In an e-mail titled "Mel Gibson," a reader writes:
Come on, Jimmy, drop the hammer on this hypocrite!
I don’t drop hammers on people who are displaying signs of contrition, which at the moment Mr. Gibson is doing.
The reason I don’t do so is that Jesus didn’t. The people he verbally "dropped hammers" on were individuals who were convinced of their own righteousness and who thought they had no need of repentence. He invariably showed compassion toward those who acknowledged their sins and sought forgiveness.
Of course, contrition can be feigned, and Jesus would be in a position to look into a person’s heart and see if they were faking it, but I’m not Jesus and I can’t do that. As a result, I am called as a Christian to look charitably on expressions of remorse and–unless I have good evidence of insincerity–to deem them credible and treat the person accordingly.
That does not mean ignoring what the person did. As a rational being I am also called to incorporate what I know about the person into my appraisal of him and his history.
That said, I can share the following thoughts:
1) I had not known about Mr. Gibson’s battle with alcoholism–which he has apparently had for some time. He also (if you visit the link) is reported to have battled drug abuse, bipolar disorder, and suicidal impulses. According to his own admission, he had a relapse of alcohol abuse and according to some reports he was near suicide on the night of his drunk driving incident. According to the previous link:
A source close to the star told Deadline Hollywood that Mel “felt he was helpless to alcohol and didn’t know what to do about it.”
“No one’s really asking questions about his state of mind. That’s why he was driving around 90 miles an hour. This was a death wish. If that cop hadn’t stopped him, this guy was going to be wrapped around a pole.”
If that is the case, Mr. Gibson has been in a really, really dark place that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. For what it’s worth, his apparent remark that "My life is F’d" is consistent with a suicidal bout since being a Hollywood celebrity who has a DUI does not amount to having one’s life or career ruined. This remark suggests a deeper issue than simply getting caught driving drunk and it could be indicative of a suicidal incident.
Even if the source is wrong, though, I wouldn’t wish a history of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, bipolar disorder, and suicidal tendencies on anybody. The kind of suffering that this complex would involve is enormous, and my heart goes out to anyone who has had to endure that kind of suffering.
When my wife died, I went through enormous personal suffering, but I never wanted to kill myself, and so I can only think of what a suicidal person is going through as orders of magnitude greater than what I went through, which is enough to make me cringe.
Upon learning all this about Mr. Gibson, I find myself moved to compassion and prayer.
At the same time,
2) His apparent anti-Semitic remarks are revolting and I find them utterly despicable.
The question is how they are to be viewed in light of his medical condition and past history.
I don’t know enough about bipolar disorder to understand what kinds of thoughts it may put into a person’s head when they’re in a depressive phase. I know in a manic phase it can cause a person to think bizarrely paranoid things that he would not think when in his right mind, but I don’t know if that happens in the depressive phase of the illness, nor do I know what the severity of the illness may be for Mr. Gibson. I therefore have a question mark in my mind regarding what role his reported bipolar disorder may have played in generating his anti-Semitic remarks.
PRE-PUBLICATION UPDATE 2: According to Wikipedia’s article on bipolar disorder (EXCERPTS):
Severe depression [due to bipolar disorder] may be accompanied by symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms include hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or otherwise sensing the presence of stimuli that are not there) and delusions (false personal beliefs that are not subject to reason or contradictory evidence and are not explained by a person’s cultural concepts). They may also suffer from paranoid thoughts of being persecuted or monitored by some powerful entity such as the government or a hostile force. Intense and unusual religious beliefs may also be present, such as patients’ strong insistence that they have a God-given role to play in the world, a great and historic mission to accomplish, or even that they possess supernatural powers. Delusions in a depression may be far more distressing, sometimes taking the form of intense guilt for supposed wrongs that the patient believes he or she has inflicted on others.
People with bipolar disorder are about twice as likely to commit suicide as those suffering from major depression (12% to 20%). Individuals with bipolar disorder tend to become suicidal, especially during mixed states such as dysphoric hypomania and agitated depression. Suicidal symptoms include:
- Feeling hopeless, [e.g., the "My life is F’d" quotation–ja] that nothing will ever change or get better
- Putting oneself in harm’s way, or in situations where there is a danger of being killed [e.g., driving 90 in a 45mph zone–ja]
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
If Wikipedia’s article is accurate and if Mr. Gibson has a significant case of bipolar disorder then the above complex of symptoms could significantly explain his recent behavior, as well as his demonstrable cinematic creativity.
