Gary Wills has an excellent review in The New York Review of Books in which he compares the flick with 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edward's historic sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." In other words, both try to scare us into believing.
He ends his review by recounting this chilling incident:
The way this film of bludgeoning can be used as a bludgeon came home to me as I talked with a friend who is a fundamentalist looking forward to seeing the movie. While we talked, he got a phone call from his wife. Their pastor was not only encouraging but requiring his congregation to see the film, for which group tickets had been bought. She had called the pastor to say that she was having back trouble and, though she did plan to see the movie later on, she did not want to go now. The pastor would not take that as an answer. He insisted. She was calling her husband to ask him what she could do. They agonized over the problem while I withdrew. It seemed unlikely that she, or anyone, could get an exemption on the grounds that she dislikes films of excessive violence. In the past, some conservatives have been critical of Hollywood for indulgence in that. But when the sadism is sacred, people must be forced to see it, the bloodier the better.From Edward's sermon:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.If you think this comparison invalid, remember that after The Passion was released, Gibson was quoted as saying his wife would go to hell, despite being a believer and despite being a better person than he because she doesn't subscribe to the same narrow Catholic beliefs he does:
"There is no salvation for those outside the Church. I believe it. Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it. She's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."