The other night, Christian and I watched “Righteous Kill.” For those who aren’t familiar with it, the movie stars Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino as New York police officers tied up in catching a serial killer who knocks off Bad Guys who got away with their crimes. The movie starts with DeNiro, a jaded, volatile fallen-away Catholic, confessing to the murders. So you know right away that he’s not the real culprit, and you spend the whole movie speculating who is.
It’s an engrossing, well-done movie, but… (Spoiler alert!) …in the end, who ends up being the real killer? Pacino, the “faithful Catholic.” Neither is this an unimportant side point in the story; faith, and the loss of it, is woven into the whole movie as a major subplot.
One of my biggest gripes with news and entertainment is that religion and religious people are always, always painted in a bad light. Halfway through this movie, I was trying to solve the mystery, and I thought, “Well, at least the devout Catholic guy isn’t the bad guy for a change…” Then suddenly I realized: oh, man, yes he is. Of course he is. Who else would they pick to vilify?
Not much suspense left in that one.
There is much that frustrates me about the pursuit of faith, or lack of it. People we refer to as “cultural Catholics” drive me nuts. Actually, anyone who calls him or herself Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, but doesn’t integrate the faith into life, drives me nuts. How can you compartmentalize your faith like that? It’s like the world comes first, and then God—but only as long as He doesn’t inconvenience us. If you truly believe in God, in Heaven and Hell, in a just ending to an unjust world…how can you do anything other than put God first—or at least, struggle to do so? I don’t mean you should walk around spouting chapter and verse at every moment—that’s just annoying. But if you really believe what you say you believe, it ought to be visible in the way you live, in the choices you make. As Rich Mullins says, “Faith without works…it’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.”
I know people who are fallen away Catholics, who never took the time to really dig in and understand the Church’s teachings. I know people who haven’t fallen away, but who fuss about rules and incidentals without taking time to try to understand. It’s far easier to pass black and white judgment than it is to learn and understand the rich complexity of Catholic teaching. Catholicism takes a deeply thoughtful approach to the Bible and tradition, incorporating all of Scripture (not just the most sound-byte-y parts), as well as the context in which it was written: the languages, the cultures, the times. Even “rules” aren’t arbitrary, but are based in Scripture and faith. And the teachings themselves approach even the hairiest topics with compassion…even if those who represent the Church sometimes don’t.
And therein lies the problem: people. Sure, there are problems in the Church, as in any institution made up of human beings. I’m not trying to suggest that discussion should be closed off, that we should ignore pedophile priests or power-hungry bishops. Jesus challenged the religious establishment all the time; that’s why the Jewish leadership wanted him dead. But it does bother me that the blanket portrayal of religion in general, and my Church in particular, is so negative. Unfortunately, the zealots—on both sides—are the ones who get the press. No news is good news; conversely, good news is no news.
So in the end, all we hear about religion is money and corruption and zealots. And terrorists. But that’s not the real story. If it was, the institutions would have fallen apart generations ago.
What I would love is to see more books written like Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, which is a post-holocaust story published in 1960. There are imperfect clergy members there, too…in fact, all of them are quite imperfect…some of them even corrupt…but he also portrays the simple faith, without turning them into caricatures. I’ve never figured out how he did it, but I want to learn to emulate it.
I have much more to say on this topic, but for today, I think I’ve written quite enough.
Two weeks from tomorrow.