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!!