Brutal physical punishment: here, the scourging scene

Two sadistic soldiers, who will administer the punishment, here tease their superior officer. Such mock petting sets a tone of homoeroticism and occurs a number of times in the film.

Picking the rod with which to beat Jesus. Jesus is beaten with rods until he falls to the ground.

These two sadistic guards do the beating here and continue to flog Jesus on the path to Golgotha, where they help crucify him.

Bloodlust. Spatter from Jesus’ wounds fall on the torturer’s face. Later his shoes and calves will be covered with that blood.

The first image of Jesus as meat. He surprises the Romans by getting to his feet again. At that point, the soldier in charge orders that...

... he be beaten with a cat o'nine tales with razors at the end.

The sadists get out of control.

At a certain point, the flayed Jesus is turned over so they can beat the other side of him. The same tactic is used to prolong the crucifixion scene, where after the nails have been pounded in, the whole cross is flopped over so the soldiers can pound down the points of the nails in the back so they will hold firm.

During this last phase of the beating, the images are from a skewed angle and often in slow motion, with the music up on the soundtrack.

Perhaps the high point of the film’s hyper-realistic representation of torture is this shot in close up, where the hooks remove a large chunk of Jesus’ flesh.

If critics of the film find it “pornographic” in its beatings and blood, it is because the film’s visuals recall sadomasochistic beating imagery.

Jesus has been turned into meat. Like a splatter film, this sequence dwells on the moment that the human is reduced to the inanimate.

This shot resembles a memorable one in Scorcese’s The Gangs of New York, with bodies strewn and blood spattered on snow.


Holding back change

The amazing thing about the new crusaders is that the Christian worldview they are hell-bent on preserving has been disintegrating for hundreds of years. After the defection of Martin Luther, subsequent wars of religion had a corrosive effect on the faith of the populace, forced to swear allegiance to first one side and then the other in order to survive. The rise of science continued to undermine Christian cosmology — and with it the corresponding sanctity of the authorities that expounded or derived their power from that cosmology. In the mid-nineteenth century, in response to the encroachments of science and increasing social and cultural experimentation, fundamentalist Christianity emerged, creating a theology intended to deny the onrush of modernity. But the breakdown of traditional belief systems still continued for many people around the world.

With the arrival of Freud, the radical destabilizing of the old worldview extended to our understanding of human identity. Children were now understood as sexual beings. Furthermore, with an understanding of the unconscious, it seemed that you did was not what you truly intended, that people were not truly autonomous or rational or master of themselves. And within this shaken universe, the Nazis began their rise to power. It was they who elaborated the concept of Kulturkampf—Culture War—with the same words used in the rise of the religious right and its conservative political counterpart in the early 1980s. [7]In particular, one of the first acts of the Nazis was to institute “purity campaigns,” much like the current rightwing campaigns being waged today.

In a backlash against the revolutions of the 60s in the United States, a new anxiety-ridden movement has instituted its own Kulturkampf. Grouped together as the enemy are relativists, postmodernists, homosexuals, the sexually “liberated” and experimental, and, of course, woman who refuse to accept their place. Those who proclaim themselves the defenders of civilization in 1990s America are similar to those of 1930s Germany. They publicly express an urgent need to stuff the genie back into the bottle and to slam the door of the cage in the faces of all of us monsters who, due to lapsed belief, skepticism and a perverse need to experiment with the self, have clawed our way out into limitless open space.

We seem to have weakened the moral fiber of the country—its masculine prowess. We seem to have made this country vulnerable to the machinations of our enemies. (And those enemies are conveniently always multiplying or replacing each other, constantly reinvented and revived, apparently eternally necessary). The making of The Passion of the Christ is telling in this regard, because behind the scapegoating of particular groups is this larger, ever present, pervasive, crisis of meaning going back centuries and never resolved. The conservative perspective is that if an old consensus could just be reinstituted and everyone compelled to agree on “eternal truths,” then society and its individuals could regain intellectual and spiritual equanimity, and personal and communal security. But for many of us “outsiders,” both then and now, we have no choice but to defy the resurgent remnants of the old order and of the twice-born Christians (and conservatives) who have maneuvered themselves into position of power and influence.

Brutal physical punishment

So much of the sturm und drang on display has the quality of masculine panic.   For fundamentalist parents, control and authority in a well-disciplined society must be mirrored by a well-disciplined family. The transcendent God of the Bible must be reinvigorated, making socially tangible all his terrible Old Testament authority and dominance. For centuries, generation after generation of believing Christians have maintained the tradition of corporeal punishment of children. It seems to provide a method for establishing order and obedience in the family and by extension respect for the authorities. The history of brutal physical punishment for children shows how parents have long considered it a legitimate way to train unformed youth, shaping them into responsible and upright adults. For many adults, the Bible mandates corporeal punishment, making it morally unassailable as a mode of childrearing.