When it comes to the role alcohol may have played, my impression is that when intoxicated people say strange things, the strange things generally fall into one of two classes: (1) things they really believe but self-censor when not intoxicated and (2) things they are inclined to believe but don’t fully endorse when non-intoxicated.
Mr. Gibson’s two apologies are meant to convey the impression that it was not (1). In his first apology, Gibson said that "I . . . said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable." In his second apology, Gibson said that "The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life. Every human being is God’s child, and if I wish to honor my God I have to honor his children. But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith. . . . I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display, and I am asking the Jewish community, whom I have personally offended, to help me on my journey through recovery."
If Mr. Gibson is being honest in these statements, then (1) would not be the case. However, he may be dishonest.
At a minimum, I would be inclined to regard his statements as stemming from the kind of situation described in (2): that he at least has anti-Semitic tendencies that–under the influence of alcohol or bipolar disorder–can turn into at least temporary anti-Semitic convictions.
This is further corroborated by the fact that his father is a known anti-Semite and that anti-Semitic views are common in the Rad Trad circles in which Mr. Gibson apparently moves.
The strength of his anti-Semitic tendencies are apparently not so extreme that they would prevent him from casting a Jewish woman as the Mother of Christ in The Passion of the Christ, but the remarks he made are utterly despicable and are the apparent product of anti-Semitic tendencies that I am very dismayed to have confirmed.
This leads me to . . .
3) How I’ll have to view his work in the future.
I’ve never been a Mel Gibson fan, and I don’t follow his work closely. The movie of his that stands out most in my mind, of course, is The Passion of the Christ, which was subject to numerous charges of anti-Semitism when (and especially before) it came out. After seeing the movie, I felt that many of these charges were unfounded, which was a view affirmed by many in the Jewish community, including Michael Medved.
Nevertheless, I also felt that there was one element in the film in particular that was subject to criticism on this score: the film’s treatment of the high priest Caiaphas.
Gibson created a portrait of Pontius Pilate that was sympathetic and nuanced, and the film cried out for him to do the same thing for Caiaphas. Indeed, the Gospel of John gives one all the fodder one would need to portray Caiaphas in a sympathetic light, given his fear (chronicled in John 11) that if Jesus wasn’t put to death that he would become a revolutionary Messianic leader that would start a war with the Romans and cause the Romans to invade and kill massive numbers of Jewish people.
Given the fact that the gospels also portray Pilate as having ambivalent feelings about the crucifixion, the blindingly obvious artistic choice was to portray them both sympathetically, with both feeling that they had to do what they did regarding Jesus for reasons that the viewer could understand. In other words, the tragedy should have been one of "Father, forgive them for the know not what they do" in the cases of both men.
Gibson delivered that for Pilate and utterly ignored it for Caiaphas, who simply comes across as a fanatic in the film.
At the time I said (in conversations with film critic Steven Greydanus) that this artistic blindspot on Gibson’s part could be due either to an anti-Semitic tendency or due to the random blindspots that all artists suffer from. Given Gibson’s disavowals of anti-Semitism and his involvement of Jewish individuals in the project (casting a Jewish woman as the Mother of God is no small thing if you’re an anti-Semite), I hoped to be able to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but in light of his recent anti-Semitic tirade, I have to re-evaluate.
It now looks probable to me that the blindspot was due to his anti-Semitic tendencies.
While I still consider The Passion of the Christ to be an extraordinary film, I now find it tainted in this respect.
I also will have to view Gibson’s future projects in light of what is now known.
All of which makes me sad.
I am glad to see, though, that in his apologies Mr. Gibson has acknowledged personal culpability and is seeking to make amends to the Jewish community. I hope he is sincere.
I cannot offer him forgiveness for what he said, however. There is a principle in Jewish thought–which I think is theologically valid if properly understood–that to the extent a sin is against another person, only that person can forgive it.
All sins also contain an offense against God, and only God can forgive that, but to the extent a sin is committed against another person, only that person can extend forgiveness for what was done.
Since I am not a member of the Jewish community, I therefore have no forgiveness to offer Mr. Gibson.
I am glad that he is seeking forgiveness and to make what amends he can. I hope he is sincere, and I hope that he takes this incident to heart and reforms his life and his views.
What he did was vile–it was a dramatic exposure of the face of evil–and I hope that he can find the personal conversion and redemption and healing that he–and we all–need.