Let me pause from the trivial issues of the moment like the war in Israel and Lebanon, the slaughter in Darfur and the sectarian violence in Iraq to consider the defining moral issue of the moment: Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic and sexist and belligerent comments after his DUI arrest in Malibu.
Driving under the influence of anti-Semitism is not nearly as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol. My Grandpa Leo was killed by a drunk driver in Milwaukee just before my bar mitzvah, and just last week my nephew Josh was nearly killed by a drunk driver in Beverley Hills. The danger of wounding people with words is not nearly as important as the possibility of killing someone with a car. Yet all the media outrage is about is bigotry, not the real outrage: drunk driving.
Many people thought that Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was anti-Semitic , but waited in vain to see outbreaks of anti-Semitism following the release of the film. The actor’s outbursts in Malibu just confirmed what many suspected but could not definitively prove until now. After the Holocaust-denial statements of his father and the negative depiction of Jews in the movie, the arrest tirade was the third strike. His comments supported an “I told you so” moment from all those who hated his politics and his movie even when he was sober.
If it had not been for his Jesus movie, his outburst would have been filed under the large and smarmy Hollywood file of anti-Semitic entertainers like Errol Flynn and Marlon Brando, not to mention a long list of artists, poets and philosophers too numerous to mention here. Add in, if you wish, bigoted athletes or members of the restricted country club who smile at you on the street but hate you in their heart. And then why not throw onto this fetid pile of prejudice all those who tell Polish jokes or homosexual jokes or racist jokes.
What all this adds up to is that Mel is not alone in believing despicable things about good people for no reason other than the cancer of bigotry in his soul. The question of whether Mel Gibson is a bigot is not any easier to determine than whether many of us are bigots. Just because we don't get raging drunk and lose control of our dark side does not mean that we do not all have a dark side. Bigotry is in us all to varying degrees and we ought not be so ready to label people as bigots as if such labels were easy to apply and not ultimately self-referential. In pointing our index finger at Gibson as a bigot we must always be mindful of the other fingers that point back at us.
I am not saying that labeling people as bigots is never possible. I am now prepared to believe that the actor’s upbringing and his nature have nurtured a poisonous bigotry in his soul. But in the spectrum that includes the head of Iran and Hizbullah and Hamas and the KKK and the Aryan Nation, Gibson is a small anti-Semitic fish. This is not exculpation, just a simple plea for perspective, and Mel Gibson's case deserves perspective first of all because the world is filled with really dangerous anti-Semites, and Mel Gibson is not one of them.
Perspective and some measure of spiritual generosity are also needed because it seems that Mel Gibson is trying to repent. I know cynics who believe that his contrite pleas for forgiveness are just PR damage control from savvy publicists, and their cynicism may be well founded, but I am trained and I teach the lesson that any act of repentance deserves a corresponding and equally sincere offer of forgiveness. If he is just faking it to get out of the spotlight, time will tell.
In the meantime I hope he can exorcise his demons, and never risk killing someone by driving drunk. I also hope that all of us casters of stones use this unfortunate and minor story to reflect on the many ways we are all broken and poisoned and distorted by a hundred hatreds that are in some ways even worse than his because we live in the illusion that he is the only bigot. It is said that you can only make music through a broken reed. I hope Mel and all of us can use the music of our brokenness to make a symphony of forgiveness our world waits to hear.