets who simulated Jesus, Bacon has been one most successful. His philosophy gained universal acceptance, and was very deceptive. It promised a paradise on earth, and after a few glimpses of bliss, it has turned this earth into a hell, and is now ready to be consumed by the atomic hell, the logical consequence of Bacon’s philosophy of modern atomism.
We are now treating the tree which produces such a fruit. Various lives of Bacon have appeared, but some of these may be regarded as penegyrical compositions bestowed on a redeemer by the grateful devotees, while others have presented the life of the Hero in true colours, but have regarded his philosophy as a real redeemer of mankind and the best of all the philosophies that ever appeared on earth. The reason of this is only that at the time at which these assessments of Bacon’s philosophy were made, the progress of science showed only the benefits and no problems. Indeed it could have been regarded in those times as a bliss unmixed. And now the modern science and progress, the fruits of Bacon’s philosophy are there in their final perspective and true realities. It is high time now therefore to discuss Bacon’s philosophy and reassess it in its present light. And let it be for ever remembered that, Bacon being an instrument of Anti-Christic spirit, and responsible for the most destructive of all the previous anti- religious revolutions in all previous human history, the truth both about his life and his philosophy has to be completely and clearly told in the interest of humanity which with its soul destroyed now stands on the verge of a most painful and most disgraceful end of its bodily existence, as a result of this very philosophy of Bacon. Humanity must now be warned without any reservations, not indeed with any intent of blackening any one’s memory but with the sole purpose of finding a relation between the philosophy and the mind which produced it, indeed, in reference to the circumstances, then prevalent.
It is essential to know the mind that has produced a philosophy which has withstood and overcome every other philosophy, has gained complete sway over the entire world, has thrown every religion into the background, and leading the world through the promised bliss of earthly paradise for centuries together, partially full-filling the promise in its course, has eventually brought this world to the verge of universal destruction both of mind and of body. This work can be mainly made on Macaulay’s essay on Lord Bacon. He has treated the conduct of Bacon with impartiality and has done every thing with admirable ability. The article of Macaulay is no doubt a masterpiece, in itself, though I stand in radical opposition to his view of Bacon’s philosophy. And yet inspite of my difference with Macaulay on the subject, it is impossible not to admire Macaulay’s great talent. He simply appears as bewitching. Macaulay likes the philosophy of Bacon because it multiplied human enjoyments, and it mitigated human sufferings. Macaulay praised Baconian philosophy under the inebriating influence of these two objects, and he was not in the wrong. Indeed at that time the world went in the first sweet swings of the achievements of Bacon’s philosophy, with the hectic background of the premodern west still fresh in memory, and no modern problems hand as yet appeared. We today stand on a different pedestal and see the things from a different frame of reference. The order of the things is reversed from what it was in Macaulay’s time. The Baconian philosophy now has begun to mitigate human enjoyments and multiply human sufferings, and that perhaps could have been tolerated. But apart-from that the Baconian philosophy now clearly threatens the existence of humanity through the flames of atomic hell. How dearly it is wished that Macaulay were himself alive today to see with his own eyes the error of his opinion about the philosophy of Baconian Atomism. And yet it appears doubtful whether Macaulay, if living today could have judged this philosophy aright, for we can see a world of the greater intellects blinking before it and lavishing the greatest praises on it, and ignoring all the various hazards that are incident on it. Indeed besides the blindness of the people of this age, their helplessness is proverbial.
Bacon of all the philosophers from the beginning to the end enjoys a distinctive position in that, he did to the sons of Adam exactly that which the devil had done to Adam himself. Satan seduced Adam. Bacon seduced the sons of Adam, and the design of seduction is identical in both the case. Today the fast changing, and deteriorating situation of this Baconian world reveals, that this Baconian culture is not now very far from the point of explosion. And a very miserable end it does portend. Another distinction which Bacon enjoys in this world is that whereas even the greatest of the prophets have claimed the allegiance of but a part of this world, Bacon's philosophy pervades the entire world from one end to the other.
In this Bacon’s life history it can be tried to reveal the mental and moral affinity that exists between Bacon’s life and his philosophy. We can discern the hand of providence at play therein. Bacon’s philosophy may be regarded as the voice of the age and the cry of the times. The Western world stood then on the fence gazing with wonder and peeping with anxiety into the material world, pining after the sweet smells and inviting odours of the feast of nature. Bacon just gave them the signal. The theory (Atomism) which had failed in ancient world because of the want of congenial atmosphere succeeded in modern age because of the field well-prepared, in the presence of suitable mental conditions. The things which appear in the sight of the modern man as a source of joy and pride would appear to a premodern generation as dreadful, grisly and hideous works of the devil. As far as Bacon is concerned, his heart was eaten up with the desire of wealth and power, and it is up to you to call his desire of wealth as the dream and his philosophy as the interpretation, or vice versa, that is his philosophy as the dream and his life as the interpretation.
Allama Muhammad Yousuf Gabriel,
Adara Afqar e Gabriel QA St.Nawababad Wah Cantt Distt Rawalpindi Pakistan

yousuf gabriel | 08 November 2010  

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