HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES: Issuing the Call to Adventure

John Darrouzet - Movies 2

Previously, John invited readers to join the quest for Catholic Stands in his blog Where to Start the Quest. In his first HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES post, he described the ordinary world we are coming out of when we come upon as issue in terms of being like The Fool (The Rookie) and understanding wealth (Wall Street), family (Spencer’s Mountain), innocence (To Kill a Mockingbird), and youthful folly (West Side Story). Now in this post, he invites us to heed the call to begin one’s faith journey by stating an issue to be decided.

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As I noted in my first post, while there are many questions we can, maybe must, even should, or truly want to have answers to, there is a specific kind of question that actually starts the decision-maker, especially in matters of faith, on the Decision Maker’s Path ™.

Sure, as I said, there are questions asking for raw data. There are questions asking about interpretations of raw data. There are questions asking about factual knowledge based on interpretations. There are questions about reasoning with factual knowledge, and thus about accumulating wisdom.

But, my hope is to encourage us to deal with questions that have reached the point of being issues. Issues about which there are differing, even contradictory, positions. Issues about which participants want to end their double-mindedness.

Decisions then are the focus of this whole series of posts on HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES. Not just choices among alternatives limited to those faiths proposed by others. Not just judgments that rely on acceptance of evident facts and hypothetical reasoning about faiths. Rather decisions reached through a process (that includes prayer) in the face of seemingly impenetrable walls of emotion and rationalization that surround faith. Decisions of issues that will make a difference to you in your life, especially in matters of faith.

To arrive at an issue, we will consider initial difficulties, conflict, concerns about handing ourselves over to others, progress, and, most significantly, the way in which all true issues bring up a sense of death.

2.5. Initial Difficulty: What general concern are you having to face?

So how do issues arise?

Usually there is an initial difficulty, with an underlying question like: What general concern are you having to face?

In Zorba the Greekseveral exchanges between Zorba and his employer, Basil, point out aspects of such a general concern: 

Zorba: Why do the young die? Why does anybody die?
Basil: I don’t know.
Zorba: What’s the use of all your damn books if they can’t answer that?
Basil: They tell me about the agony of men who can’t answer questions like yours.
Zorba: I spit on this agony!  –       (quote)

Basil: I don’t want any trouble.
Zorba: Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble. –       (quote)

Zorba: Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You’ve got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else…
Basil: Or else?
Zorba: …he never dares cut the rope and be free.  –       (quote)

Zorba has a passionate view of life but it is also profoundly philosophical and hardly academic. Basil has the issue, not Zorba. But is Zorba’s philosophy of life the answer we are looking for?

St. Thomas Aquinas opens his Summa Theologica with a stunningly simple question: “Whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required?”

The general concerns Zorba and Basil address existentially, Aquinas approaches theologically, from the get-go. At first reading, it would seem that Zorba and Aquinas are far away from each other, if not polar opposites, when it comes to addressing initial difficulties and initial concerns.

And yet, it is Aquinas, and not Basil, who knows how to use “all your damn books” to help answer our general concerns. His method of disputation looked for trouble and took it head on.

Peter Kreeft summarizes Aquinas’ method of formalized public debates (disputations) in his book Summa Philosophica, as follows:

Grouped under sets of general questions are Articles that contain a single question. Each Article’s question has five parts:

  1. A decidable issue (yes or no), for example: “Article 1. Whether the existence of God is self-evident?” (You may be surprised at St. Thomas\’ answer.)
  2. Objections to answering the issue in the affirmative.
  3. Positions contrary to the objections.
  4. The answer Aquinas provides to the issue.
  5. The replies Aquinas makes to the objections.

2.7. Conflict: What are the conflicting positions about your concern?

As is readily apparent, Aquinas does not shy away from conflict, like Zorba says. Aquinas makes many references to certain thinkers, especially The Philosopher (Aristotle), regularly since they present many of the objections to be dealt with.

