Roger Ebert, a Confused Catholic

Roger Ebert

The morning hour in religion was my favorite class. As we advanced through the grades, it began simply, in memorizing chapters from the Baltimore Catechism, and concluded in eighth grade with the four lives of Christ as told in the New Testament. We made a side tour through Genesis, observing it’s “all the Jews have,” but cautioning that it was written as a fable not to be taken literally. Some Protestants took it as fundamentalist truth, but not Catholics or modern Jews.

That led us toward the Theory of Evolution, which in its elegance and blinding obviousness became one of the pillars of my reasoning, explaining so many things in so many ways. It was an introduction not only to logic but to symbolism, thus opening a window into poetry, literature and the arts in general. All my life I have deplored those who interpret something only on its most simplistic level. I grant you that artworks like Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” are hard to embrace and you will never find it displayed in my home, but I understand the impulse behind it….

It was from these nuns, especially Sister Nathan and Sister Rosanne, that I learned my core moral and political principles. I assumed they were Roman Catholic dogma. Many of them involved a Social Contract between God and man, which represented classical liberalism based on empathy and economic fairness. We heard much of Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum”–”On Capital and Labor.” When I hear self-appointed Catholic “spokesmen” like William Donohue of the Catholic League, I wonder if he has come across it in his reading.

Through a mental process that has by now become almost instinctive, those nuns guided me into supporting Universal Health Care, the rightness of labor unions, fair taxation, prudence in warfare, kindness in peacetime, help for the hungry and homeless, and equal opportunity for the races and genders. It continues to surprise me that many who consider themselves religious seem to tilt away from me….

The great scandal in today’s Church is of course child abuse. I have no idea what such surveys mean or what they’re based on, but given how much I’ve read about it I was surprised to learn that only a little more than four percent of today’s clergy seems to have been involved in it.

Birth control? Here I subscribe to an unofficial “double” loophole often applied in practice by Catholics faced with perplexing choices: Do that which results in the greater good and the lesser evil. I support freedom of choice. My choice is to not support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child. A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born.

I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable. My beliefs were formed long ago from good-hearted Dominican sisters, and many better-qualified RCs might disagree.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • EricW

    I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God.

    Roger Ebert didn’t understand (and didn’t like) the movie FIGHT CLUB, probably because he never read Chuck Palahniuk’s novel.

    Maybe he’s confused about Catholicism because he never read the book it’s based on, which starts with “In the beginning, God….” :p

  • http://www.TheSacredPage.com Michael Barber

    EricW–Great comment!

    Reminds me of this video.
    http://www.thesacredpage.com/2013/02/choose-your-pope-video.html

  • TJJ

    I wondered where Ebert was going with this blog because I knew he was an athiest and or agnostic. I think there are many in western churchds whose faith/belief is very much the same though often not acknowledged as such.

  • Don

    Ebert’s review of the movie “For Greater Glory” included this line
    “It is well-made, yes, but has such pro-Catholic tunnel vision I began to question its view of events.”

  • Chad Gibbons

    The foundation for everything those nuns taught Roger Ebert was their belief in the God of the Bible. That was the reason they believed the things they taught him. Without that foundation, Roger Ebert wouldn’t have learned the things he claims are so important to him.
    It sounds like Ebert does not have a foundation. Whereas the nuns can ultimately justify what they teach based on God’s revelation in Christ, Ebert can only justify his beliefs by saying “this is what a couple of nuns told me when I was little.”

  • Matt K

    I find his candor refreshing. I think if he didn’t confuse certainty with faith, he might not use such extreme language. And if each of us were so honest, we might come up with similar statements about our faith.

    @Chad, Even the most Biblically literate of us probably hold deep beliefs that are only there because our Sunday school teachers/camp counselors/Bible professors/a couple of nuns introduced the idea to us.

  • Aaron

    He should stick to movie reviews…

  • Lisa

    Forcing a rape victim to carry and her attacker’s child is barbaric. And in over 20 states rapists are allowed to sue for visitation and custody. This is a prime example of Christian misogyny. And no I don’t think a zygote, who is not self-aware and feels no pain counts more than a woman. It’s irrational.

  • Tim

    I’m confused as to why Ebert is a confused Catholic. The commentary assumes that the confusion in implied and clear to all. But it is not to me.


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