Saturday, January 03, 2009

Doubt: The Movie and the Reality

Doubt is a movie of intensity, probing and challenging and ultimately satisfying in the ambiguity of its conclusion. All of the of the major actors -- Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis -- give brilliant performances and the imagery -- the various forms of light and darkness, the gray skies and blowing leaves, the endless opening and closing of windows and doors -- while a little heavy-handed at times, creates a sense of seamlessness that both oppresses and frees.

If you haven't seen the movie, I won't spoil it except to say that its rendition of 1964 Bronx Catholicism seems to me right on target, and that its exploration of the priest sex abuse scandal weaves numerous subtleties into a storyline that might otherwise have been handled with a sledge hammer.

I went to see it last night with Gregarious Son and Lovely Daughter and, if the passionate conversations overheard in the hallway and restrooms afterward and carried right on through our late night dinner are any indication, the movie resonates with all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

After the three of us finished, at least for the evening, debating the possible angles of reality behind each of the characters, we moved on to that all-encompassing question of faith and doubt. For me, faith has always been twin sister to doubt , and I wondered what the kids thought of some of the discussions I have been part of recently. In a nutshell, I am in a pastoral care class where the professor insists that parishoners count on knowing that their priest or pastor is a woman or man of certainty, and I am in a reality in which I feel battered and insulted every time someone attempts to foist his or certainty on me.

My children, who are certain in their unbelief and sure of the role of faith, tell me that most people believe in God because they need explanations, and that my capacity for existential angst puts me in a distinct minority. I prefer to think that people veer toward mystery to whatever extent they are able on any given day, and that my inclinations are more toward integrity than angst. But then, I have been wrong about many things in my life.

I am going to go and see Doubt again as soon as possible.


Magdalene6127 said...

I am with you: doubt is faith's twin, not to be dismissed or negated. Doubt is that thing that leads us to be searchers.

I saw the play Doubt with a group of about 35 ministers, all within the first three years of being ordained. It was a powerful experience. I also saw it with one man for whom it was his third viewing. He tells me that he came to different conclusions each time... once believing in the guilt of the priest, once in the guilt of the nun, and once sincerely not knowing. That, to me, is good writing, and authentic storytelling.

I think it is too bad about your pastoral care prof. I disagree heartily. I think there are moments when we preach to ourselves, certainly-- i do it all the time. And I know folks might read certainty where i intend to plant subtlety. But... especially in one on one moments, or bible study, i think an authentic sharing of existential angst can give people permission to think that their faith experience is just as real and legitimate as the seminary-educated person's is.

Joan Calvin said...

One of the things I struggle with is uncertainity about God. I don't have the certainity that some of my parishioners have (and try to foist on me). Many people do long for certainity in an uncertain world. They want to be reassured God (or someone) is in control. My reality is different. I try not to foist it on my parishioners at the same time leaving the way open for them.

A wise person once told me that when we are hurting, we regress in our faith. (I was despairing of the "magical" nature of the faith I was experiencing in others as I did my CPE.) I would say a wiser position than for the care giver to be in a place of certainity is for the care giver to be in a place of compassion: of being present with the sufferer: to accept where the sufferer is in his/her faith and to help the sufferer through the suffering. That , for me, if certainity is called for, then I reflect what certainity I have.

And don't ever give me the "God has his purposes" nonsense.

More meandering than I intended. Someone said doubt is not the opposite of faith: fear is. (or something similar)

Kathryn J said...

An eloquent post with well written responses. I agree that doubt is an integral part of faith and like the concept of coexistence as a twin sister. I find absolute certainty to be very frightening - in anything.

When I was the age of your children, the doubts overwhelmed my faith. I always believed in God but had issues with churches. I've since come to an understanding that people, with their variety and flaws, have problems in any organization around any cause. The environmentalists are often more "holier than thou" than any church regular.

I have wanted to see the play and would like to see the movie. I think it will be difficult though - too many people judge my church only on that horrific scandal.

mompriest said...

I do want to see this movie...even more after reading your reflection and the comments.

I am one who has occasions of doubt often, and certainty is not in my vocabulary.

It is sad that your Pastoral Care prof thinks that certainty is a useful perspective for people undergoing stress, strain, grief, doubt, and or fear. Compassion is useful. Empathy can be ok. Being with is most important, without any expectation that anything "should be" any way in particular.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Since, with very few exceptions, we live in a symmetrical universe, it makes sense that doubt and faith support each other's existence.

I want to see this movie too. It looks .....symmetrical?? ha ha.

Gannet Girl said...

PG, it *is* oddly symmetrical in many ways.

Cynthia said...

What you've expressed here is just one example of why I love you.

Jodie said...

I saw the play with the original cast, and the movie.

The play is even more symmetrical and ambiguous. The priest and the principle are equally compelling in their presentations of their case, with the audience as jury. I felt the movie offered a solution to the mystery (if not guilty as charged, then guilty of what?) that the play was at least much more subtle about.

In the play, when you listen to the opening sermon, you are in church! And the school principle (Meryl Streep in the movie) is a Force. Of. Nature. She is the real thing. OMG.

I felt the movie diluted the energy of the play by introducing more characters.

That being said, my daughter who had not seen the play was as bowled over by the movie as I had been by the play, and my wife and daughter argued for an hour, each taking an opposite position.

Regarding the advice your professor is giving, all I can say is that it exemplifies the saying "those who can't do, teach". Authenticity is the highest requirement we have of of those whom we allow to minister to our deepest hearts. How could I share my doubt with someone who has none? Or my pain with someone who doesn't hurt?

(Faith is only faith in the presence of doubt.)

I know a man whose faith journey began when his daughter was in ICU on the verge of dying, and his pastor (whom he only allowed in to humor his wife) started a prayer by saying: "God, what is this shit?"

Gannet Girl said...

Jodie, that is a good prayer.

I am glad to read that about the principal in the play. Meryl Street has been criticized for being over the top in the movie, but it seemes to me that only such a character could have waged that battle to the end in that time and place.

Carol said...

I look forward to seeing the movie, even more so having read your post and the thoughtful comments. And I agree about faith and doubt. Without doubt there is only dogma and fundamentalism--both frightening to me.
My daughter has been telling me that I'm becoming a bit of a hermit. Word verification is "hermat"! Weird.

Stushie said...

In the book The Shack, Papa (God) says this to the hero Mack:

Faith does not grow in the house of certainty.

I need to go and see the movie, too.

Anonymous said...

"24Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" Mark 9:24

Gives me the feeling that God understands our mental/emotional wrestling.

Intriguing review. Want to see that movie but I'm gonna wait until it hits the cheap theatres or rental. I attended a Catholic school during the late 60's: talk about your love/hate relationship.


Stratoz said...

"professor insists that parishoners count on knowing that their priest or pastor is a woman or man of certainty" ... I could rant, but I am not certain that I am right. How can you be certain? must be a brain chemistry thing.

Jan said...

Thanks for the recommendation. A friend asked me to go see it on Saturday. She said "Doubt" or "Australia," and now I'll insist upon the first one.