Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Quagmire of Evil--A Philosophical Observation

I am a film connoisseur . . . I would say a "good film" connoisseur.  I do have a  movie club that meets at my house under the umbrella of my Presbyterian church.  I typically pick the best films in the world, a merit I attribute to them for winning major film festivals.

One day I was listening to NPR and they had a movie critic talking about the best TV shows of all time.  TV to film for me is like McDonalds compared to a Five Star French Restaurant.  Now that most homes have 500 channels, 99% of it is filler junk and reality shows that are cheap to make.

But this critic was very serious.  He listed the top five shows of all time based on the same attributes that great films must share.  I can't remember the exact order but he did list The Sopranos as number one and Breaking Bad as number two.

Believe it or now I had never seen either.  We have a very basic cable that has the major networks and a con-artist-row of cheesy TV evangelists and infomercials.

So, I decided to watch 5 years of Breaking Bad in about a month.  This is possible through Netflixs streaming video.  I have to say that I would rank the writing, acting filmography up there with the best of films.  I think you could create a whole college class on the series, and I bet someone has.

One facet of life, which the writing portrays so well, is the quagmire of evil. This is hard to explain, but it is one of those messages that you feel in your soul but can barely organize enough to express in words.

The starting point for most of us when are introduced to evil is the child-like notion of bad guys and good guys or black hats Vs. white hats.  Good guys always do good, bad guys always do bad.  In the end, bad things, the overspray of the actions of the bad guys only falls on bad people and while good people will be reconciled in the end.  It is the theme of every TV show in the 50s and 60s (as well as Hallmark movies of today) and was woven deeply in the brand of evangelicalism that I was involved with.

Breaking Bad is like taking the lines of demarcation between good and evil . . . and putting them in a blender.Can good people, sometimes make some horrible mistakes?  Can really bad people do some extremely altruistic behaviors?  I think yes to both.

It was so much more comforting, at least on the surface, when I thought a wall divided the good guys and the bad guys.  I hoped I was a good guy.  People around me thought I was a good guy although I would catch glimpses of the bad guy within me at times and it would scare the hell out of me. The thoughts of fudging on my tax return were real, but never realized.  Certainly they were times that I was sitting in a Bible study in college and while on the surface we were sharing about Jesus, my mind would fantasize about the "godly gal" in front of me.  I knew I had to be the only one with such evil lurking inside.But was I?

But evil is a quagmire and is goodness. I'm not saying that they are relative. I certainly believe in absolute evil and good, but the carriers of those attributes are not pure in either.  Real goodness is often done in secret where, out of compassion, and no other reason someone does something incredibly unselfish and deeply empathetic.  The web of goodness is woven and entangles both good people and evil.

So what does this mean to practical living?  One fault of my previous Christian world was to assume that good-guys, what we called "godly," were pure in all their motives.  I know this sounds absurd but we were so messed up that when a "godly" staff man dumped his wife and married a non-christian (but beautiful) girl 30 years younger than himself, we assumed that God had to be in it. Surely this godly man would not have done something like that out of evil motives . . . would he?  It is so much easier to label people so we don't have to consider each action of its own merits.  Bad people only do bad things is lazy thinking.

But the moral to the lesson, besides being great entertainment and challenges in good TV, is that we should expect real good coming from some really messed up people and not be surprised (or caught off guard) when real evil comes from the decent people we know. The Fall was intrusive. It not only set up evil, it caused so much chaos that the wheat and the chaff are so intertwined that only God knows the lines of demarcation. So Walter White can do some horrible, vicious and manipulative things . . . and at the same time love his wife and son in a way that the best of us should attempt to emulate.

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