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A QUESTION OF FAITH (2001)


PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Philosophy of religion, faith/reason

CHARACTERS: Brother Anselm (shemale monk), Father Francis (sympathetic monk), Father Adrian (insane operations manager), Abbot Frederic, Brother William (Anselm’s love interest)

SYNOPSIS: Set in a California monastery, a monk named Anselm claims to have been visited and impregnated by the angel Gabriel. When he transforms into a pregnant woman, the monastery is divided about whether it is a miracle, the act of the devil, or an unexplained biological marvel. The Abbot refuses to give credence to story, locks Anselm up and plans on putting the baby up for adoption once it is delivered. After escaping with the help of some monks, she has the baby and continues as a woman raising her child. The film is the directorial debut of Tim Disney, grand-nephew of Walt Disney. The role of Anselm is played by Disney’s wife.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. A key irony surrounding Anselm’s transformation is expressed by one of the younger monks: “Aren’t we supposed to see visions of God; we’re in a monastery after all.” How open should a full-time believer such as a monk be to a supernatural manifestation by God?

2. Challenging the legitimacy of Anselm’s transformation, the Abbot makes the following speech. “We believe in God, the virgin mother, Christ the redeemer, and the teachings of the mother church, and that’s damn well it. There’s no room in our faith for a blessed conception. ... Our church is not prepared for dealing with Anselm. People need something to believe in, something to hang onto, some source of spiritual sustenance, and all this world offers them is psychic hotlines and wonder diets. We’re an island of faith and sanity and righteous stability in a sea of chaos. If we admit change, then we destroy ourselves.” Although constancy is indeed important within religious institutions, so is at least some kind of change – otherwise all religious institutions would be as anachronistic as the Amish. Why would Anselm’s miraculous transformation require an unacceptable level of change to the Abbot’s way of thinking?

3. On another occasion, the Abbot states that “The church is against it because it doesn’t fit in with any Biblical or social or even biological precedent.” What kind of alleged miracle performed today would have any such precedent?

4. Father Adrian represents someone who, reacting out of fear, behaves angrily and even violently towards Anselm. The connection between fear and bigotry was also explored in the movie “Powder”. Granting that the bigot is unjustifiably violent, is fear the best psychological explanation for the bigot’s behavior (as opposed to disgust, cognitive dissonance, overly conservative upbringing)?

5. One of the young monks shouts at the Abbot, “you can’t even recognize a miracle when it happens right in front of your face.” Is there any miracle that we could recognize if it happened in front of our faces?

6. The principal dilemma expressed by the movie is that we typically feel that miracles are OK to believe in as long as they are old and part of our system; however, when the old ones occurred they were not old or part of a system. Suppose that a defender of traditional miracles states the following: the system is important even if the people participating in the events that gave rise to it (or writing down the stories that arose as it did) didn't exactly know the system. Does this resolve the dilemma?

7. In an interview, director Tim Disney stated that the movie is "the retelling of the Christian story in a twisted way, but a respectful way." What are the parallels and dis-parallels?


 
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