Monthly Archives: October 2006

Lost in Translation: The Spirituality of the TV Show “Lost” and the Christian Faith – Part 3

Part 3: Lost and the Loss of Holiness
in American Spirituality

As I noted in my first post in this series (October 23, below), Lost contains a surprising number of references to God and Christian faith. However, in many cases, Christian ideas or practices are given a different twist, usually along the lines of New Age interpretations.For those not aware of the differences, Christian faith relies on the Bible as its source of teachings and beliefs, while New Age spirituality tends to be more eclectic.That is, the New Age draws from a variety of religious traditions pretty much at will and combines them according to personal tastes.Often New Age teachings are rooted in Eastern religions (think Hinduism and Buddhism).If Christian ideas are incorporated into New Age teachings at all they’re usually reinterpreted in terms of the Eastern religions.

This sort of eclectic spirituality—kind of like a spiritual buffet—appears to be what we have on Lost.While it’s true that a number of the spiritual ideas we see on Lost may be recognizable as Christian in origin, often they’re reinterpreted in a way other than that accepted by mainstream Christian churches and believers.Or else they’re simply emptied of much of their unique Christian meaning until they’re made to seem “generically” spiritual.(I intend to say more about this in a future post, so please stay tuned….)

An example of this “genericizing” of Christian ideas (how ‘bout that for a new word!) occurred with the baptism of a baby last season. In that episode, Eko, the African drug lord turned Catholic priest (please forgive my previous misspellings of his name), advocated strongly that the child must be baptized; and yet it wasn’t a Christian baptism the baby was given. 99% of the Christian church agrees that baptisms are always conducted in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the other 1% I’m thinking of baptizes in the name of Jesus—either way, Christian baptisms are related to the person of Jesus Christ). The baptism on Lost was not in any name as I recall—even though it was supposedly conducted by a Catholic priest.Instead, here baptism was given a more nebulous meaning. It was said merely that the infant needed to be baptized, but not in the name of Christ, and for reasons that aren’t clear. Evidently, in this view, baptism is just what you do with babies, because it has some sort of spiritual significance, a cleansing perhaps, or a rite of passage.

This is how a lot of the Christian references on the series are. They’re often denuded of their unique Christian content, until they become merely generalized spiritual activities or rituals.

In a flashback on the October 18th episode, we find John back on a farm several years previously (when he had hair), living in a commune with a group of friends and associates. As they gather round a picnic table for a group meal, the leader asks John to say grace. The prayer is almost a regular Christian prayer, very conversational and folksy (and that in itself isn’t bad, because God invites us to speak to Him in our own terminology).It’s offered sincerely, but of course, it’s generic, not concluded with the name of Jesus. Later in the episode, though, we learn that the people living and working in this commune appear to be involved in some sort of criminal activity, presumably growing and selling some type of illegal drug.(It’s not certain what the brown powdery substance is they showed briefly—that’s another of the show’s many mysteries—but all the people at the commune are afraid of getting caught by the police and busted, so apparently, whatever they’re doing there is illegal….)

To Christian sensibilities it’s an odd combination—here you have a friendly group of people praying together on the one hand, thanking God for His goodness and asking for His blessing, and yet it turns out these same people appear to be deeply involved in a criminal lifestyle.

In this way Lost presents for us the kind of spirituality that’s all too common these days in our land. There’s a desire to relate to God on intimate terms, yet without any consciousness of sin or a need for personal holiness. Proverbs 30:12 says, “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness” (NKJV). That pretty much describes the generation we live in. People today want to come before God and call him their friend without dealing with the issue of sin in their hearts. This is one of the characteristics of New Age spirituality: A desire for God without a willingness to face one’s own sinfulness.

In past years there have been specials on TV about the spiritual lives of celebrities. One program showed a million-selling rock band and an equally popular female singer (or it may have been two separate shows) each praying with their entourage before their concerts. In their prayers they addressed God in chummy terms and each asked His blessing on their respective shows. Yet knowing the professed New-Age-type beliefs and promiscuous lifestyles of both these artists, it makes one wonder if they know the God of the Bible and Christian faith.They claim to have some sort of relationship with God but don’t display a desire to live according to His teachings.

We’re in danger of forgetting that there can be no fellowship with God apart from salvation, justification, and cleansing from sin. And in order to receive these we must go to the cross of Jesus Christ. Because of the disobedience of the first humans, we’re all sinners. Our sin has destroyed our relationship with God and keeps us from him. In other words, our sinful state separates us from God.

However, Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” As the apostle Peter explains in 1 Peter 3:18 ~ “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”

Rom 3:20-25 explains things further: “For no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight by works of the [Old Testament] law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been [revealed] apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an [atoning sacrifice] by his blood, to be received by faith.” (RSV)

There can be no relationship with God without personal holiness, and there can be no holiness without the cross, faith, and repentance.

