Doubt and the West Texas Polygamists

So there I was, with two friends, standing outside the Zachary Scott Theater and talking about the play we’d just seen, Doubt.  See it if you can.

It’s the multilayered story, set in 1964, of a nun who suspects a priest of having an inappropriate relationship with a young male student.  The nun is personally unsympathetic: rigid, severe, joyless.  She has no doubts of her own rectitude or her ability to sense evil in others.  The priest is affectionate, warm, open.  What he’s done — or hasn’t done — remains ambiguous.

The three of us argued about the play.  Was the priest guilty?  Even if the nun was unsympathetic, spiteful, cold, did that mean she was necessarily wrong?  What role did sexism in the Catholic Church play in the drama?

From there, we segued into the polygamists in West Texas.  Two of us found rampant sexism there, too, in the reactions of men who believe the state overreacted by taking more than 400 kids away from their families.  What about the children?  What about — above all — protecting them?  To hell with individual privacy, the sanctity of the family.

The third friend pointed out that she, unlike the other two of us, wasn’t a mother.  Didn’t mothers have different, far more emotional reactions to any situation involving children?  Yes, we did, we agreed — still raising our voices in outrage.

I went home and proceeded to argue with my husband about the Child Protective Services and the polygamists.  He thinks the state erred, went too far.  I said, given the circumstances of the compound, the state had no other choice.  We agreed to disagree.  I was sure I’d won the argument.  He seemed to feel otherwise.

A few days later, I think about the play and the polygamists.  I think the priest was probably guilty of something in Doubt.  But both he and the nun were, in their own ways, self-serving forces of destruction.  As far as the polygamists, I read accounts of children clinging to their mothers, begging not to be taken, and of pregnant teenagers forced into sex slavery.

Life doesn’t get any clearer the older you get or the more you know.  Here’s the only thing I’m really sure of in life: I never trust a person who has no doubts.  It’s always more complicated than we want to think.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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