I recently finished the series Breaking Bad with my wife. Now I’m Breaking Sad because NetFlix only has the first four seasons. Several folks told me to give the show a try, but I resisted, based on the simple fact that the show is about a chemistry teacher turned meth “cook.”
But after a number of my Christian friends actually told me to check it out, I decided to give it a shot. We got hooked very quickly. “Must have been love, but it’s over now.” Roxette once sang that. I feel her pain.
There are a number of shows out there dealing with issues that aren’t illegal. I tried several. And there were others I wanted to watch, but instead felt convicted after the first few minutes that I shouldn’t be watching them. But what makes one suitable and another one sin (at least for me-Romans 14)?
I think most Christians fall into two categories. Don’t watch anything “secular” unless we’re talking about Americas Funniest Home Videos. Or they choose what I call “the route of the oyster” and watch anything you want to watch and therefore suck in any “teaching” without thinking.
Here are some reasons, outside the the fact I appreciated the acting, writing, storyline, why I felt Breaking Bad was more than enjoyable, but instead devotional. They aren’t from Mount Sinai but the Valley of West Virginia. Yet perhaps they could be helpful to serve as principles to help guide us through the sometimes difficult process of discerning what shows/movies we watch…..
1.) Does the show glorify a particular sin?
In Breaking Bad, I found nothing glamorous about the whole meth making/dealing process. Duh…Of course there is money to be made, and lots of it, but the reality is that this “get rich quick scheme” ended up creating new problems (people asking where did the money come from, more crime like laundering, threat of death, more lying, murder, etc..). Ironically in order to provide for his family, the main character Walt actually destroys his family, hardens his heart, harms little children, kills people without thought, etc….It was kill or be killed, always looking over shoulder. Nothing glorious about meth. Walt becomes the kind of person he initially hates and judges. The specific sin of drugs only hardens and hurts himself and others. Know drugs, No glory.
2.) Does the show tempt you toward a particular sin?
Obviously no temptations toward Meth, only confusion how folks think meth is a good idea.
3.) Does the show expose sin, in any way, for what it is: rebellion, idolatry, deceptive, destruction/decay/death?
One of my greatest appreciations of the show is how it exposes Walt’s insistence that this drug making, and the affects of it, were only his problem. Breaking Bad really debunks the popular myth that an action is really only bad if it harms another person. That’s impossible. Each “sinful” action has a harmful affect on those within one’s community. Stealing affects the person whom the object was given. Affairs negatively the cheater, one cheated with, the children and husband. Lies destroy marriages and harden one’s soul to where one can then justify everything. Walt allowed a gal to overdose on drugs when he could have saved her. That in turn led to a horrific plane crash. Sin brings harm to individual and community. All sin does. Jonah ran from God and each step took him further away from life. Walt’s sin did the same thing.
In addition, there was really a greater sin behind Walt’s meth making: pride. Walt makes Oedipus’ “hubris” look like mild in comparison. Drugs and money were merely, as Keller calls them, “Surface idols.” Walt sought money and making drugs in order to be meet his need to be seen as successful and independent of others. Money simply provided this temporary prideful “success” and “independence” for him. To the discerning eye, the outward sin was only a symptom of a deeper heart idolatry of pride.
4.) Is there any positive takeaway or opportunity to discuss with neighbors or fellow believers?
On several cases, characters are placed in moral conundrums but have no real basis other than a feeling for whether something is right or wrong. Walt’s wife reacts disapprovingly against his incessant lying to her, but then she decides to make up a story for how her husband has so much cash. She used to think lying was wrong, and not reporting income was wrong, but she later participates in a money laundering scheme. A man who has been concealing income from the IRS, later refuses to pay off the 600,000 he owes the IRS with money he believes is obtained through gambling? He says he just doesn’t feel right about it. Walt once asks, “Where do we draw the line?” The show clearly shows the inability and inconsistency of an ethical system that is not based upon some overarching standard. Now it doesn’t reinforce God as that standard, but it does seem to raise the question: if there is no standard, can we really deem something right or wrong?
I see great opportunities for discussion in future.
5.) Is there anything clearly redemptive?
At one point, Walt is actually broken. For a short time. His son sees him crying. The next day the father says, “Don’t ever think of me like this.” The son responds, “This is the best I’ve seen you in the last year and a half. You were real, authentic.”
Brokenness over sin-though this was merely brokenness over the consequences of sin-is a beautiful thing to the world around us. Jesus reminds us of its necessity in our posture before God as well as others in the Beattitudes: “blessed are the poor in spirit, and blessed are the meek….”
Just for a moment, there was something clearly beautiful…..
If we watch TV shows like an oyster and just suck in everything without thinking, we will do ourselves and families harm. But if we can actively discern messages in shows, and ask several key questions, they can be more than entertainment for us. They can be devotional and evangelistic.