O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

The Faith of Roger Ebert

I’m becoming convinced that Roger Ebert is one of America’s greatest living writers. His film reviews are always fantastic. His twitter feed is legendary. And in the wake of his illness and recovery and life without the ability to speak — read this Esquire article if you’re not up to date on Ebert’s health — his blog at the Chicago Sun-Times has become a place where he riffs brilliantly on any number of topics.

(Yes, Ebert has also become a political lightning rod, as his liberal politics have come more to the forefront with his blog and tweets. He’s pretty critical of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, and has come under fire in some really nasty ways. But he’s passionate, intelligent, and thoughtful, and those are qualities to appreciate in anyone, regardless of politics.)


Anyway, all this is to call attention to a recent blog post he wrote about his Catholic upbringing and how his mom used to want him to become a priest. It’s a post about sin and salvation and the priesthood and theology, and eventually Ebert describes how his faith fell away:

I was a voracious reader in grade school, and early on began to
question the logic of various tenets of the faith. To be informed it was
necessary for me to believe, just simply believe, was not
satisfactory. If God was perfect, I reasoned, how could He create
anything that contradicted with His creation? This conclusion, reached
in grade school, was later to lead me like an arrow to the wonderful
Theory of Evolution, and to Creationism, which I found an insult to the


At some point soon after my discovery of Playboy magazine I began to
live in a state of sin, because I simply could not bring myself
to confess certain transgressions to a priest who knew me and could see
me perfectly well through the grid of the Confessional. Logically I was
choosing eternal torment over a minute’s embarrassment. This choice was
easy for me. When I saw Harvey Keitel placing his hand in the flame in
“Mean Streets,” I identified with him. The difference between us was
that long before I reached the age of Charlie in the film, I had lost my


How often do people lose faith because:


1) they are smart enough to ask hard questions

2) they are honest enough to admit there are some logical inconsistencies in Christian theology and a lot of hard things to understand

3) and yet they are told to “just believe,” as if it’s something you can activate at the flick of a switch?

This is why we get in trouble when we attach certainty to faith. Not everyone is wired toward “just believing.” It’s not that easy. For many of us, willing yourself to believe may be impossible. Some people need to ask questions, and the Church needs to be a place where these can be asked and discussed without fear.

The Church will continue to lose brilliant minds like Roger Ebert if we can’t allow room for uncertainty in the way we talk about and teach and practice our faith. There’s an excellent Francis Bacon quote along these lines:

“If a man will begin with
certainties, he shall end in doubts: but if he will be content to begin
with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”

I know the first part of that quote is true.

And I hope the last part to be true.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 8:47 am

“The Church will continue to lose brilliant minds like Roger Ebert if we can’t allow room for uncertainty in the way we talk about and teach and practice our faith.”
So the church is to blame for Roger Ebert rejecting God? Really? I believe he made a choice all on his own, asking questions, evaluating and eventually deciding to reject “the Divine.” And he isn’t the first person, regrettably, to reject God for the thrill of naked women. (I have always considered the female form proof that God exists but that is a whole ‘nother topic.)
Yes, we can doubt, we can question and we can be uncertain but, ultimately, we have to decide for ourselves what is truth. You, me and Roger Ebert all have been given the capacity to choose and we did. But that’s on us, not any institution or movie or song or paraphernalia. Just us. Can we be influenced? Absolutely. But the true seeker will eventually understand it is between them and God. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of true seekers, people that are serious and curious, but those that are are rewarded.
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart”
The older I get I understand this verse more clearly–“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” So embrace your doubt, work your way through the morass of critical thinking and logic but know that the final decision is yours.

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Jason Boyett

posted June 24, 2010 at 9:19 am

You’re right, of course. I didn’t mean to imply that it’s entirely the Church’s fault when people lose their faith. It’s not. It’s an individual decision and the individual must bear those consequences. You can blame this individual for allowing the quickness and shallowness of a blog post to keep him from framing all parts of the discussion.
But I still think the point is valid: the Church must be a safe place for doubters. It must be a place where altar boys like Ebert can feel safe to take their questions about God. And it needs to be a place where budding sexuality and interest in the female form can be talked about without fear of immediate judgment. When the church seems closed off to these kinds of questions — especially when it reacts with guilt and panic — the easiest step is to leave it altogether.
No, it’s not entirely the fault of the Church when people leave the faith. But the Church can definitely be an influence, positive or negative, on that individual decision.

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barney Ohmatin

posted June 24, 2010 at 9:44 am

Men are PWed into “believing”.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 9:49 am

I am not trying to be a smart ass. I sincerely want to know. Do you think it is possible to be certain of anything?

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posted June 24, 2010 at 10:00 am

In these conversations about faith and doubt, I often wonder why I don’t have more doubt. Most of my transformations of faith, growth instigated by doubt, you might say, were not based on my doubt toward God but toward what other people told me he was like. My doubts center on the way Christians have practiced their faith but never God himself. I have often doubted people, rarely doubted God. When what someone has told me seemed not quite right, I usually assumed someone somewhere had made a mistake. This couldn’t be what God had in mind, could it?
Doubting the institution (or the followers) or doubting the Person…. It seems to me that the person who loses faith entirely does more than doubt the particular religious system they are part of, even if that is what they say. I agree that the Church can improve its ability to include “those who doubt” but I also think God makes it clear that some people will choose to reject him. I wonder if blaming the institution is just another excuse – even if there are legitimate claims?

