Great Faith.
Great Doubt.
Great Effort.
        -The three qualities
           necessary for training.

	(Zen poem)

Doubt, in a religious sense, has always been seen as the dark and negative twin of faith. Thomas was scorned for wanting to investigate Jesus's wounds. Doubting scripture is seen as a sin of pride. And doubting God's word was what led to the original sin.

Why is doubt so badly cast? Because churches want strong, faithful followers who will forge ahead for their cause, not hesitant doubters worrying about what lies in ambush to the sides.

But ours is pretty much a post-religious society... so have things changed? Well, a little. But too many teachers would rather read out Newton's laws or the Theory of evolution from a textbook than answer the 'smart-alecky' question-askers' doubts.

What you won't hear in a classroom is that for every scientific theory that is now high-school gospel, somebody had to first doubt the theories that came before. Doubt is always the first step towards knowledge. (In Adam and Eve's case, the knowledge of good and evil.)

So, I now proclaim: doubt! Doubt everything you are told! (And give your teachers a nervous breakdown.) 8^) After all, the most interesting parts of all theories are often reached only through asking those little nagging questions:

Doubt, a Tony and Pulitzer-winning play from 2005 with an intriguing central problem, received a fairly literal Hollywood adaptation in 2008, quickly taking Oscar nominations for its performances, which include Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan Flynn.

Father Flynn embodies Vatican II; he's gregarious, moderately hip, and takes pleasure in life. He reaches out to students and parishioners. Dinner at the manse involves laughter and a glass of wine. Sister Aloysius, the principal of St. Nicholas School, is a dour traditionalist. She enforces decorum, doctrine, and her disapproval of ball-point pens within and without the school walls. It's the early 60s, but she's no Singing Nun; dinner with her involves quiet reflection or pointed spiritual questions. She believes the laity want the clergy to be "different," and she's not sure any of us should sleep well.

We like Flynn. We're hostile towards Sister Aloysius. The problem: the nun suspects the priest of beginning an improper relationship with a twelve-year-old boy. These things were not much spoken of in 1964. The Roman Catholic Church has a hierarchy that does not give nuns much power, and society reinforces that sexist structure. Further complicating the problem is Sister Aloysius herself. She may want to rebuke the flesh, but she's as human as anyone, and her very human biases may be leading her to misinterpret the facts.

Then again, Father Flynn may be guilty.

Sister Aloysius enlists the aid of enthusiastic, naïve Sister James (Amy Adams), who teaches Flynn's suspected target, Donald (Joseph Foster), the school's only Black student. Sister James sees how the conflicts reveal divisions in church and society-- and the personal demons that plague both of her superiors.

Everyone involved gives performances that bolster and enliven a script which can be, at turns, powerful, captivating, slow-moving, and contrived. Flynn has much to recommend him-- but the veneer of charm can wear thin. I never warmed to Sister Aloysius (who at one point denounces Frosty the Snowman as "Pagan"), but she's more likable than she appears at first to be. Other standout performances include Viola Davis as Donald's concerned, conflicted mother. The film's greatest strength is that it takes characters veering on stereotype, spokesmodels for world-views, and imbues them with believable, if occasionally strained, humanity.

The film also impresses with its faithful recreation of a time. I recall the world looking like this; I could almost smell the ditto sheets and the burning censers.

Doubt is, to be certain, not perfect. The use of pathetic fallacy and similar stylization does not work as effectively here as it might on stage. And one never entirely forgets that this was a stage play, here presented with minimal concessions to the medium of film. I can recommend the film-- but it necessarily pales beside a well-done theatrical production.


Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, from his play.

Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan Flynn
Amy Adams as Sister James
Joseph Foster as Donald Miller
Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller
Alice Drummond as Sister Veronica
Audrie J. Neenan as Sister Raymond
Carrie Preston as Christine Hurley
John Costello as Warren Hurley
Lloyd Clay Brown as Jimmy Hurley

Doubt (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Douted; p. pr. & vb. n. Doubting.] [OE. duten, douten, OF. duter, doter, douter, F. douter, fr. L. dubitare; akin to dubius doubtful. See Dubious.]

1.

To waver in opinion or judgment; to be in uncertainty as to belief respecting anything; to hesitate in belief; to be undecided as to the truth of the negative or the affirmative proposition; to b e undetermined.

Even in matters divine, concerning some things, we may lawfully doubt, and suspend our judgment. Hooker.

To try your love and make you doubt of mine. Dryden.

2.

To suspect; to fear; to be apprehensive.

[Obs.]

Syn. -- To waver; vacillate; fluctuate; hesitate; demur; scruple; question.

 

© Webster 1913.


Doubt, v. t.

1.

To question or hold questionable; to withhold assent to; to hesitate to believe, or to be inclined not to believe; to withhold confidence from; to distrust; as, I have heard the story, but I doubt the truth of it.

To admire superior sense, and doubt their own! Pope.

I doubt not that however changed, you keep So much of what is graceful. Tennyson.

To doubt not but.

I do not doubt but I have been to blame. Dryden.

We doubt not now But every rub is smoothed on our way. Shak.

That is, we have no doubt to prevent us from believing, etc. (or notwithstanding all that may be said to the contrary) -- but having a preventive sense, after verbs of "doubting" and "denying" that convey a notion of hindrance. E. A. Abbott.

2.

To suspect; to fear; to be apprehensive of.

[Obs.]

Edmond [was a] good man and doubted God. R. of Gloucester.

I doubt some foul play. Shak.

That I of doubted danger had no fear. Spenser.

3.

To fill with fear; to affright.

[Obs.]

The virtues of the valiant Caratach More doubt me than all Britain. Beau. & Fl.

 

© Webster 1913.


Doubt, n. [OE. dute, doute, F. doute, fr. douter to doubt. See Doubt, v. i.]

1.

A fluctuation of mind arising from defect of knowledge or evidence; uncertainty of judgment or mind; unsettled state of opinion concerning the reality of an event, or the truth of an assertion, etc.; hesitation.

Doubt is the beginning and the end of our efforts to know. Sir W. Hamilton.

Doubt, in order to be operative in requiring an acquittal, is not the want of perfect certainty (which can never exist in any question of fact) but a defect of proof preventing a reasonable assurance of quilt. Wharton.

2.

Uncertainty of condition.

Thy life shall hang in doubt before thee. Deut. xxviii. 66.

3.

Suspicion; fear; apprehension; dread.

[Obs.]

I stand in doubt of you. Gal. iv. 20.

Nor slack her threatful hand for danger's doubt. Spenser.

4.

Difficulty expressed or urged for solution; point unsettled; objection.

To every doubt your answer is the same. Blackmore.

No doubt, undoubtedly; without doubt. -- Out of doubt, beyond doubt. [Obs.]

Spenser.

Syn. -- Uncertainty; hesitation; suspense; indecision; irresolution; distrust; suspicion; scruple; perplexity; ambiguity; skepticism.

 

© Webster 1913.

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