In contemplating Brad Pitt, people often focus on the external; from his big screen debut in “Thelma and Louise” to some of his more current projects, we view him as a thing of beauty. Which he undoubtedly is, partly because he’s cultivated himself to be that way and partly because God made him that way. Some of us might have even learned from his guest spot on Friends and his roles in “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” series of films, that the twinkle in his eye reveals a wickedly enticing, yet harmlessly charming, sense of humor. But what we don’t see is “Brad Pitt: Man of Faith.”
But, as an interview in Parade notes, there’s more to Brad than meets our lustful, sinful eyes. The boy who began his life as a son in a Missouri Baptist community harbors a sense of existential sadness, and spent his early years wondering whether he as a Baptist, would be entitled to the same Heaven as Christians.
As he got older, his religious doubts increased.
“I had crises of faith,” he says. “I thought you had to experience things if you want to know right from wrong. I’d go to Christian revivals and be moved by the Holy Spirit, and I’d go to rock concerts and feel the same fervor. Then I’d be told, ‘That’s the Devil’s music! Don’t partake in that!’ I wanted to experience things religion said not to experience.”
[By this point in the interview, you should be thinking of Brad’s “immortal” role as Louis in “Interview With the Vampire,” and perhaps contemplating the connections between spiritual and physical ecstasy, as elicited by faith and rock-and-roll, respectively. Discuss.]
By the time he entered college, Pitt had scuttled his fundamentalist beliefs. “When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn’t a loss of faith for me, it was a discovery of self,” he says. “I had faith that I’m capable enough to handle any situation. There’s peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and I’m responsible.”
Pitt may not recognize this instinct as tikkun olam, the “fixing the world” concept adhered to by Jews everywhere, but as someone who has the means to make a difference, he is making great efforts all over the map, from rebuilding New Orleans to AIDS care in Africa. The Brangelina entity, known for beauty, adoptions and big sunglasses, has also become known for the millions of dollars Brad and Angelina have donated to charity. As the story reports, $1 million was given to Doctors Without Borders, another million to Global Action for Children.
“It’s not just altruism,” he insists. “It’s not a payback. Philanthropy is good for us. It’s in our own best interest. It’s personally rewarding when you see lives change because of an action you take that, though simple for you, means so much to others. You sleep peacefully at night.”
The man who six-packed his way into our pop culture consciousness is living his life in strong faith; even if the faith is not in a church, per se, the grounding in religious upbringing has clearly left a mark on him, by keeping alive a sense of morality and belief.
“What’s important to me is that I’ve defined my beliefs and lived according to them and not betrayed them,” he says. “One of those is my belief in family. I still have faith in that.”