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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, October 21, 2004

When I was a kid my parents would never have allowed me to see a movie like "Saved". Back then the Church used to rate movies, and films that were antithetical to Catholic doctrine were rated "Condemned". I recall that "Planet of the Apes" was Condemned-- and, with the benefit of hindsight, I actually understand that its despairing vision of humanity descending into beasts was indeed contrary and offensive to the teachings of the Church. Weird as it may seem, Catholics are optimists, and Charlton Heston on the beach isn't what the Pope, or Graham Green, or any of the people that I grew up with in my Catholic boyhood saw coming. Maybe eternal damnation, sure, but that, in the faith of my Catholicism, was an individual thing-- not something that might befall humanity.

Movies about doubt in faith typically either resolve on the side of faith, or try to mock faith, and "Saved", which I watched tonight, deserves a lot of credit for not quite doing either. I can't imagine that it is a film that is going to be shown by many religious groups, but I hope a lot of religious people are watching it at home-- and if they are, I hope that there are people who have never really had a handle on the whole "Christian" thing seeing it too. The dangerous thing about this movie is that both believers and people who come at it from outside may see it as mocking. Both would have a basis, and both could well be accused of lacking a sense of humor, or a sense of perspective.

I think that the worst thing about g-d is religion, and I thought the movie was hilarious and sad; true and grotesque; accurate to my experience and exaggerated beyond recognition. I hate the religiosity that pervades American life, but it is there, and "Saved" is close to a documentary in its portrayal of it. All it was missing was a major sports figure. (Where the hell were you, Calvin Schilling?) CLA had already seen it, but watched it with us, and I was forced to think about what a movie that true would have been like to see when I was the age of the characters-- CLA's age. It would probably been something that was restricted to the late showing of the seedy theater of my hometown, and there is no way that any of even my lowest life pals would have been able to see it. Funny thing is, like all works about doubt in faith, "Saved" probably does a better job of raising the questions that form the foundation to religious belief than the pious works of those who have no doubts or holes in their faith. In its way it reminded me of good old Flannery O'Connor.

Faith is, by definition, impossible to defend, but I stand with Miss O'Connor:

"I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, "A Charmed Life.") She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

"Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."'

I liked "Saved" precisely because it impressed me as a movie that was prepared to believe, or prepared to say,"to hell with it." If faith means anything, I think it means that you stand one place or the other, but that you always wonder if you are standing in the right place, and this, I think, is where I get off the bus from a lot of people who are religious. It seems to me that they are convinced that the important thing is that they believe-- and they believe that their belief makes them right. I believe that belief is founded in uncertainty, that this uncertainty is the miracle of faith, and that certainty is almost certainly heresy.

The upside to my system is that sometimes you get to sleep in on Sundays. The downside is that I know that no matter what I believe I am almost certainly wrong. I used to pray for faith, and now I wonder if my prayers have been answered.

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