Some Christian friends are telling me that this Easter they will celebrate Christ's resurrection by going to see Mel Gibson's movie … again. They seem shocked that I have not seen The Passion of The Christ since I am the son of a well-known fundamentalist preacher—Francis Schaeffer—who, though he died in 1984, is still a guru to millions of evangelicals.

I have written on religious subjects in my semi-biographical novels and in my non-fiction writing. I lecture several times a year about my conversion from Protestantism to Greek Orthodoxy and as such, my friends, Christians, Jews and otherwise, are asking me what I think of The Passion. They act bewildered when I say, "I'll watch just about anything on the screen. But I won't watch a celluloid Jesus."

I did not watch Pasolini's movie about Christ, or Scorsese's. Nor have I seen the old biblical flicks, like The Robe. And I go to a lot of movies, maybe 30 or 40 a year. I even directed four not very good feature films back in the 80s and early 90s—two horror flicks, a comedy and an action picture. All but one of my pictures were rated "R" for violence. I don't mind violence in films, or sex for that matter.

I wonder if there are any other religious people who feel as I do: I don't want to allow other people's visual images to cloud my spiritual imagination. Perhaps others can understand my reasons by thinking of a favorite book one has read that gets made into a film. If it is something you have loved, even "lived in" through many readings, perhaps you are hesitant to see the movie version. You don't want some movie, no matter how good, to change your imagery, to spoil it for you. Multiply this by a hundred and that is the reason I won't be seeing Gibson's movie. Ever. There are some things I just don't mess with.

To me as a believer, there is such a thing as the sacred. Muslims understand this with their prohibition against making pictures of Muhammad or Allah. So do Jews. The Greek Orthodox tradition I've been part of for the last 15 years also protects its sacred images. Icons are not understood to be "art," but part of the liturgical life of the Church, no more open to individual interpretations than the Lord's Prayer. That is why Orthodox Byzantine-style icons are so highly stylized, "unrealistic" and otherworldly. They are sacred objects portraying sacred themes that cannot, indeed must not, be pinned down too closely to earthly reality. That is why to an Orthodox Christian the artistic advances made in religious paintings during the Renaissance were not necessarily advances in spirituality. Art and entertainment are not the purpose of sacred sacramental traditions. Maybe someone should explain this to Mr. Gibson who has, rather ironically, chosen to appropriate an Orthodox icon as the logo for his production company.

Lessons from Mom

My fundamentalist Protestant mother disagrees with my Greek Orthodox theology. But it was her reverence for what she called "the things of the Lord" that taught me that some experiences are off limits. Mom was always much more upset by anyone "taking the Lord's name in vain" than by the use of scatological or sexual epithets. Similarly, she did not like novels about Jesus. She would read her children Wind in the Willows or Winnie the Pooh, but never what she called "those awful Christian books." To her the sacred was the sacred. It was not to be misunderstood as entertainment or even as education, no matter how inspiring.

I've left a lot of my childhood evangelical faith behind and embraced a more mystical expression of Christianity. And I write novels that are satirical at the expense of some particularly strict brands of Protestant fundamentalism. But my mother's "old time religion" sense of the sacred stuck.

The person I meet when I pray is not subject to negotiation or interpretation by a movie director. I want Jesus as he reveals himself to me when I pray, not Mel Gibson's casting choice. This is not a comment on his movie, since I won't see anybody else's film about Christ either. But I am surprised that so many who say they are believers are allowing a mere movie to crash into that very private sacred space we Christians call our souls.

As for me, I'll stick with my Mom's old-fashioned sense of the sacred. This Easter I'll be in church not in a movie theater. Mom was right.

Frank Schaeffer's latest novel is Zermatt. His forthcoming non-fiction book is Faith of Our Sons: A Father's Wartime Diary.