Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Roger Ebert’s Return to the Church

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And yeah, I’m a little late in actually blogging about this.

But Mr. Ebert may be standing on the precipice of “re-version.”

Ebert, my favorite movie critic (because he’s honest and not shrill, and loves movies — unlike theater critic Roger Simon, who oozes disdain for the medium and is shrill even when he’s funny, which is frequent), was raised Catholic and was bound for the seminary when his faith waned. I’ve long known this about him, and admired the fact that, despite his agnosticism, he always showed respect for the faithful and the Church of his youth. And the man knows and understands the Catholic faith well, and when a movie mischaracterizes the Church or Her teachings, he drags it onto the carpet and beats it to death with a hot thurible.

Partly because of that, I’ve always wondered about the courage of his atheistic convictions, and his latest blog entry only piques my curiosity. Here’s a taste, but read the whole thing if you’re intrigued:

In my childhood the Church arched high above everything. I was awed by its ceremonies. Years later I agreed completely with Pauline Kael when she said that the three greatest American directors of the 1970s–Scorsese, Altman and Coppola–had derived much of their artistic richness from having grown up in the pre-Vatican Two era of Latin, incense, mortal sins, indulgences, dire sufferings in hell, Gregorian chant, and so on. Protestants and even Jews were victims, I suppose, of sensory deprivation.

The parish priest was the greatest man in the town. Our priest was Fr. J. W. McGinn, who was a good and kind man and not given to issuing fiery declarations from the pulpit. Of course in Catholic grade school I took the classes for altar boys. We learned by heart all the Latin of the Mass, and I believe I could serve Mass to this day. There was something satisfying about the sound of Latin.

For those who might not be aware, Mr. Ebert has a ravenous form of cancer the surgery for which has taken away most of his jaw and left him unable to speak. He recently blogged about his lack of fear of death on typical atheist grounds: thereafter lies nothing. But when you know your hour is approaching quickly, you cannot help but contemplate it and various tangential issues. I ask, does the blog entry excerpted above sound like the musings of a man who remains convinced that God does not exist, or rather someone who might be having doubts?

He’s never written Hitchens-esque jeremiads about the Church or faith itself, but neither has he written with such affectionate recollection for the Church of his youth as this. Could the Holy Spirit be wrapping His asomatous arm around Ebert’s shoulder in these late evening hours of the beloved critic’s life?

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