Here are 8 key players in Aquinas’ ongoing conversation: The Commentator (Averroes); The Master (Peter Lombard); The Theologian (Augustine of Hippo); The Legal Expert (Ulpian);Avicennaal-Ghazali; Rabbi Moses (Maimonides) and Dionysius (Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite). These were in many ways his intellectual family. Interestingly, our group may grow along the way to include its own family of characters: fathersyoungest daughtersoldest daughtersmiddle daughtersmiddle sonsoldest sonsyoungest sons, and mothers.

But initial difficulties in general concerns and conflicts among those who try to answer a given question do not in and of themselves give rise to issues. An issue is not a reporter’s “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, How Often” question. It is structured to evoke a decision.

In Witness, John Book decides to leave Rachel’s world. Here’s her exchange about it with her father. 

Rachel Lapp: He’s leaving, isn’t he?
Eli Lapp: Tomorrow morning. He’ll need his city clothes.
Rachel Lapp: But why? What does he have to go back to?
Eli Lapp: He’s going back to his world, where he belongs. He knows it, and you know it, too.  –       quote

There is a hidden issue here that John Book was deciding and Rachel wasn’t  Can you state it? (Surely we know it has to do with the split between the material and spiritual worlds they come from. But what was Book struggling with?)

There is a sense in which conflict exposes the difference in world views among those in conflict. I hope we will experience some of that in the conversation that follows in the comment sections below each post, whether or not we end up going back into our previous worldviews.

2.8. Handing Over: Are you willing to learn from others about your concern?

Perhaps the problem Book had was an unwillingness to talk with Rachel about his underlying issue.

In our comment exchanges, we most likely will be sharing more about ourselves than we may have expected at the outset. In a way, we will be handing ourselves over to the world beyond us, perhaps out of our comfort zone. Hopefully, we will find good will among out participants, with varying degrees of hesitancy in handing ourselves over to a public opinion bath, as Abraham Lincoln puts it.

But as Will suggests in Good Will Hunting, the beauty of having dialogue of many sorts transcends some expected limits:

Sean: Do you have a soul mate?
Will: Define that.
Sean: Someone you can relate to, someone who opens things up for you.
Will: Sure, I got plenty.
Sean: Well, name them.
Will: Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Frost, O’Conner…
Sean: Well that’s great. They’re all dead.
Will: Not to me, they’re not.
Sean: You can’t have a lot of dialogue with them.
Will: Not without a heater and some serious smelling salts. –       quote

2.9. Progress: What is first signaling progress about your concern?

But, I must admit, there is a nagging problem that I alluded to in my previous post. We must not presume or despair over one another’s efforts. For when an issue truly arises, there is always a first signal of progress. It is not necessarily a promise of success.

Consider the determination depicted in The Searchers.

Ethan: Our turnin’ back don’t mean nothin’, not in the long run. She’s alive, she’s safe… for a while. They’ll keep her to raise her as one of their own till, until she’s of an age to…
Martin: Don’t you think there’s a chance we still might find her?
Ethan: Injun will chase a thing till he thinks he’s chased it enough. Then he quits. Same way when he runs. Seems like he never learns there’s such a thing as a critter that’ll just keep comin’ on. So we’ll find ‘em in the end, I promise you. We’ll find ‘em. Just as sure as the turnin’ of the earth. –       quote:

As we find out, Ethan is wrong . So it is probably prudent to know what we are looking for in a public discussion like this.

Not everything will mark progress; and sure enough, there will be setbacks.

Even Aquinas considers the propriety of disputing with unbelievers in public when he raises the issue:Whether one ought to dispute with unbelievers in public?

2.10. DEATH: HOW ARE YOU STATING YOUR ISSUE?

But while our progress may be marked at the beginning, it is not as easily marked along the way. That is part of the reason I propose the Decision-Maker’s Path ™, to help us find our way.

There is, nevertheless,  a clear ending to the decision-making process.

Unlike choices that can be arrived at by a flip of the coin, and thus are quickly reversible because it doesn’t seem to matter at the moment; and unlike judgments that can be arrived at with hypothetical reasoning about things already done, and thus reconsidered in view of new assumptions and new evidence, decisions have a finality that is a cutting off of other paths. They are found at a point of no return. They are a form of death.

