Prepare Yourself: The Easter Christian Torture Porn is Coming.

Easter is here! ‘Tis the Season–for Christian torture porn, that is! Are you ready?

This spring holiday may mean chocolate bunnies, egg hunts, and marshmallow Peeps to most of us, but it means something else very specific to Christians, who often try to claim ownership of this most incredibly pagan of holidays–and from there to attempt to deny celebration of it to anybody who isn’t part of their religion (when they’re not squabbling among themselves about whether Christians should even celebrate it).

(Martin Abegglen, CC.)

I’m probably not telling anybody in the internet-connected world anything new here, but let me sum it up briefly: Easter is a Christian holiday that celebrates the myth of the torture, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ over a brief period that occurred during the Jewish holiday of Passover somewhere around 33 CE. Christians began celebrating it in some fashion early on, unsurprisingly considering the significance of the event to their theology. Somewhere around the 4th century it became a yearly celebration. Now it’s called a moveable feast, which means that instead of happening on one specific day every year (like Christmas or Star Wars Day), its date changes every year and is linked to the lunar calendar.

If a Christian attends no other church service all year long, they’ll probably attend their church’s Easter service. It’s one of the best-attended Sundays of the entire year. Even my mom, a faithful but non-attending Catholic, made sure to get to church on that day at least (her other two Sundays were Mother’s Day and Christmas Vigil, which is held on the night before Christmas–I don’t know if all Catholics do this, but it was essential to my German/Polish family).

And if that Christian happens to be in a fundagelical church, chances are really good they’ll get a good earful of Christian torture porn to mark the holiday.

A Movie Like No Other. At Least For a While.

In 1988, The Last Temptation of Christ came out and outraged Christians all over the country. I was Pentecostal at the time, of course (my time in that denomination went from 1987-1994ish), so I knew vaguely about it and what it was about. We heard that some pastors were giving sermons admonishing their congregations about seeing it and warning that it was deeply heretical.

My pastor didn’t do that. Instead, he told his flock that we should not be seeing movies anyway as such entertainments were strictly off-limits to UPC members, so this was just one more movie we weren’t ever going to see–and thus nothing he needed to talk about. And in that sense he was quite correct, though I knew perfectly well that a lot of my churchmates were in fact sneaking off to see movies sometimes (and even I would be doing the same soon, to see Henry V and China Cry and the like).

I probably could have snuck off to see it, but I’d heard that it had Jesus having sexytimes with a woman and seriously considering chucking it all and moving out of the country or something, and that bugged me quite a bit.

But what bothered me more was that I knew from the trailer and posters that it’d feature a graphic depiction of the Crucifixion, and I was old enough to know that I don’t do well with violent imagery. I got enough of that in church. More than the sexytimes and other assorted heresies, the potential violence deterred me.

The sheer brouhaha the movie generated likely led to a lot of people seeing it who wouldn’t ordinarily ever have voluntarily paid to watch a Jesus movie. Critics generally liked it, too. So it may well have touched off a slow but building trend of religious movies aimed at the popular market. Moreover, after that I began noticing a serious uptick in violent imagery in Christians’ own descriptions of the Crucifixion–like they’d been given permission to get totally out of hand imagining it.

I’m always getting this movie mixed up with the next one. Hopefully I can be forgiven this lapse. In a lot of ways, this next movie could be seen almost as a spiritual successor to Temptation.

The End-All Be-All of Christian Torture Porn.

If the violent imagery in The Last Temptation of Christ was enough to stop me from going near it, you can probably guess that 2004’s The Passion of the Christ genuinely revolted me. Nor was I the only one who felt that way; critics generally panned the gorefest and South Park even did an episode about how spectacularly violent (and downright awful) it was.

26:26 mark of The God Who Wasn't There, showing each incidence of violence in the movie.
26:26 mark of The God Who Wasn’t There, showing each incidence of violence in the movie.

You can imagine that even knowing how incredibly violent it was, how gratuitously and over-the-top blithering bloody it was, I was still astonished at the sheer tally in the atheist documentary The God Who Wasn’t There, available on YouTube from various sources. Starting at around the 27-minute mark, the documentary actually catalogs every instance of violence and suffering in the movie. And it’s a long, long list. The documentary narrator also points out where Mel Gibson (the movie’s director and co-writer) actually had someone standing off-camera to squirt more blood around at certain key points because the squibs in “Jesus'” body just weren’t enough to get the point across.

