Loving Mac, Beth, and John: Grace in the Plays and Films of Horton Foote

in Religion and the Arts
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Abstract

Horton Foote is neither a rhetorical nor a polemical writer. He is a story-teller who uses his home place, Wharton, Texas, as the basis of his plays and films. But Foote instinctively uses the point of view of his religious tradition, Christian Science, in the subtext of many of his works. In the film Tender Mercies, for example, God's will is expressed as the peace and order found in shared love, like that of Rosa Lee for Mac. The goal of such divinity is a human community based on passionate, selfless care for others, as imagined in the feelings of the town toward Beth in the play The Carpetbagger's Children. Even when such mutuality is unrealized, grace remains as the spiritual presence which comforts John at the end of the teleplay Alone. Such an interpretation of grace follows the view of Christian Science that God is never manipulative, punishing, or violent. It places Foote in a tradition which emphasizes sanctification rather than justification, as defined by Reinhold Niebuhr. Closest theologically to Paul Tillich, Teilhard de Chardin, and especially Karl Rahner, Foote imagines time as the means by which God expresses infinite love.

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