The Shadow of “Doubt”
At the insistence of several good friends, I finally Netflix’d “Doubt” the other day. I had put it off with the assumption that it probably was twisted and depressing, since it seems like every critically acclaimed movie is. (And my movie choices are usually British and sentimental, not twisted and depressing.)
Well, let me say something I hate saying:
It wasn’t depressing or twisted. It was more like a mirror…a mirror that was swift to kick me in the pants and point out my own enormous prejudices to me within the first two minutes of the movie. The premise of the movie is at a Catholic school in the 1960s, where two nuns (Meryl Streep and Amy Adams) suspect a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of molesting a young boy at the school. As I placed the DVD in the tray, pressed a few buttons and curled up on the couch, I realized something uncomfortable and jerky:
I already thought he did it.
The previews hadn’t even started and I was already convinced that Philip Seymour Hoffman a.k.a. Father Flynn was a big, nasty liar and sexual predator to boot.
Why am I so quick to want to blame? Before this priest even had time to open his mouth, I had refused him compassion or even a chance. I think I even took delight in it — I was faced with the whole eternal struggle of good and evil, and I was so smug that I was on the good side. In being confronted with a question or in this case, DOUBT, I sought this superior sense of “justice” just to make myself feel better that at least I’m not like that.
But am I? Am I so much better?
Probably not. My only beef with Father Flynn at this point was that he was a privileged, older white guy in a position of authority. (So basically all I have going for me is that I’m not an old white man. Hmmm.) With the distaste of the George W. Bush era still strong in my mouth, I realized my immense predisposition to automatically assume that if you’re one of several things (white, male, old, from Texas, a member of some highly organized religion), you can’t be trusted with power. It was in every history lesson I ever learned in school — who among us can balance the weight of power? Through the lens of centuries of wars, rebel groups, corporate greed, and televangelists, I’ve ceased to see any answers and it’s made me bitter. And poor Philip Seymour Hoffman received the angry brunt of it.
CS Lewis once wrote, “The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristole said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”
I was shocked at my own ugliness in the gall that I had towards this character that I knew nothing about. I have always considered myself a reasonably open and kind person, but apparently, put any kind of authority figure in front of me and unless he’s someone along the lines of Gandhi or Dr. King, I assume that he (and she, sometimes) cannot be trusted. I never thought I was like that until the other night, and now I can’t stop being ashamed.
God tells us to leave judgment up to Him, and it seems that I am of the opinion that God needs my input. Sure, I trust in God’s sense of justice, but I cannot help butting in every time it’s His turn to make a call. I am so inherently trained to see everything and categorize it in black and white that I’ve stopped believing in God’s ability to paint humanity with spots of gray.
Thank God for impartial grace — grace enough for everyone from the perverted priests to me. While it doesn’t justify or confirm all of our choices, grace still doesn’t leave any of us uncovered.