And yet many today want to gloss over this reality, as if we can come to God on our own terms. But we cannot. God is God and we are His creation. He is above us, superior to us. And though He loves us deeply, he is holy, which means he cannot accept sin unless it’s forgiven and done away with. As the verses above explain, this is why He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross and rise again on the third day, in order that our sin might be atoned for and we could have friendship with God through faith in Christ.

And that’s today’s thought.NEXT BLOG: Sin and Redemption in the Land of the Lost.

See you next time!!Thanks for stopping by.

 

Lost in Translation: The Spirituality of the TV Show “Lost” and the Christian Faith – Part 2

Part 2: “The Island Made Me Do It” –
The Concept of Providence on Lost

(Please see Part 1, below, for the introduction to this series.)

In my last post I pointed out that one of the characters who conveys the spiritual themes on Lost is the bald-headed man John. Often smiling, with an almost-wild but apparently- benevolent gleam in his eye, John confidently claims that everything on the island is unfolding as it’s supposed to, guided by an unseen hand. Now John’s faith has been tested, mind you, but as a result of his recent experiences in the underground compound (which I won’t go into here), his faith has been restored.

John’s belief that everything on the island is happening for a reason is similar to what theologians back in the old days used to call providence. Simply put, in Christian belief, Providence is the idea that God is watching over and guiding the things that happen in our lives for our good, according to His larger purposes. But for John, is it really God who’s guiding…?

As I pointed out last time, on Lost John’s past is still unfolding before us; in fact, he was the character featured in last week’s episode (October 18). What we learned about John early on in the series was that before the plane crash he was confined to a wheelchair, crippled. However, when he awoke after the crash he was mysteriously healed. This miracle has revived John’s faith.

The question is, faith in what? Interestingly enough, John is convinced that the island itself has made him able to walk again, and he believes the island is somehow overseeing the events taking place in the lives of each of the castaways.

Sin and redemption are prevalent themes on Lost. The events occurring in each person’s life offer opportunities to atone for sins committed earlier in their lives, before they came to the island. And the sins in these characters’ pasts are not lightweight. More than one has committed murder, some were involved in adulterous affairs, some sold drugs, others simply suffered from broken relationships and broken hearts. Now, here on the island, they seem to be offered a chance to reflect, see their mistakes, and make some sort of restitution, or at least learn from the past. (I plan to write more about sin and redemption on Lost in a future post.)

John believes the island itself is overseeing all this redemption. The island has brought them all there, and has done so for a specific purpose, and it’s their destiny to fulfill the island’s intentions. In the October 18th episode, when John has a vision that turns out to be prophetic, he believes the island has given him the vision, and is leading them all towards some higher purpose.

It’s unclear whether as viewers we’re supposed to accept John’s assessment of the origin of these events, or whether it even matters. Some might say the island is intended to be symbolic, representing divine activity, providence, and intervention. However, this may be giving more credit to the show’s writers than is due. Incredibly, there are thoughtful people these days who actually attribute volitional and intelligent supernatural guidance and activity to inanimate objects (like an island).

As long ago as the year 2000 I remember a conversation with a coworker at the telephone company where I worked back then, a smart, educated young woman of about 30, who kept talking about everything “the universe” was doing for her. “The universe” was guiding her and had clearly caused certain events to happen in her life, and she believed that “the universe” had good intentions for her. Since then I’ve heard others make similar references to this sort of New Age belief in guidance from an impersonal universe.

I must confess I can’t quite grasp why some consider it ludicrous to believe in a personal God who oversees life events, but see it as reasonable to think “the universe” is capable of providential guidance. The universe is an inanimate object. It doesn’t have a mind, a heart, or a will. It can’t make decisions, and it certainly can’t manipulate or control anyone’s destiny.

The same is true with “the island” on Lost. An island can’t cause events to happen, or bring redemption, or give someone a prophetic dream. Only a living, intelligent, complex, and powerful Being like God can do that. Could it be this idea of guidance by inanimate objects is an example of the sinful human tendency spoken of by the apostle Paul to “worship and serve created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25, NIV)?

The universe and every island in the world were created by a personal God who is capable of these things. He has a mind that thinks, a heart that feels and loves, and a will that makes decisions. In fact, God is the ultimate Mind, Heart, and Will. Why put one’s trust in “the universe,” when you can trust in the loving God who made the universe?

Maybe the reason some prefer to think in terms of guidance from created objects is that an island, or even a neutral universe, is less threatening than a personal God who watches over us with expectations. What is forgotten (or not believed) is that the God who truly is our “guide and stay” is a God of love more than a God of judgment.

The Bible offers the comforting message that “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:19, RSV). “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” (John 3:17-18 NIV). God loves us all, and we can trust him with our lives. In fact, the Bible promises that if we do, we will be saved and have eternal life.

That’s because Christ is the Doorway to forever.

And that’s today’s blog. Thanks for reading!


NEXT UP ~ Lost and the loss of holiness in American spirituality. See you next time!

