Visiting UTD on the day after the debut of Mel Gibson’s controversial “Passion of the Christ,” one religious author with a unique perspective on the Jewish and Christian faiths said she was opting not to see the film.
Mary Blye Howe, who grew up as a fundamentalist Baptist before converting to Judaism and author of the book “A Baptist Among Jews,” shared her views on Gibson’s “Passion” with The UTD Mercury prior to her Feb. 26 lecture “Women in Yarmulkes” as part of the School of General Studies Gender Issues lecture series.
Her two points of contention with the film included the fears of anti-Semitism ignited throughout the Jewish community and its focus on the physical rather than spiritual suffering of Christ.
“The fact is that all Jewish leaders expressed fears, including the liberal ones,” Howe said. “If the potential for damage is that great, then it’s not worth it for me (to see it.)”
Howe also finds fault with the value the film places on physical suffering.
“The significance of Jesus’ death was that he felt pain in his soul. For me to watch a long movie about physical suffering… I just don’t believe in that idea of atonement,” Howe said.
Howe’s views on the film were not part of her UTD presentation, but rather she spoke on her own spiritual path and gender issues within religions.
She first told her story as she moved from fundamentalist beliefs to a more moderate view. She said an interfaith service at Temple Emmanuel, a local synagogue, completely altered her outlook.
After that experience, she said she began to study Judaism earnestly. She went to a spectrum of branches of Judaism, from the most orthodox Hasidic denomination to the most liberal Jewish Renewal group. She added that in her study of Judaism, she noticed parallels between the positions of women in Jewish and Christian societies.
However, what is paradoxical was that her fundamental fanaticism is what started her down that path, Howe said. She said she noticed that the beliefs of her fellow conservative Baptists seemed selective in what scriptures they chose to believe – specifically towards the role of women.
“What brought me out of conservative Christianity was regard for women. It had nothing to do with me not wanting to be treated like that (personally),” Howe said.
Howe said she had issue with beliefs in only select portions of scripture such as women submitting to men, but completely disregarding respect for elders or husbands and wives submitting to each other.
She explained that her fanatical regard for the Bible led her to leave the fundamentalist group because of what she felt were inconsistent interpretations. She moved to a more moderate church where she was exposed to different ideas and eventually an entirely different religion.
“Ultimately, it was Judaism (that changed me). I went from thinking everybody that wasn’t Baptist was going to Hell, to believing that God loves everyone,” Howe said.