Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Gibson, Hitchens and other stuff
L'affaire Gibson is one of those things I didn't really want to touch because, to be honest, I'm not even sure what I feel about it. I tend to lean in the direction of people like Chris at Ratzinger Fan Club, Rich Leonardi, and Thomas at American Papist who have a more charitable attitude, though I understand Gerald Augustinus's hostility, especially as it relates to Gibson's schismatic brand of Catholicism. (And now Jimmy Akin has some very interesting thoughts on the matter, which I tend to agree with.) In the end, though, an attitude like "I just don't think you can apologize for something like that" seems unfair, for with God anything is possible. I also tend not to fully susucribe to the "in vino veritas" position which holds that alcohol is a truth serem. Not quite. It loosens one's inhibitions, but I'm not sure it really reveals what a person truly feels in the depths of one's heart.
But the incident has me thinking about some issues which are related. Getting back to Gerald's post, he takes note of Christopher Hitchens' bromide against Gibson. As usual when it comes to matters religious (or quasi-religious), Hitchens is a blithering idiot. There's really not much to say to someone who would call The Passion of the Christ a pogrom. But Hitchens' little snit here calls to mind an objection Jeff had to my post from last week where I approvingly cited Hitchens. I have to admit, I didn't look forward to citing Hitchens for precisely this reason. Generally speaking, I have been loathe to use Hitchens as an authority on war-related issues because I know how disgusting a writer he is on other matters. But in that particular case I found Hitchens' argument persuasive and convincing.
So that leads to a dilemma - should one ever cite a writer or source that one generally finds loathsome? For example, Mark Shea has criticized Andrew Sullivan on many a moral issue, but when it comes to torture - an issue where they happen to fall in-line together - Shea turns to Sullivan as moral authority. Stopped clock and all, you might say. So what's the limit? Must we agree with a writer on all things in order to utilize them as a source? Of course not. Who ever agrees with anyone else on every matter? But if you find that a particular writer is often unfair and shoddy, it might be best to find another authority even if you find yourself in agreement on certain issues with said writer. It's just a thought.
Similarly, Ross Douthat explores how we should react to an artist's biases. Should an artist's personal prejudices render his art meaningless? Douthat argues that it should not. Thus, we should judge The Passion without taking into account Gibson's apparent anti-Semitism. I tend to agree, though I would qualify that and say it shouldn't matter if the personal opinions have no baring on the art. For example, Wagner may have been an anti-Semite (I am not sure that he was, though I know Hitler appropriated his music), but that means nothing as to how one should interpret his music. In the case of Gibson's movies, his personal biases are slightly more relevant as we have to wonder how they might affect the tenor of his pictures. So, I wouldn't say we should completely judge an artist's work in a vacuum, but on the whole, his personal biases should be of secondary importance.
Finally, and most importantly, the worst thing about this incident is that it has detracted from an obviously more serious anti-Semitic incident - the brutal murder of six Jews in Seatttle and the hands of a Muslim fanatic (and we won't get into the Hezbollah-Israel conflict). That incident has been relegated to the back pages, if it's covered at all, and yet the drunken ramblings of a movie star receives non-stop coverage - and here I am, guilty as anyone. That's the real tragedy in all this.