For anyone who isn’t sick of the debate over Mel Gibson, anti-Semitism, and whether people who liked The Passion should repent in sackcloth and ashes now that its creator’s sheets-to-the-wind sentiments about the Jews have been revealed, I’d recommend dipping into Mark Shea’s thoughts ( here , here , and here ) on the subject, which take up the question of whether Gibson’s outburst reflects his “true self,” his “real feelings”¯and whether Gibson really is, as Christopher Hitchens put it in that charitable way of his, “sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.” Mark writes:

As a good child of a post-Freudian culture, I was raised to believe that what people say when they are plastered, or insanely angry, or deeply afraid, or otherwise stripped of their normal rational faculties is Who They Really Are. We talk that way all the time. “I thought he was a good man until the mask came off and I saw the ugly Truth.” That sort of talk is natural as breathing for us.

That’s because, in America, everybody is a Calvinist, including the Catholics. We believe that the fall is identical with nature, and therefore believe that when you see a man in sin, you see him as he “really” is. Goodness is the mask, corruption is his nature.

. . . The reality is quite contrary. Sin is the mask. It is not what names us but what makes us anonymous. Sin, because of the fall, is normal. But sin is never “natural.” It does not constitute who we are, it destroys who we are. It is when the human person takes his place as the redeemed creature God made him that we begin to truly see his face and know his name.

This is a tricky concept, obviously, and it shouldn’t be taken to mean that Gibson’s outburst doesn’t reveal something about the way he thinks, in the secret darkness of his mind, about his elder brothers in faith¯especially since, as I’ve argued elsewhere , there are plenty of other reasons to think that Gibson’s apple hasn’t fallen nearly as far as it should have from his father’s anti-Semitic tree.

What it does mean, though, is that while Gibson’s wicked thoughts about the Jews are plenty real, there is also a deeper, truer Gibson who watches himself sinning against his Jewish brothers, in his thoughts and now his words, and feels remorse even if he can’t shake himself free of his anti-Semitic compulsion. “For I delight in the law of God,” Saint Paul wrote, “in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.” As with Paul, so with Mel.

The notion that “now we know the true Mel Gibson” is the flip side of the modern religion of the self, where the dream of being true to “who you really are” tends to mean, in practice, being true to whatever desires or compulsions you happen to feel at any particular moment. This is great news for those whose desires¯a new car, say, or perhaps a new spouse¯happen to be considered commendable by the prevailing orthodoxies of the age. But it’s bad news for people like Gibson, whose compulsions are still counted as sinful¯because if your compulsions are your “core” and “who you really are,” then how can you escape them?

The good news, for Gibson, is that his own religion doesn’t approach things this way.


As for Jody’s comments about my comments about his comments about my comments (welcome to the pleasures of group blogging! I think it’s part of the Beyond Marriage laundry list of alternative lifestyles . . . ), I agree that there’s a real hindsight problem in trying to judge issues like whether a war had a “reasonable chance of success,” and whether miscalculations about the chances of victory count as “culpable ignorance.” It’s very, very difficult to go back and reassess the original decision to go to war without having your thoughts cluttered up with the lessons learned in the years since, and I freely admit that I have a hard time separating my thoughts about the justice of our 2003 decision to invade Iraq from my knowledge of what’s happened since.

But at the same time, there are things that we, as private citizens, simply couldn’t know at the time about the Bush administration’s decision making, planning, and so forth during the run-up to war in 2003, things that have only come out in the months and years since. Similarly, there are things I can’t know, at the moment, about the Israeli government’s strategy, the information it has access to, and so forth, that I would need to know in order to assess whether Olmert’s government is, as Jody puts it, “morally blameworthy for the imprudence of beginning this war in culpable ignorance.” So it has to be possible to do some kind of hindsight calculation about a government’s “culpable ignorance,” or lack thereof, based on what we know now about what they knew then.

And it also has to be possible to say, in retrospect, of your own decision-making process during a moment of crisis: “I should have thought this through more carefully, and I was culpably ignorant for not doing so.”

Articles by Ross Douthat

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