Dennis Prager commented today about Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks by stating, "There is no doubt that he has anti-Semitic beliefs." Mr. Prager reasoned that when drunk, a person's inhibitions are removed and his words reveal what's truly in his heart. With this I agree. But what of Gibson's interviews surrounding the release of The Passion of Christ where he claimed that he is not an anti-Semite? Also, in his most recent apology Gibson says, "But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot."
Some may think that Mel is being insincere when sober and secretly harbors hatred towards the Jewish people. His recent explosion confirms the fears of those who suspected The Passion was just another excuse for Christians to blame Jews for the death of Jesus.
But I don't think so. His inexcusable words don't necessarily reveal his deeply held beliefs, but merely his thoughts and feelings. (Perhaps Mr. Prager would agree if given the chance to clarify.) If we're honest with ourselves, each of us thinks and feels things of which we are ashamed. While these evil thoughts are temptations to sin, they are not sin themselves. It is possible to feel or think in a way contrary to one's beliefs. The path towards virtue involves rising above our fallen minds and hearts, and praying for God to purify them by the fire of his indwelling Spirit.
Mel Gibson's behavior was inexcusable. He is right to take responsibility for it, to repent and to seek reform. But his critics would do well to remember that, one way or the other, they can't know from this unfortunate episode the beliefs of his heart.
(Robert Gotcher has similar good thoughts over at Heart, Mind & Strength.)