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Thorns, derision plentiful

Utah, it seems, is not the only place where religious resentments often bubble below the surface. A gritty little movie about the Catholic Church has turned Mexico into fiery furnace of religious anger.

When it comes to ridicule, "The Crime of Father Amaro" leaves no stone unthrown. It's news.

Intrigued, I decided to slip out to see the film.

It was an uneasy two hours.

The movie centers on a group of priests in rural Mexico. One's a drunk, another is a Marxist revolutionary. An old priest is sleeping with a woman in the parish, a young priest is sleeping with her daughter. The plot has the young girl getting pregnant and dying in an abortion mill. That, in turn, frees the young priest up to be a man of God again. Along the way, everything gets served up in a steamy pot of salsa filled with drug lords, abusive boyfriends and neglectful parents.

In short, I left the theater feeling like I'd just sat through Pilate's mock trail of Jesus. The movie is one more example of a filmmaker looking at spirituality and seeing everything but the spirituality. It is religion viewed for its "entertainment value." God isn't a king, he's a court jester. And religious figures are clowns in a three-ring circus. Their only saving grace is in providing some amusement.

In other words, the film "Father Amaro" is a crown of thorns pressed deep into the brow of Christianity itself.

Like the original crown of thorns, the film is a "prop" for ridicule. The Romans put a crown of thorns on Jesus the way kids paint a moustache on the photo of a politician. They made him into a cartoon. He amused them.

Yet the crown actually said more about those who placed it than the one who wore it.

And so do all the "crowns of thorns" we put on things worth revering today.

The Romans had no corner on scoffing. We're pretty good at it ourselves.

When Jerry Springer holds dysfunctional people up for laughs, isn't he placing a crown of thorns on human dignity?

When talk show hosts mock people in pain, they're pressing a crown of thorns into the flesh of human suffering.

Every time we laugh at something of value, we're really putting a thorny crown on our own worth.

And we do it all for the same reason the Romans did.

We do it for our amusement.

Most people, writes author Henri Nouwen, spend their lives trying to keep entertained until they die.

And the cheapest entertainment will always be derision. The loudest laugh is the scornful laugh.

In the end, when the Romans put a crown of thorns on Jesus, they saw it as a symbol of a bogus king. But it was really a symbol of something else. It symbolized a society that had become so numb, jaded and self-interested that the only facial expression they could muster was a smirk.

Needless to say, I left "Father Amaro" more slowly than I went in.

I wasn't disappointed I'd gone. I needed to see it.

As I passed the ticket window the theater manager asked, "So what did you think?"

I really didn't have an answer for him.

Deciding how and what to think about the contempt of the world has taken much better souls than I am an entire lifetime.