It’s a display that stumbles right past obscene–in the oldest and grandest sense of the word–and into thesaurus territory as one struggles to find words that even begin to describe this affront to humanity. Vile, unclean, raunchy even, done sheerly to titillate and excite viewers who want more, more, more and then still some more–which the movie delivers. There is nothing whatsoever that is redeeming or affirming about the display this movie offers.  Only those who adore violence and cherish blood and suffering could ever find it entertaining in any way. (Like a lot of folks, yes, I totally judge people who say they actually like this movie. It’s like a mating call that tells me exactly what kind of person they are, deep down.)

Indeed, that is the only group that does. Fundagelical Christians are literally the only group of people I’ve ever encountered who actually like this movie or think that it’s uplifting or even entertaining. Christianity Today liked it and blithely dismissed the violence in it thusly: “The film’s violence has been defended as a sign of its historical realism and biblical accuracy,” going on to complain about some of the liberties Mr. Gibson took with the Bible’s various myths.

And that’s about what the tenor is of fundagelical responses to the movie. The writers at Bible.org didn’t mind the violence really, but were more concerned at the lack of evangelism present in the movie than they were about all the blood and bits. One Lutheran pastor is on record as saying that he thinks the film will appeal to Christians who possess “wisdom borne out of repentance,” whatever that means, and that the violence in it goes along with the director’s conceptualization of the event as an old-school Catholic; he sees the film’s central conflict as being a larger allegory of how fundagelicals see themselves being treated in popular culture, which does at least sound spot-on.

I was long out of Christianity when The Passion came out, so I can’t say how Pentecostals reacted to it, but I strongly suspect they were a little more lax on the rules against movie-watching when it came to this one. This is a crowd that was primed to accept this level of violence for years.

The Rise of Torture Porn.

I’ve mentioned before that when I was just a little girl, I was taught by well-meaning Catholics that Jesus’ Crucifixion and suffering had been all my fault personally as a sinful human who’d been born to sin. I went home in hysterical tears. My mother couldn’t console me because frankly, every Christian (in her theological view as well as that of the Catholic Church) should be feeling this bad about Jesus’ death.

At the time, she didn’t even try to comfort me; she sent me downstairs instead so my aunt, a nun, could deal with me. And she did so by distracting me with the idea of Heaven and by assuring me that all this terrible stuff had had to happen to Jesus so everybody could go there. At the time, it was enough. For a little while.

Catholics celebrate the Crucifixion in ways that most other denominations don’t. They have holidays built around different events that they think happened during the Crucifixion; they goggle at relics that were supposedly passed down from people who’d totally been there and interacted with Jesus in some way. Most Catholic churches feature what are called Stations of the Cross, which are little checkpoints around the church that people can go around and pray at to remember and memorialize the Passion in a little mini-pilgrimage (BTW, “the Passion” means the entire shebang of the torture, crucifixion, and temporary death of Jesus). Really fervent people can actually go to churches where the stations are laid out outside in chapels, or they can go to actual Jerusalem in tourist trap tours to walk around and see all this r/thathappened bullshit for themselves.

A big part of their celebrations involve meditating/praying/whatever upon the actual death and the events that lead up to it–Jesus’ scourging, the walk up the hill with his cross, the nailing-up process, the spear in the side, etc.

But they really don’t get into the actual specifics of the event, which is why it took me so completely by surprise that crisp wintry day in 1978 when they actually outlined what Catholics think happened.

For that, you have to venture into fundagelical Christianity.

And there, you will see it in plenty.

"The Gift." Really. This is an actual panel from an actual tract that Jack Chick's company puts out. It's aimed at kids and teens.
The Gift.” Really. This is an actual panel from an actual tract that Jack Chick’s company puts out. It’s aimed at kids and teens.

I began noticing the Christian love of graphic descriptions of the Crucifixion after I became a Pentecostal. Popular tracts like the ones Jack Chick put out often featured these visuals of Jesus all bloodied up and beaten to smithereens.

But more than that, I began noticing apologetics explanations for the Passion. Fundagelicals found doctors willing to talk at length about exactly what was going on with the Crucifixion and why some of the weirder aspects of it had happened.

Nothing got my peers’ eyes wider and their mouths dropping open faster than hearing big huge sermons about all the blood and gore involved in the Crucifixion.

It shocked me every time to see a sanctuary full of totally turned-on fundagelicals listening to one of these sermons. I didn’t know what to make of it. It concerned me and disgusted me.

