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Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Mamet

Published Wednesday, November 30, 2011 @ 9:39 AM EST
Nov 30 2011

"Act as if ye had faith; and faith will be given to you."
-David Mamet (b. November 30, 1947)

This certainly sounds like it comes straight out of the King James version of the Bible, but its origin is far more contemporary.

The line is spoken by Paul Newman in Sidney Lumet's The Verdict (1982). Mamet's screenplay was based on the late Barry Reed's 1980 novel.

It's left as an exercise to the reader to attempt to locate the line in the novel. All the Internet references I checked credit it to Mamet, and who am I to doubt WikiQuote?

How could a line of dialogue from a modern film be mistaken for scripture written two millenia ago? It appears in the middle of Paul Newman's jury summation scene, which is cited by those who rank such things as one of the greatest monologues to appear in a motion picture:

Newman, Mamet, and director Sidney Lumet received Academy Award nominations, but didn't win.

"You know, so much of the time we're just lost. We say, 'Please, God, tell us what is right; tell us what is true.' And there is no justice: the rich win, the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead- a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims- and we become victims. We become- we become weak. We doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs. We doubt our institutions. And we doubt the law. But today, you are the law. You are the law. Not some book- not the lawyers- not the, a marble statue- or the trappings of the court. See those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are- they are, in fact, a prayer: a fervent and a frightened prayer. In my religion, they say, 'Act as if ye had faith- and faith will be given to you.' If- if we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves. And act with justice. See, I believe there is justice in our hearts."

"In my religion," coupled with the use of the archaic "ye," strongly suggest to the audience the phrase is taken from a religious text. That it's delivered by Paul Newman in a Boston courtroom filled with Irish Catholics pretty much rules out the Bhagavad Gita as the source..

Most Christians are accustomed to hearing scripture quoted out of context, without chapter and verse references. The sincerity of Mamet's dialogue and Newman's delivery sell it completely.

The Mamet line joins a number of much older quotes as pseudo-scripture.

Aesop's "The Gods help those who help themselves" was tweaked into a monotheistic form and inserted into "Poor Richard's Almanac" by Benjamin Franklin, a undenominated Deist.

"Cleaniness is indeed next to Godliness" was a common saying when John Wesley used it in a sermon in 1791. He probably was paraphrasing Francis Bacon's "Advancement of Learning" from 1605.

"Even the Devil can quote scripture?" The actual line is "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose," spoken by Antonio in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." Similarly, "This above all things: to thine own self be true" and "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" are from "Hamlet."

Perhaps the best approach is that recommended by Anatole France:

"When a thing has been said and said well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it."

Categories: Quotes of the day


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