LEAVE MEL GIBSON TO HIS OWN PURGATORY

Despite what you might have heard last week, Mel Gibson is not Satan. He also is not God.

Forgetting such simple truths is what causes the trouble in the first place.

It would help to recall that Gibson got his first movie break after a bar fight, which bruised his face so badly, the casting people felt he was perfect for the “Mad Max” film.

That was in the late 1970s. Mel Gibson, alcohol, trouble. Now in 2006: Mel Gibson, alcohol, trouble. You are tempted to say not much has changed in nearly 30 years. And, on a certain level, that is true. Gibson was a man then. He is a man now.

A flawed man. Like the rest of us.

Of course, when he made his movie “The Passion of the Christ,” you almost forgot that. He was so hailed by churches, priests, even high-ranking officials of the Vatican, that if Gibson himself wasn’t part of the second coming, you had the feeling he was going to film it.

This, of course, was silly. Gibson then was the same as he had always been: an actor and director with strong – some say radical – Catholic beliefs. That’s it. When he suggested that the Holy Spirit was guiding him in making “The Passion,” not many refuted it. His supporters saw what they wanted to see. A divinely inspired human being.

We need to learn that divinely inspired human beings are more likely people we never see: They’re in poor countries and ravaged cities, feeding the hungry and tending to the sick. They’re not making movies.

In vino veritas

Conversely, when Gibson was pulled over recently by L.A. cops, and he blew a .12 on a Breathalyzer before unleashing a tirade of anti-Semitic and sexist remarks – including, reportedly, the bizarre sentence “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”- you would have thought he invented evil.

Not only did Jewish leaders loudly denounce him and media pundits declare him professionally dead, but many in his business suggested they should wipe their hands of him forever. A host of TV’s “The View” suggested Gibson could only make amends by having “a public circumcision”- a snarky remark that received a roar of laughter and a thunder of applause.

Now I am not suggesting Gibson’s comments were tolerable. I’m simply saying they weren’t surprising. People say dumb and ugly things when they drink. People also reveal some of their hidden hate. While Gibson previously has denied being anti-Semitic -“Of course not,” he once said to Diane Sawyer – he also has tiptoed around his father’s Jew-hating Holocaust denials. And he has made harsh remarks about homosexuals and modern-day Catholics.

So why should it shock anyone that, when loosened by alcohol, he might reveal anti-Jewish sentiments? He is not a savior. He is not God’s chosen messenger. He’s another man walking the Earth who gets inflated to giant proportions because he makes movies and was once voted the sexiest man alive.

Honestly, no matter what religion you are, if you get to the gates of heaven one day, are you going to voluntarily offer that Mel Gibson was a big influence in your life?

Wrong time, wrong forum

So it surprised me to read where an L.A. rabbi invited Gibson to speak to his congregation on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most sacred of all Jewish holidays.

Sure, Gibson had apologized for his remarks and reached out to the Jewish community. That is not uncommon after a high-profile misstep: It’s called damage control. Yet, according to news reports, Rabbi David Baron of a Beverly Hills synagogue called the Temple of the Arts, invited Gibson to speak so that “you might directly express to the Jewish community your remorse.”

I have a better idea. Leave the remorse on Yom Kippur between Jews and God, which is the holiday’s intention. And let Gibson figure out his own demons.

Otherwise, you elevate this guy to a status that he didn’t deserve before and doesn’t deserve now. The biggest mistake in the whole Mel Gibson deal is to keep making the same mistake over and over.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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