Film takes on one of the biggest questions in politics: What is 'faith'?

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 02/09/2009

On Christmas eve, this year, I went to see the film Doubt.  This film has had some chatter in the Oscar buzz, but not enough.  Doubt is a huge film that takes on one of the most difficult questions facing politics in the past 200 years: What is 'faith'?

For those who have not seen Doubt, suffice it to say that the story revolves around the big topic in the Catholic Church over the past decade, and I don't mean the cost of communion wafers.  But beyond the question of sexual interaction between priests and parish children, Doubt takes up the biggest question facing politics in the past century or so. 

When we talk about 'faith,' what do we mean, exactly?

The film divides this topic into two discreet areas that become intertwined in a small urban parish with one foot in the nascent 1960s and one foot firmly in the 1950s.  A charismatic priest wins the confidence of the boys, but also grows too close to some--in particularly one very shy boy, the only African-American in the school.  Soon, the entire staff is trying to understand what really happened and, more painfully, what should happen after they figure out what really happened.

At the core of the debate are two perspectives on 'faith.' Streep views faith as strict adherence to rules and stern enforcement of discipline.  We enforce the rules, so to speak, to maintain the order we believe is the foundation of all.  On the other side, Hoffman pushes a view of faith that begins with a challenge to rules and an embrace of feeling.  The basis of our faith is our compassion coupled with our willingness to let our selves feel close to others and, so he would have us believe, close to God.

Neither of these two models are uncomplicated and Adam's character, as well as Viola Davis' brilliant Mrs. Miller, help us realize that the human condition is not so much to choose one definition of faith, but to get lost in the choice.

Along the way, however,  we see that men and women are burdened with very different responsibilities and hindered by different standards and needs.   Balanced against the nagging question of faith is the persistence of small acts of kindness between men and between women.  In this contrast, we see that the world of faith may be repulsive or alluring as a conversation, but that behind it there is something deeply social that binds us to each other.

In the end, Doubt suggests something very clear.  We may feel the need as a society to discuss word 'faith' more, today, than in the 1950s or 1960s, but we have also lost the habit of acting in basic acts of kindness that served as a backdrop for those times.  If we listen to political debate, some will have us believe that we can get back to those habits of kindness through public declarations of faith.  But who knows. 

© Jeffrey Feldman 2009, Frameshop

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