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Jason Boyett

posted June 24, 2010 at 10:26 am

Certainly I do! I am certain of my love for my children and wife. I am certain that the world is round and that dark chocolate is delicious. From a spiritual perspective, I am certain of all the things I listed last week:
My love for my family is certain because I have experienced it. My certainty about the shape of the Earth is because, well, it’s a measurable and provable fact. My certainty about the “This I Believe” stuff is based on working knowledge about the practice of the Christian faith and how it has impacted the world around me.
But, yes, I spend a lot of time talking about uncertainty when it comes to God. One reason is because I have a book about it and I am ridiculously self-promotional. It’s my topic, for now, and not only do I think we need to discuss it, but these kinds of discussions are a part of my job, so to speak. (To be uncomfortably honest.)
But the second reason is that I really do think that faith requires uncertainty, or else it’s not faith. You can’t take a picture of God from space. You can’t observe him in a laboratory or experience him in the same way you experience your family. So I don’t believe I can have the same kind of certainty about God that I have with the things I listed above. That’s why I need faith.
And I think that’s OK — that Christians need to become more comfortable with not knowing for sure. For a long time I thought my uncertainty about God meant my faith was falling away. It was difficult for me. I needed to be having these kinds of discussions, and I needed someone to tell me it was essential to faith, and not its enemy.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 10:50 am

In my small group at church we do ask the tough questions. We debate the homosexuality issue and the logic of only Christians being saved. I once asked why should having “correct beliefs” be important.
One time someone in my class with an inspiring faith told me I didn’t need to torture my faith. Why is it some people can just say this works for me and get so much benefit from their faith and others have to question everything I question everything with the complete belief that humans understanding how the universe works is like a dog understanding string theory.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 10:51 am

It just seems that a phrase like “uncertainty when it comes God” indicates a certainty that there is a God about whom you are uncertain or that you are uncertain that there is a God because, as you say, nobody has a picture.
And, how do you know love by experience? An abused child cries for his abusive mommy when they are separated because all he has is his experience which he interprets as love.
It is all very confusing.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 11:31 am

This falls in line with Rachel’s commentary on evolution of religious organizations. Those churches that stubbornly oppose evolution, science in general and human sexuality will eventually fade into obscurity, and those churches that constantly re-adjust their views to suit the environment will thrive.
Much like political movements that cling on to values of the past fail to survive unless they adapt to change.
From where I stand it’s largely irrelevant if people believe or not. To me, churches are like any other organization who survives and thrives based on their membership numbers and contributions. If a church fails to adapt, it’s their choice to choose a path that eventually kills them off.
Of course individual faith is separate from a religious organization, but quite often the church of your choice has a hefty impact on personal faith too. If Ebert is happy outside church and without god, more power to him. Faith is useless if its net impact on your life is negative.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm

My husband grew up Catholic. He accepted the Bible & God. He rejected many of the church traditions & teachings.
Essentially, when they were unable to give him good answers to his very good questions about why things were done or believed that were based on tradition, he said to himself, “I am a Catholic Christian. Only God is my authority. I have no other.”
This has served him well as he doesn’t get involved in the various church weirdness. I wish i were more like him. We are “unchurched” currently & skipping around many places. Part of the problem has been the deep need of our last church (or at least the pastor) to have everything black & white, right & wrong, good & evil, & no room for doubt, fear, or any emotion other than the love of God & joy in salvation. The rigidness left no room to be human. It is sad. But i will say that countering that opinion/doctrine helped strengthen my faith in a number of ways. It didn’t “fix” doubt, but it helped me accept me & where i’m at. As does your blog, Jason.

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Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

posted June 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm

You’ve nailed one of the things that concerns me most about the church: “The Church will continue to lose brilliant minds like Roger Ebert if we can’t allow room for uncertainty in the way we talk about and teach and practice our faith.”
I wrote a post somewhat along these lines last summer, called “Tasting faith, potluck style.” In it, I wonder this:
“What if belief was presented less like a pre-plated meal, with the objective being to entirely clean your plate (or you won’t get any dessert)? What if it was more like a potluck, with the immediate goal simply ‘being fed,’ even if it’s just a snack, or dessert before veggies? Maybe we’re afraid of our faith being partially accepted and partially rejected, because it makes us uncomfortable and defensive. But shouldn’t we be more concerned that people are leaving our table hungry and wanting? Or that they are inclined to avoid it altogether?”
I really do think our expectations that people can “just believe” at the flick of a switch, as you say, does far more damage than we can imagine.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I was going to post a comment, then read Jay’s comment. It’s verbatim what I wanted to say, so I won’t take up space repeating what he said. Thank you, Jay, for giving succinct, intelligent words to your point. I could NOT have said it better.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 5:39 pm

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart”
…. and if you just can’t bring your head along, if your belief doesn’t agree with what your eyes and intellect tell you, you can just blame your rationality on Satan.
Yeah, that’ll work.
How many advocates say “just trust me”, “just belief”, “just give your heart without question, and all will be well.”
If “just trust me” isn’t good enough for something like buying a car, how can it be good enough for choosing your worldview?

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posted June 24, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Good points. It’s similar to ‘blame the victim’ -mentality; if the church distances you from faith, it’s your fault, not the church’s. It’s not helpful and it’s not constructive.
It’s like the supporters of this kind of attitude see their church as a cool kids salvation club, and to hell with any outsider. Literally.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Jason- very cool to learn more about Ebert and his writing talents. I have difficulty in Jays statement in ways because it seems to imply that the onus is on us to make the right call and discover what is ultimately true. God is Infinite, Almighty and beyond any ability to completely grasp Him and all His ways. Is there any way to discern just how to reach the point where we are *seeking Him with all our heart*??? We are all fallible,sinful human beings,does God really expect us to reach a certain plateau which He has made for us to somehow reach?? I guess i struggle with the dogmatic air of Jays statement and ones like it. (few there be that find it) Does God really want only a very small few of His creation to find Him??? Doesnt sound like a God who would die in order to save His creation to me.

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