However, unassailable evidence shows that physical punishment does more harm than good.[8] It overwhelms the child physically and psychically and thus results in paranoia and anxiety. It frequently leads to criminal behavior, rather than preventing crime as its adherents claims. Childhood beating often splits the psyche into severe dissociated states, including borderline personality disorders, fugue states and even multiple personality disorders. Parents who implement corporeal punishment in childrearing often do so as a repetition of their own experiences as a child being beaten. And parents often are expressing their own desperate need to assert and maintain a sense of control both over the child and over unruly aspects of their own fragmented personalities. Those who need to subject children to brutal discipline may be redirecting their own fear and rage from their parents onto their children.   These are the driving forces behind many adults’ insistence on the necessity of physical punishment in childrearing.

Christian childrearing manuals also emphasize the need to break the child’s will and to suppress even expressions of sadness.[9] That is, if the child cries too long, punish him longer, until he learns to stop using tears as a form of defiance. The child should not openly show anger at what the parent has done to him. Thus, the child must learn completely to deny his real feelings, to rationalize his parent’s actions as a form of love, and to subjugate his own will and sense of reality and identify with the aggressor. It is this repression that makes the good, obedient Christian child sought by the fundamentalist parents.

Many outside observers understand that such a suppression of feeling and acceptance of violence will lead to more violence later on, often in pathological and unacceptable forms. But this is almost never admitted by the rightist Christians themselves. That wife beating, child abuse, sexual abuse and rape are offshoots of this treatment are vehemently denied. The suicidal ideation described in the biographies of many well-known fundamentalist leaders throughout history[10] is rarely acknowledged and never linked to their experience of severe brutality in childhood.

But the rage engendered by such treatment does not disappear. It must, and will, find an outlet somewhere. And the sense of endangerment, originally the sense of a child waiting for the inevitable beating from a parent, becomes the paranoia of the adult expecting attack and subversion from everyone around him, especially those who do not share his beliefs or lifestyle. Consequently, for the people of the religious right there is an almost unending profusion of enemies that have to be fought and subdued in order for a new paradise of safety and tranquility to be established.

The reaction of conservative Christians to sexual perversions, especially to male homosexuality, reveals much about what they do not acknowledge about their treatment of children, especially in light of Freud’s insights about children’s psychosexual development. What everyone knows from personal experience as a child, even though they may not acknowledge as an adult is that the anus is an extremely sensitive erogenous zone. For children who are punished by their parents with spankings on the buttocks, the constant pressure on the anus and contact with the buttocks during spankings, especially when coupled with the idea of parental love, arouses erotic sensations that are both powerful and usually disturbing to the child receiving the chastisement.

To many queers, it is obvious that much of the extreme homophobia expressed by the Christian right and the right in general results from an anxiety response based on their own memories of childhood spankings and their own dimly remembered pain and pleasure in the anal region. Thus what becomes taboo in defining “normal” masculinity, and even a touchstone of that “otherness” against which “real” manliness must define itself, is a buried but persistent memory of the same knowledge acknowledged as a source of sexual desire among queers.

That is, many male homosexuals receive both pain and pleasure from anal intercourse and other activities centering on the anus. Such knowledge constantly reactivates conservatives’ own former childhood associations of anal pain and pleasure—and love. It is the fierce effort to suppress the conscious emergence of such memories, and thus empathy or identification with a key aspect of gay sex, that arouses such hysterical hatred against gay males.

Furthermore, in other sexual practices, consensual sexual sadomasochists, both gay and straight, men and women, self-consciously repeat, as adults, in elaborated and controlled form the discipline they were subjected to as children and deriving unabashed sexual pleasure from it. The possible turning of a biblically sanctioned form of childrearing into adult sexual practice, as a kind of recuperation in the arena of desire what was originally an unjust treatment of a child, is perhaps even more intolerable to the conservative Christian.

Christian child advice manuals find nothing perverse in whipping the ass of the young and helpless child. But the entire conservative populace in the United States, and probably elsewhere, acts as if everyone should be aghast and sickened by consenting adults engaging in such behavior of their own free will. It’s a mindset that surely remains pre-Freud, assuming that spanking is spanking and sex is sex and never the twain must meet. For me, this reflection on the genesis and circulation of social/sexual taboos versus the contrasting sexual experiences those who challenge those taboos reveals once again that we live in an era of an ever more explicit blurring of categories. That’s what the conservative mind finds so distressing. In the case of the movie The Passion, it is fascinating that the film dwells so much on masculinity (a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do), with an overwhelming image of the flayed male.

Continued: The Passion and beating

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