Lost in Translation: The Spirituality of the TV Show “Lost” and the Christian Faith – Part 1

Welcome to my blog! This is my first installment. I hope you find it meaningful!

Part 1: The story and The Story

I watched Lost again last Wednesday night. For those who don’t know, it’s an engaging drama about a group of castaways stranded on a remote island following a plane crash. They don’t know where they are and they have no way to communicate with the outside world. They really are “lost,” trying to figure out how to get home.

As the story unfolds we’re made privy to the recollections of the characters that tell how each one came to be on that the fateful airplane ride. Many of the episodes focus on the memories of a particular individual, shown as flashbacks triggered by events on the island.

One of the striking things about Lost is how central religious and spiritual themes are to the plot. Ideas like providence, redemption, trust, and the supernatural play a prominent role in the story. Even the concept of sin is there, though the series doesn’t use exactly that term.

Two of the characters in particular serve the religious and spiritual themes of the show. One is the enigmatic Echo, an African drug lord turned Catholic priest. Echo inscribes apocalyptic Bible verses he deems significant on a piece of wood. He is the character who often seems to understand the supposed deeper significance of events occurring on the island. Interestingly enough, usually Echo’s prophetic intimations turn out to be right. Over time many of the other characters have learned to defer to him as something like a holy man with special insight.

The other character deeply involved in the spiritual themes of the show is the idealistic John. John’s past is still unfolding before us; in fact, he was the character featured in last week’s episode. What we learned about John early on in the series was that before the plane crash he was confined to a wheelchair, crippled. However, when he awoke after the crash he was mysteriously healed. This miracle has revived John’s faith. The question is, faith in what?

The spiritual perspective portrayed on Lost is not exactly orthodox Christianity. Clearly the show is influenced in many ways by Christian ideas, but often it deviates from the usual Christian understanding of those concepts. In other words, the spiritual atmosphere on the show is not exactly “your father’s Christianity.” In many aspects it’s more like that of the New Age movement.

Of course, it won’t surprise those who know me to learn that as I watch the program I’m constantly checking their spirituality against the Bible. And often it doesn’t line up. The most startling instance I’ve seen so far was on one episode last season when Echo was talking with the other characters about the meaning of baptism, and explained that Jesus was baptized in order to cleanse Him of His sins. (!) Echo said it so innocently and kindly that it could have almost slipped past you if you weren’t paying attention. [Note: The Bible plainly teaches that Jesus Christ never sinned, that he lived a perfect life (see Hebrews 4:15). I plan to deal more with this topic in a subsequent post in this series.]

A Christian friend of mine who’s a big fan of the series doesn’t like it when I criticize the show’s theology; she says it ruins the story for her. She’s an English teacher, so maybe it’s understandable that she’s focused more on the story itself and how it’s being told than on its spiritual or theological content.

When I see something like this, though, it’s hard for me to sit idly by and say nothing. Story is the most powerful mode for communicating intuitive truth. When the writers on a show like Lost, in the process of telling their story, refer to The Story, that of Christ, and get it wrong, who knows what kind of influence this can have on the uninformed? And we can’t be in denial about the incredible lack of Bible understanding these days. In fact, it’s as if some have substituted television for the Bible as their authority in spiritual matters—whatever’s portrayed on TV or in movies is accepted as truth.

A watered-down version of the Christian message is what some will prefer, so if the writers on Lost say Jesus was a sinner just like everybody else, many are readily willing to receive it. Of course, we have no idea about the source of this error, whether it was mere ignorance, or a more sinister desire to subvert mainstream Christianity. If people are determined to believe only what they want to believe, then we’re not likely to change that, but I for one at least feel an obligation to tell folks, as lovingly as I can, when the media get The Story wrong.

Please understand, I’m not saying Lost is a bad show, or that the story it’s telling is a bad story. I think it has some valuable messages. I am questioning the ways in which the spiritual life is portrayed on the show, precisely because it is such a powerful medium for portraying ideas….

This past summer at a conference I attended in Wheaton, Illinois, Leanne Payne, who leads a gracious ministry to broken and wounded people, made a statement about our culture that caught my attention. She said that in present-day America, people are capable enough of recognizing a lie, but if they hear it often enough are prone to accept it anyway. I think she’s onto something there. I wonder how the steady stream of misleading messages we’re being hit with these days about spiritual matters (think The DaVinci Code, as well as Lost and a host of other “supernatural dramas”) affect our thinking over a long period of time? If those of us who are believers allow ourselves to be inundated with lies about God, will it erode even our faith over time? Does it sow seeds of doubt and unbelief? I wonder….

Well, that’s today’s blog. Future topics to be dealt with in this series:

  • “The Island Made Me Do It”–the concept of Providence on Lost
  • Sin and redemption in the land of the Lost
  • Lost” and the loss of holiness in American spirituality
  • Why it matters whether Jesus sinned or not
  • The eclectic spirituality of Lost–good, bad, or ugly?

Catch you next time!!