Easter sermons were particularly gruesome. Pastors seemed to absolutely delight in finding new ways to make the Crucifixion even gorier and more gruesome every year. Sometimes they’d tote around onstage a scourge whip or a Roman spear (Biff had one of these) and brandish it while screaming about blood and guts. Indeed, I was quite embarrassed once when a peer visited my church around Easter and came home with a notepad scribbled all over with BLOOD over and over again–because that’s all that’d really been said during the sermon: the preacher had literally just screamed “BLOOD!” repeatedly during his description of the graphic events. I had actually thought that sermon was very powerful at the time, but afterward I saw how manipulative it’d been.

These descriptions are purely pornographic, really, and the situation has only gotten worse over time. I’m hard-pressed to remember a single Easter sermon coming out of that end of Christianity that didn’t talk up the Crucifixion’s violence. This tendency to glorify the disgusting imagery of the imagined Crucifixion has by now probably totally eclipsed whatever actually happened during a real crucifixion. (And as you can guess, eclipses even further whatever these Christians say about the actual resurrection myth, which you’d kinda think would be on their minds a little around Easter).

That love of violence and gore hit its apotheosis with The Passion.

An Adoration of Violence.

There are a lot of explanations about why so many Christians adore these graphic, gory accounts of the Crucifixion. None of them are very satisfactory.

One idea I often heard went that the more disgusting the imagery could get, the more Christians would be affected by it. That may well be true. We tend to remember very violent images over sweetsy-syrupy ones, and people who are stuck in an authoritarian system distinctly respond far better to threats than they do encouragement.

These brutal images are peddled particularly hard by Christian salespeople who think that if they can just make the Crucifixion sound as awful as possible, it’ll impress people with the supposed sacrifice of Jesus and make them more likely to convert. I haven’t seen anybody who converted as a result (and remember, that’s one major criticism of The Passion by one fundagelical group–that it’s not evangelistic enough and they can’t imagine anybody converting after seeing it). These are people who believe that they owe their obedience and allegiance to a god as a matter of simple obligation, by way of thanks for doing all this unasked-for stuff for them, so the more they hear about the unasked-for favors this god supposedly did for them, the more grateful and obedient they are likely to be as a result. Reminds one of Nice Guys™, doesn’t it? “But Stacy, I got you a coffee you didn’t even ask for! Now you have to go out with me!”

(Of course, with no evidence that Jesus even existed, much less evidence that he actually did suffer, much less evidence that he had a rough weekend before rising again, these stories are nothing more than campfire horror stories. Oops!)

Violence, Real and Imagined, Begets More Violence.

Repeated exposure to violence and cruelty desensitizes us over time. It also increases our tendency toward aggression in turn. (This is part of why “venting” actually backfires by making us more stressed and aggressive, not less.) So violence begets violence. Studies consistently tell us this simple truth, but we don’t need studies to see that ourselves. The people who glorify and fixate on violence tend to be pretty damned violent themselves.

When you see that fundagelicals are right out in front opposing every single measure condemning or restricting the corporal punishment of children, or that fundagelicals overwhelmingly support the use of torture against prisoners, don’t be surprised. They’ve been raised on a steady diet of violence–both real and imagined, both offered and threatened.

The glorification of violence and this constant exposure to graphic violence are having a discernible effect on them as a population, with one CBS poll indicating that a majority of Democrats (who skew non-evangelical and decidedly non-Christian generally) view Islam as about as violent as other religions–meaning about as violence-encouraging as Christianity–while Republicans (who skew fundagelical) think Islam is more violent than other religions, including their own. Even fundagelical pastors are shocked at how “casually violent” Christians are becoming, but the rest of us know that fervent Christians can be shockingly aggressive toward others–quick to threaten eternal torture, and quick to bring very earthly threats to bear when they aren’t getting their way, even to the extent of conducting actual terrorism to try to regain the control they think they once wielded over their various cultures.

When we look at the sheer mayhem and violence brought to bear by the most fervent adherents of the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love, it’s very difficult to even hear them wittering and chirping about love and mercy and forgiveness; we know that when we refuse their sales pitch, these same totally for sure loving ambassadors will turn into glittering-eyed abusers eager to see us suffer–almost as if they were hoping we’d refuse so they could unsheathe their claws.

And yet, as a final evidence of the Christian fascination with torture porn, I’ve heard rumors that there’ll be a sequel to The Passion of the Christ at some point. Yay hooray… If there’s anything Christians love more than violence, it’s surely money.

See you next time!

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