11th July, 2011
Sociological Movie Analysis: Passion of the Christ
The film viewed is called “Passion of the Christ.” Mel Gibson presents the passion which is known by Christians as the sacred crucifixion of their Lord and Savior by Jews who did not accept him as the messiah. The major plot and characters were deducted from accounts given in the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Scenes included Sermon on the Mount; Mary Magdalene and the last supper. (Passion of the Christ)
The predominant sociological perspective as espoused by the author is religion. In this discussion Functionalist theory of Herbert Spencer and Talcott Parson will be referenced. In highlighting conflict paradigms Karl Marx and C Wright Mills will be acknowledged for their contributions to the science. Conclusively, Horton Cooley, George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer symbolic Interactionism culminates the discussion.
Emile Durkheim is a contemporary sociological theorist who studied religion and its impact on modern societies. He concluded that religion is a system of beliefs pertaining to things sacred. (Coser, 1977) Further assumptions supported by research on suicide and dysfunctional societies, were that people who had a religious basis for living did not think about committing suicide as much as those who did not.
While Durkheim was not the only sociologist to have embraced religion from alternative or unpopular perspectives his theories formed the basis of understanding stories such ‘Passion of the Christ’ and the sacredness Christian cultures have placed on the person Jesus or Jesus Christ. Mel Gibson does not necessarily depict the Jesus many Christians worship as their savior who died to save them from their sins, but precisely a symbol of penitence, forgiveness, hope; love and perhaps misguided self- sacrifice. (Passion of the Christ)
Sigmund Freud the father of psychology with distinct contributions to sociology based his theoretical assumptions of religion from perspectives of the evolution of world civilizations. Actually, Freud’s argument dispersed the notion that religious cultures originated from various sources or gods. His proposition is that it originated from various significant developments in human civilizations to conclude that really there are three major religious cultures in the world emanating from technological advancements. They are Islam, Judaism and Christianity. (Coser, 1977)
Meanwhile both Karl Marx and Charles Darwin had some more controversial views of what the world sees as the institution of religion. Importantly, they tried to explain how it functions in society as a mechanism of enhancing social wellbeing and control. Marx declared that religion is the ‘opium of the people’ meaning that it acted as a drug to keep them under control. (Coser, 1977)
Precisely, Darwin concluded that man created God in his own image since man needed something to identity with outside of itself. Therefore, all the mythologies included in religion have their foundation in man’s need to identify with the supernatural. If this will keep man happy it is great for religion to function as it is. Also, it is essential for Christians to believe that Jesus Christ died to save them from their sins as Mel Gibson so adequately transposes in Passion of the Christ.
Functionalist Theoretical perspective
Herbert Spencer is a functionalist who interpreted society based on his understanding of a human organism with organs that are interrelated. Each one is important for the entire whole to function. If a kidney is removed or malfunctions it affects the entire organism. In the same way intuitions in society operate to create social structure.
Mel Gibson definitely highlights the role of religion as a social institution and force which sometimes functions and dysfunctions. Jesus was crucified because another religious culture did not accept his philosophy. Biblically, records are that even the political institution had some concerns when he called himself King of the Jews. Clearly, he was violating existing social order which led to his crucifixion. Alternative views from New Though Christians philosophy project that Jesus did not in anyway die for their sins, but merely for his own since he was in constant antagonism with political philosophies of his time.
It was Talcott Parsons who theorized that society, achieves stability through consensus. Therefore, cooperation is necessary for order to be maintained. Inevitably social order is a necessary goal of any institution created by groups in a society. Passion of the Christ can be viewed as a strategy developed to maintain social order and perhaps had nothing to with region itself.
Historically, society functioned whereby the church was the state and the state was the church. Religion and politics clasped hands as interrelated entities of social structure. Herbert Spencer’s notion of interrelatedness’ of organ institutions is perceived with similarity to Mel Gibson’s passion of the Christ showing how both institutions function to enhance social order.
Society as conflict: Conflict paradigms
When sociological theorists discuss society as order the reference in most parts is directed towards structural functionalism. Conflict theorists see society as being in constant states of peace and war. Karl Marx from the classical sociological school interprets conflict to mean struggles between the working class populations as he witnessed in his society. For Marx’s limited view of conflict this is where conflict begins and ends.( Coser, 1977)
If one were to examine conflict in Roman societies as is being demonstrated in Passion of the Christ there were no real of episodes of working class association to the paradigm. Precisely, it was religion and religion, religion and politics. It would appear to be a house divided against itself conflict, when viewed from the interconnectedness of church and state and followers of Jesus and Jews.
However, C Wright Mills, the father of modern conflict theories disputes that social structures often emerge from conflict. ( Bourricaud). Hence, it is valid and necessary. It brings to mind the philosophy which says that we disagree to agree. Jesus’ disagreement with existing religious and political structures of this world appears to have been functional. He endured the most gruesome crucifixion because of unpopular religious ideologies.
But even before his crucifixion the incident with Mary Magdalene’ accusers who wanted her to be stoned for committing adultery; created a whole new institution on how society viewed women, generally. Jesus’ unexpected reaction angered these men who were certain that they had caught him in a trap. Again to their disappointment they had to leave unaccomplished.
Besides, to elaborate on Mills’ assumption on the essentials of conflict in designing social structure a sequel to the crucifixion was the development of a new Christianity. Passion of the Christ shows how conflict can either create more conflict or peace.
Horton Cooley, George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer are three American sociologists who theorized that people react or respond to symbols based on ascribbed meanings. (West, 2010). Importantly, these meanings carry with them cultural significance inherited from traditional, religious and political ideologies, mainly. What symbolic interactions are embodied in the film Passion of the Christ?
They are numerous, especially, when taken in the context that meanings are interpreted based on the level of awareness of the individual. Jesus, the cross, whipping and his struggle through the streets have been the most important symbolic interactions in this movie. People interpreted these to mean suffering and eventually dying for their sins on a cross. (Passion of the Christ).
Do these meanings always make sense is the sociological significance of the theory, which has been criticized for its lack of clarity when meanings are interpreted. In re-examining the entire story related to the “Passion of the Christ’ could it be that the meaning of crucifixion was ultimately misinterpreted by those who participated in the interaction? Was Jesus really guilty of the crimes they accused him of? It is all wrapped up in the symbolic interplay of the movie and actual life of the man.
It offered meaning to identify with a God who loves enough to give its life for friends as Mel Gibson emphasized. Undoubtly, this is a very emotional movie which brings tears to many eyes as the interaction becomes imminent and symbols are interpreted in relation to one’s own values.
Yes, religion is opium. This is why functionalism is a perfect strategy for explaining the crucifixion phenomena. To consider that Jesus paid it all as in the Passion of the Christ and people living today have no responsibility of their own as Christians is soothing, but not real. Certainly, it insinuates as alternative interpretations are applied to symbols and current religious practices that every person on earth has to use the life lived by Christ to demonstrate a spiritual understanding of the Christ that Christians identify as their Savior.
Bourricaud, F. 'The Sociology of Talcott Parsons’: University press. Print.
Coser, Lewis. Masters of sociological thought. . . New York: Waveland press inc. 1977. Print.
Passion of the Christ." New market films.” Web. 12th July, 2011.
West, R. Symbolic interaction theory. . . New York: McGraw-Hill. 2010. Print.