Faith Springs From ‘Doubt’
January 12, 2009
Faith sometimes springs from doubt.
Some of the greatest defenders of Christianity were former atheists and agnostics. The following provide examples:
Author C.S. Lewis abandoned his uncertainty and went on to become one of the most inspiring Christian apologists.
Atheist Lee Strobel went from being an award-winning journalist to a best-selling religious defender.
British philosopher Anthony Flew left his non-believing ways behind and embraced intelligent design.
Dr. Paul Vitz, a psychologist and former atheist, went on to explore the psychological causes of atheism.
The movie “Doubt” begins and ends with an examination of constructive aspects of life’s uncertainty. The film’s title and previews have led some to believe it is a Catholic-bashing movie. It is not.
Rather, it is an exploration of the stereotypes associated with people of faith.
John Patrick Shanley is the writer of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and screen adaptation, and he is also the director of the film. Shanley won an Oscar for his 1987 classic, “Moonstruck.”
He grew up in the Bronx, was raised Roman Catholic, and attended a Catholic school. The production used locations from the writer-director’s own childhood.
“The church school that I went to — which is the one that’s depicted in the film — we went there and shot the exterior of that with the kids going in, and all of that. And we shot on the street that I grew up on, which is two blocks away,” Shanley explained.
He noted that they also shot on the rooftops and alleyways where he played as a child. He told me that he drew from his actual experiences to emphasize “the poetry of the real.”
“Eugene O’Neill talked about the poetry of the real, and it’s true, you know. You can substitute something else and people will not necessarily consciously notice the difference, but unconsciously you can recognize when something is the thing in itself. And that has a peculiar power. And that was something that I wanted to convey.”
The character of Sister Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep, was inspired by an actual nun of the same name whom Shanley had encountered in school.
“I went to this school when I was 6 years old. The principal of the school was named Sister Aloysius, and she was a fearsome creature. Then after a few years, I believe that she retired, and another principal came in named Sister Miriam Laboré. And she was a pretty fearsome creature, though a little less so. But, you know, we have this sort of stereotype of what these authoritarian nuns were like, and they became kind of a joke over the years.
"I wanted to start this story by showing that stereotype and then lead you down a path where you start to have to examine what your shorthand for this kind of person was and maybe look at them with fresh eyes.”
Reflective of Shanley’s personal faith journey, he wrote the opening sermon.
“You have periods of great insight and certainty in your life and direction. And then the clouds roll in.
"You have this vague memory that once you knew exactly why you behave the way that you do, or go the way that you go. But you have to sort of hold onto that memory because you’re not feeling that intuition anymore in the present tense, and you just have to hope that one day you’ll be reaffirmed in the choices that you’ve made, or you’ll get some new intuition that adjusts the direction you’re going,” he told me.
Shanley is elated that at a time when the most successful movies involve superheroes, computer generated images, and action scenes, “Doubt” is drawing in large audiences without any of those elements.
“Here’s a film where the women are dressed in shapeless black clothing, nobody drives a car, nobody has a gun . . . according to modern American lives, why would anybody go to see such a film? The fact that people are going, I find very heartening . . . that they are engaged by the challenge that the film poses to them.”
Reproduced with the permission of
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