This would have been the perfect week to see "The Passion of the Christ" were I so inclined, which I'm not.
I already know that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. This was made clear to me throughout my 12 years of Catholic school, as our blood-covered crucified Savior hung on the wall of every classroom. The nun told us second-graders: "Imagine, children, what it feels like to have nails pounded through your hands and feet. Every time you are bad, you pound in that nail and hurt Jesus. Imagine a crown of thorns on your forehead..."
So I haven't seen the movie, but I've been told the story.
My third-grade nun told us about hell, "where the worst pain you can imagine will last for all eternity..." When I shared her graphic descriptions with my parents, they went to the school and told the principal that this would stop, and it did. I was impressed by the fact that my parents would stand up to authority, and I grew up to do as much of that as possible myself.
If the intent of the nuns had been to scare me, it didn't work. I left the Catholic Church after high school and never looked back. But at the same time I discovered the Jesus of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's "The Grand Inquisitor" and have loved Him ever since. And the reason I tell you this personal story is that I was recently delighted to read that Laura Bush found her Jesus in the same place.
Mrs. Bush, whose signature issue is literacy, told an interviewer that her favorite book is "The Brothers Karamazov," particularly the chapter "The Grand Inquisitor." Some leading liberals have made fun of her for presumptuously admiring the world's great existential author while being married to an evangelical Christian. But I suspect they fear her Jesus, whose philosophy is not theirs.
In the story told by Ivan, the intellectual brother, Jesus returns to earth during the Spanish Inquisition. He walks among the people "with a gentle smile of infinite compassion" and is recognized by all, so the Jesuit Grand Inquisitor has him arrested.
Late that night, he visits his prisoner and tries to justify the Inquisition, with its demand for complete submission. Jesus sits silently and lets him babble on about how the Spanish church has "corrected Thy work," which gave men "freedom, free thought and science," and replaced respect for mankind with the goal of "unifying all into one unanimous and harmonious ant heap."
The cardinal uses the three temptations of Christ in the wilderness to make his point. For those who haven't read Matthew or Luke, here is the Biblical account:
Early in his ministry, Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights and encountered the devil. Satan asked him to turn stones into bread, then to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple and survive to prove himself the Son of God. Finally, the devil offered him "all the kingdoms of the world if Thou will worship me."
Jesus refused and, according to Ivan, rejected the need of man to be given bread and miracles, and rejected the power of authority, leaving man free to choose faith or not, to take responsibility for himself.
The Grand Inquisitor has corrected this by persecuting those who do not choose faith, so that the rest of men will be submissive to the power that gives them bread and miracles. He tells Jesus that because "Thou hast come to hinder us," he must burn him at the stake on the morrow.
Jesus says nothing, merely rises and kisses the cardinal on the forehead. And the cardinal opens the door of the prison and cries, "Go, and come no more....
Come not at all, never, never."
But of course, the light and freedom of Jesus vanquished the Dark Ages and the Inquisition. Copernicus, whose theory that the Earth revolves around the sun was reviled by the Medieval Church, became a canon in the Prussian Church and continued his studies. His disciple, Galileo, remained subject to the anti-science prejudice of the Italian Inquisition, but lived to continue his writing, which became the basis for Newtonian physics. The Jesuits themselves eventually encouraged scientists within their ranks and became the most intellectual of religious orders.
From the Age of Enlightenment to the present, we remain free to choose liberty - and to reject the unanimous ant heap, which would now be controlled not by the Church, but by Big Government. And Laura Bush is on the side of Jesus, as her husband is fighting the Islamic terrorists who would, like the Grand Inquisitor, destroy the freedom-loving infidels.
So if you wondered where I was going with this, here we are. Time to color the Easter eggs, to celebrate freedom and spring.
And if you keep thinking you ought to have a religious experience by seeing "The Passion of the Christ," but really don't want to sit through it, you might want to pick up a copy of "The Brothers Karamazov" instead.