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February 16, 2010

Roger Ebert: 'There Is No Need to Pity Me'

In profiling the critic's battle with cancer, Esquire has a great story about a great writer


In one of the best pieces I've ever read about Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, Esquire magazine gives us a well-written and sensitive look into the life of a man who has lost his voice but not his spirit or gift. Arguably the best film critic of all time, Ebert is an interesting study -- he's an atheist in a world (big-time newspapers) that's generally populated with hard cynics, but he is full of joy, wit, and wonder, even as his life slips away.

"There is no need to pity me" he tells the Esquire writer, Chris Jones, by writing on a scrap of paper. "Look how happy I am."

Later in the story, Jones writes (italicized portions are Ebert's direct quotes):

Ebert is dying in increments, and he is aware of it.

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear, he writes in a journal entry titled "Go Gently into That Good Night." I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

There has been no death-row conversion. He has not found God. He has been beaten in some ways. But his other senses have picked up since he lost his sense of taste. He has tuned better into life. Some things aren't as important as they once were; some things are more important than ever. He has built for himself a new kind of universe. Roger Ebert is no mystic, but he knows things we don't know.

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Read the whole story here.


I saw Roger Ebert, many years ago, quote John 3:16 during a film review (it might have been about "The last Temptation of Christ.") He appeared genuinely touched by the story and obviously had some religious background to be able to quote Scripture. Pray that God softens his heart and grants him saving faith before it's too late.

Ebert is a lapsed Catholic whose background has come through in his many reviews over the years. When _The Passion of the Christ_ was an automatic punching bag for other critics, Ebert gave it a positive, understanding review. He also responds to e-mails or comments he receives, to which I can personally attest. When I commented favorably several years ago on intelligent design at his web site (for some now forgotten reason), I received a polite but firm e-mail letting me know he definitely didn't agree! I wish him well, and like Ron Mar, hope his obvious head knowledge of the Gospel will reach his heart.

How sad. To have lived, and still not have embraced eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Ebert states:

"What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter."

- But Roger - there is nobody to give you that gift. You are an atheist.

Roger Ebert does not define himself as an atheist. For a more nuanced description of his beliefs, read this blog entry from last year:


Thank you for that blog entry from Mr. Ebert. I'd call him an atheist based on reading that. But if he wants to say he's a secular humanist...

To Mr. Ebert:


Secular humanism is self-contradictory

The secular-humanistic worldview champions rationalism and irrationalism simultaneously. On the one hand the universe is said to be ruled by chance—a chaotic flux of disjointed particles. Such a view rules out any possibility of knowledge or meaning because if everything is changing, then science and its definition of things can only apply to things at a particular instant of time. [9] As time moves on, those things could very well turn into their opposites. In a chance universe, why not? In such a scheme of things man is a mutating speck in a universe of mutating specks. The only constant is change itself. This is the worldview of nihilism, absurdity and irrationality.

Yet while holding to such an absurd, irrational view of reality, the secular humanist proclaims himself the champion of rationality and science! Without an absolute, unchanging, ultimate starting point, real knowledge and science are impossible. So what does the secular humanist do? He makes man the source of meaning. Man becomes absolute, the unifier of knowledge. But how can man who is both a product of chance and finite be the source for meaning? He cannot. According to the secular-humanistic worldview man does not have a soul or spirit but is solely a material organism. All of man’s endeavors and emotions are simply the electro-chemical responses of the brain. “Bertrand Russell has written a much quoted paragraph to the effect that man is the product of causes which had no prevision of his emergence; that his hopes and fears are the accidental collocations of atoms; that no heroism or intensity of thought can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all human labor, inspiration, and genius are destined to extinction and will be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.” [10]

The creed of secular humanism is: out of the chaos of pure chance comes meaning and order; out of atoms floating randomly in the void comes man the giver of meaning. Secular humanism is a religion based solely on faith. That it is irrational, self-contradictory and arbitrary does not seem to bother its adherents. It is a blind faith in man.

About 6 or 7 years ago I was waiting at the L.A. International Airport for a flight back to Boston. To kill time I went into Chili's to have some lunch. The waitress sat me beside Robert Ebert. I was wearing my clerical collar. He didn't seem to mind a bit. We struck up a conversation. I was impressed with his unassuming personality and great sense of humor; a really fine and likable individual. Before I left I shook his hand and I told him how lousy the movies are on the plane. His response, "I know... I've seen them all." God bless you Robert, agnostic or not, I'm praying for you. Peace

The bible makes it clear that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess to God. Romans 14:11. It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." Hebrews 9: 27.

Thanks to Terrence for his openmindedness and kindness. You are worthy of the cloth (and you have a great anecdote there, too.)

I have to say, though, even for the benevolence implicit in some of these comments hoping for Ebert's conversion, I'm disappointed in the lack of understanding here. To call a man impoverished by his lack of faith - or rather, by his faith in a universe fundamentally different from that in which you believe, one without afterlife, or without God(s) - when he can be as optimistic and as strong as he is after suffering so much is missing a very significant opportunity to learn about the fortitude of the human heart, even in the absence of belief. Whether or not human intellect, or life, or love, or wonder, or laughter, are the creations of a supernatural divinity, they are deserving of recognition in this striking person. Have respect for his choice of faith, even if you do not agree; how can your hearts be discontent knowing that even a man without belief can be so good? Rejoice in human beauty, or at least in this thrice-admirable creation of God.


Those are seemingly deep and wonderful words on the surface, but they lack truth... and truth is the only thing that will matter in the end.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever beleiveth in him shall be saved"

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."

Without God, we have no purpose for living. Our whole existance is based on serving him and glorifying him. God gives us a choice- to serve him and be part of him or to disobey him and be eternally seperated from all that is good and great... to go to a place of eternal torment.

This life is short and eternity is...forever.

May we all seek God's will and not ours.