So for the next few weeks I’d like to begin a short blog series on the reality of good and evil in the world, and why it’s so important to name those two things well, and why that is so hard to do.
Like many Americans I’ve been waiting for over a year to see the final episodes of Breaking Bad. It’s a show about a 50 year old High School Chemistry Teacher who’s been a loving father and husband and a respectable person in the community. And then he (Walter White) gets cancer.
He has no savings, his wife is pregnant, and he’s got a teenage son with cerebral palsy…and now he’s realized that he has nothing to leave behind to provide for them. So Walter does what you’d expect him to do…
He starts making meth.
Now chances are,even if you’ve never watched it, you know about this show. It’s highly acclaimed, well-done, and horribly dark. What’s disturbing is how accurate it is about the human condition.
The Parables Around Us
In fact, that’s the reasoning behind the show. The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan said that the he wanted to make this show because in all the stories he’s read and seen through the years, no matter what the subject, most of them have one thing in common. The Protaganist and the Antagonist are fairly static categories. That is, the good guy remains the good guy, and the bad guy remains the bad guy.
But Gilligan’s goal was to create a character who slowly, over time, moved from one category into an entirely different one. He wanted for the audience to have these moments where they would step back and ask themselves, “Wait, why are we rooting for this guy again?” And then realize they had no good reasons. That’s what I mean when I say that it accurately portrays the human condition…On any given day I have quite a bit of protagonist and antagonist in me. And so do you. As much as we might try to pretend, babies aren’t born with good and bad labels. And the line of good and evil runs through all of us.
But the real genius of the show is the philosophy behind it. Vince Gilligan was asked why he created this story. And what he said was so profound, I’ll just post it in it’s entirety:
If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin (portrayed in the Last King of Scotland) living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end. I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen.
Did you catch that? “I feel this need for some sort of Biblical atonement, or justice or something…”
When Jesus was in the heart of his ministry, he was constantly pointing to the world that was around him, showing the disciples and crowds overlaps between their day to day lives and the Kingdom of God. When Paul was here he was quoting Pagan poets and prophets to show the glimpses into the Kingdom of God. I’d like to point to Breaking Bad.
Because it’s more than just a show. It’s an idea, a hope, that the world will one day be set right.
Gilligan went on to say that he made Breaking Bad because he wants to believe there’s a heaven. “But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”
In the Old Testament, death was never just a one time event. It was always a process. You could choose the way of life that leads to death, or the way that leads to more life. You could be living, but really be dead. I think that’s what this show does more than anything else. Over and over again, Walter makes these choices that you know are toxic, you under his reasoning, but you know what the outcome is going to be. And then it begins to dawn on you…I do this exact same thing all the time.
The Grace of Sin
Rachel Held Evans had a fascinating post on this earlier this week where she said one of the main reasons that she is a Christian is because that Christianity names sin. I think this is what she is talking about. Certain things aren’t right in the world, and certain things aren’t right in me. And in a world of Madison Avenue spin and political posturing, it’s very easy to pretend that things that are very bad are good.
Christianity actually claims that naming the sin, not avoiding or excusing it, is the first step to accepting grace.
I doubt there is a single person who doesn’t know what it’s like to be the kind of person that you never set out to be, and wonder how we ever got there in the first place. St. Paul talks catches the heart of this. He says, the very thing we want to do we just can’t bring ourselves to do, and the thing we don’t want to do, we find that we do it over and over again. This is the human condition. In our better moments, we all know that at different points in our lives, we’ve been people that we would never want others to see.
And this is Vince Gilligan’s gift to the world, his parable is a dark show that I don’t recommend. But he’s holding up a mirror to the world about what it’s like to choose the way of death, and warn us about the consequences that we already know, but pretend will never find us. And every one of us needs that reminder.
When it comes to good and evil, we are all Breaking Bad.