by Brian Miller
Esquire magazine recently ran a profile of actor Brad Pitt that touched on several little known aspects of his personal life. Its difficult to admire Pitt as a serious actor, and even more difficult as a Christian to respect him for his certain lifestyle choices. However, after reading the profile, one walks away with at least a sense of understanding and empathy, and perhaps even a dose of qualified respect.
Anyone who has glanced at the tabloid covers in the grocery store is familiar with the actor’s troubled relationship history, and the snippets that make headline news don’t exactly make one think of the actor as a family man. But that’s exactly what he considers himself to be. The profiler noted that “if a stranger on a plane were to ask what he does for a living, he would say, ‘Well, I’d be very Midwest about it, very Missouri. I’d say, This and that. I’d say, I’m a dad, just like you.”
Indeed, the actor’s Missouri roots probably have more of an influence on him than he cares to realize. As the profiler observed, “He is the product of an intact Bible Belt household; Jolie the product of a broken L. A. one — and it is as if they’ve joined forces to produce the family that he remembered and she imagined.”
Perhaps most interestingly however, is the section on Brad Pitt and the loss of his childhood faith:
“He still remembers the kid who made him not believe in God. “Grade school. He told me that when you meet the devil, you’re going to hear three knocks. And then the band would start playing — ‘Tubular Bells,’ from The Exorcist.
‘Wigged me out. Because of the belief I was steeped in, the mythology I was living in, I stayed awake for three months waiting for the three knocks. Then one night I heard them. I almost s*** my pants. I thought I was done for. But the music didn’t play. Nothing happened. I still have a little beef about that. I still take issue with that — the loss of three months.’
He grew up among believers but was not a believer himself. His brother and his sister still live in Missouri and still believe. They worry about him — the state of his soul. “We differ greatly on those beliefs, and yet I can’t change them and they can’t change me,” he says. ‘But we’re family, man. We’ve always been family. We’re linked by blood and experience. I’m sure they’re saddened by me, and I get frustrated with them. But I love them, and at the end of the day if they need me or if they need anything, I’m there for them. Family.’
He is not superstitious. Because he considers religion an organized form of superstition, he considers superstition an individual form of religion — a weakness of mind writ small. ‘If I ever start to feel it, I go the other way,’ he says. ‘I walk right under the ladder.’
He always surprises himself, then, when he prepares to travel apart from his family. ‘I get superstitious. I’ve always been that way. I have to do a couple of things. I have to wear a couple of things. I have to have things with me. I’m not going to tell you what they are. But I’ve become that person when I do have to go by myself and leave the family behind. Because anything can happen, right?”
Unsurprisingly, Pitt the Hollywood actor rejects institutionalized religion, but interestingly enough, Pitt the family man also rejects superstition that not even he can seem to outrun. For the Christian, two things should be immediately obvious. First, it is no surprise that the actor’s family is what causes the manifestation of his superstition. The Christian knows that the family bond is often our first introduction to the idea of an entity that transcends the individual. As Chesterton said, we feel the sense that enormous things often turn on tiny things. The love shared by members of the family, small unit that it may seem, is the foundation by which we are introduced to the broader human family, and in turn, to the family of God. The family can only be sustained by sacrifice, by giving, and by denying the self, and to this extent it reveals a great truth about human nature. As John Paul II observed, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”
Secondly, the Christian should not be surprised that Pitt’s superstition manifested itself at all. As human beings we naturally long for the transcendent. In his recent column, David Brooks notes that people “tend not to want to live in a world closed off from the transcendent, reliant exclusively on the material world.” Even though faith in the traditional forms is waning, Brooks argues that the end result cannot possibly be pure materialism as it simply a human impossibility. We may be “galloping towards spiritual pluralism,” but we are not wholly marching towards the Abolition of Man. We are hardwired to seek out the transcendent.
G.K. Chesterton observed this phenomenon by noting that “Superstition recurs in all ages, and especially in rationalistic ages. I remember defending the religious tradition against a whole luncheon table of distinguished agnostics; and before the end of our conversation every one of them had procured from his pocket, or exhibited on his watch-chain, some charm or talisman from which he admitted that he was never separated. I was the only person present who had neglected to provide himself with a fetish.”
Thinks what you will of Brad Pitt as an actor or a person, but his story is one that Christians will likely encounter more frequently. He represents the unbeliever who, even if it subconsciously, is filled with a longing for something that is missing from our human experience.