Idol Chatter

doubtpic.jpgThere was a time when a playwright like the acclaimed John Patrick Shanley would not have considered an interview with Christians worth his time– even to promote a movie, even one with an overtly religious nature like his latest effort, “Doubt.” So I think the fact that he just did a Q & A with Christianity Today’s Mark Moring is something of a sign of the continuing shift in the cinematic landscape to include mainstream evangelicals in the cultural conversation. It’s a cautious dance Moring and Shanley partake in as they gingerly touch on his Catholic upbringing, sexual abuse in the church and Shanley’s own belief that doubt is the only thing he is certain of.

In the interview, Shanley discusses how he brought some of his own Catholic past to the hit play turned movie–including being kicked out of one Catholic school and being mentored by someone he later found out was a sex predator at another school. He doesn’t dump on the Catholic Church in his interview, but he doesn’t exactly give the impression he embraces it either.
What was most interesting for me is that Shanley’s comments about the nature of doubt itself reinforce exactly why I was ultimately dissatisfied with the play “Doubt.” Shanley is a clever writer with a sharp sense of character and dialogue, but “Doubt”‘s portrayal of corruption–real or imagined– and uncertainty in the Church is actually diminished by the same ideas Shanley puts forth in this interview. He claims, among other things, that “certainty is always dangerous” and that he would “endlessly dispute anything.”
While I believe in true mystery in the more Catholic sense of the word and that wrestling with personal doubt is certainly spiritually healthy, that doesn’t seem to be the kind of doubt Shanley– or his characters– are talking about. Doubting simply for the sake of skepticism is not really going to further a conversation, as Shanley suggests. Questioning is great, but only if you believe that a few absolutes actually exist and should be followed.
It’s these points that the author misses that, for me, keeps “Doubt” from being the completely searing examination of faith that it wants to be.
John Patrick Shanley at

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