In Unforgiven Will Munny (will money?) talks to his young partner about the finality of death:

The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] It don’t seem real… how he ain’t gonna never breathe again, ever… how he’s dead. And the other one too. All on account of pulling a trigger.
Will Munny: It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid. –       quote

When I was at Notre Dame as an undergraduate, I met a professor, Father John S. Dunne, C.S.C., who had a profound effect on my worldview. After taking all of his classes that I could, I continued to learn from him through his books that came out over the years.

In them he dealt with basic questions, the first of which responds to Will Munny’s inevitability of death. Father John worked his way through to his own answers in his books and shared his journey with us. Interestingly, I see this selection of guiding questions from his books as more or less paralleling the hero’s journey:

  1. If I must someday die, what can I do to satisfy my desire to live? (The City of the Gods)
  2. What kind of story are we in? Is it the story of an adventure, a journey, a voyage of discovery? Or is it something simpler like the story of a child playing by the sea? (Time and Myth)
  3. Does becoming end in being or does it end in nothingness? (A Search for God in Time and Memory)
  4. Is a religion coming to birth in our time? (The Way of All the Earth: Experiments in Truth and Religion)
  5. Where do you come from? Where are you going? (The Homing Spirit) How may we wisely conjoin seeing and feeling … knowing and loving? Or put more simply: Does wisdom dwell where my soul dwells: in my head or in my heart?  Or more pointedly, does God dwell in the hearts of those who love God wisely? (The House of Wisdom)
  6. Where does violence come from? Where does nonviolence come from? How can we live in the peace of the present? (The Peace of the Present An Unviolent Way of Life)
  7. Whether there is a road in life I can follow with all my heart? Is there a path of the heart’s desire? If I let myself feel the loss of the road not taken, if I let myself feel the loneliness of the road I have taken, I am led on a journey into my heart, I come to know my heart’s desire, and not only my own but that of others as well; I am led on a journey into the human heart. (The Reasons of the Heart)
  8. Do we love with a love we know or with a love we do not know? (Loves Mind: An Essay on Contemplative Life)
  9. What is it that enables a road to go on and on and not to come to a dead-end? (The Music of Time)
  10. Do you want to live eternal life in the presence of God? (Reading The Gospel)
  11. Why is our individual loneliness so difficult to deal with and yet so rewarding? (The Mystic Road of Love) Whether in one’s labyrinthical soul, am I my world, my time, my body or in each? (A Vision Quest)
  12. Is there a life in us that can live on through death? (Deep Rhythm and the Riddle of Eternal Life) Whether there is an eternal consciousness in us? (Eternal Consciousness)

Pondering death and life not only gets one focused, but emphasizes how important it is to get the statement of the issue to decide as specific as possible and yet open enough to allow exploration of its many aspects along the Decision-Maker’s Path ™.

So to help us heed the call to this adventure, I have formulated the following statement for the issue I am grappling with.

Issue Statement:

Whether, since I will someday die,
I want to take only those courses of action that
satisfy my love of life?

I urge you to come up with your own issue statement as well. Share it with us. And start the adventure of our journey.

Next time we will address the hero’s and our sense of reluctance at addressing the issue, but for now, try to come up with your best articulation of you own issue.

Thanks in advance for your participation.

No.

Theme

Question

Musical Warm-Up

Movie

Meditation

2.6. Initial Difficulty What general concern are you having to face? The Times They Are a Changin’ Zorba the Greek The Rich man and Lazarus
2.7. Conflict What are the conflicting positions about your concern? We Shall Overcome Witness John the Baptist Preaches in the Wilderness
2.8. Handing Over Are you willing to learn from others about your concern? Teach Your Children Good Will Hunting Jesus and the Temple Doctors
2.9. Progress What is first signaling progress about your concern? You Can’t Always Get what you Want  The Searchers John Baptizes Jesus
2.10. DEATH HOW ARE YOU STATING YOUR ISSUE? Stairway to Heaven Unforgiven The Evil One Tempts Jesus

 © 2013 John Darrouzet. All Rights Reserved.

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