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Memorable moments from 'Breaking Bad'
August 10th, 2013
02:33 AM ET

'Breaking Bad' and the evil within us all

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - The other day I was asked in a radio interview why I’m still a Christian. Since I’ve never been shy about writing through my questions and doubts, the interviewer wanted to know why I hang on to faith in spite of them.

I talked about Jesus—his life, teachings, death, resurrection, and presence in my life and in the world. I talked about how faith is always a risk, and how the story of Jesus is a story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.

And then I said something that surprised me a little, even as it came out of my own mouth:

“I’m a Christian,” I said, “because Christianity names and addresses sin.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about sin lately because like many Americans I’ve gotten hooked on “Breaking Bad” and am plotting ways to avoid any sort of social interaction on Sunday night so I can catch the first of the final eight episodes of the award-winning AMC series.

What I love about “Breaking Bad”—besides its gripping plotlines, flawless character development, pitch-perfect performances, and the unmatched chemistry between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, is the way it traces teacher-turned-kingpin Walter White’s descent into total moral ignominy, one frighteningly relatable decision at a time.

5 questions 'Breaking Bad' must answer

Walter doesn’t start off with the goal of making millions and killing anyone who gets in his way. He just wants to survive at first. Then he wants to provide, then he wants to impress, then he wants to spite, then he wants to rule. His desires aren’t that different from yours or mine, really, and neither are his decisions.

In fact, Walter is at his most infuriating not when he’s cooking meth or even shooting a gun, but when he’s betraying a friend, indulging his vanity, engaging in truly staggering feats of self-deception, and using other people for personal gain … basically when he’s acting just like me on a given Tuesday morning.

Which brings me back to Christianity.

In Christianity, evil isn’t something that simply exists “out there” among thieves and murderers and meth makers. No, Christianity teaches the hard truth that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves.

Racism, greed, misogyny, hatred, violence, inequity, selfishness, and pride all take shape within the human heart, so if we’re going to tackle injustice in the world, we have to start with ourselves. Christianity rejects the idea that we’re all okay.

The good news is that liberation comes not from climbing some holy ladder to try and escape sin on our own, nor from wallowing in shame and self-hatred because of it, but receiving the grace of God through Jesus and extending that grace to others.

This process begins with naming the evil within us and turning away from it—a process called repentance.

In one of the most riveting “Breaking Bad” scenes of all time, we see Jesse on the verge of such a moment as he indirectly confesses his most haunting transgression to his Narcotics Anonymous support group.

Unwilling to justify his sins like Walter, and desperate to stop numbing himself from them through drugs, Jesse gets frustrated with those in the group urging him to accept himself without judgment.

In a fit of frustration, Jesse cries, “So I should stop judging and accept? So no matter what I do, hurray for me, because I’m a great guy? It’s all good? What a load of crap …You know why I’m here in the first place? To sell you meth. You’re nothing to me but customers …You OK with that? You accept that?”

The group sits in stunned silence until the leader finally whispers, “No.”

I’ve heard from many addicts who say meetings like these are the closest thing they have to church because it’s the only place in the world where people tell the truth about themselves, even the ugly parts.

This is what the church calls confession.

Confession gives us the chance to admit to one another that we’re not OK and then to seek healing and reconciliation together, in community. It’s not about pointing out the sins of others, but acknowledging our shared brokenness, our shared capacity for destruction, our shared rebellion against what is beautiful and good.

I think this is one reason we find Walter White so compelling—and, for that matter, Dexter Morgan, Don Draper, and Piper Chapman. They may be meth dealers and serial killers and prison inmates, but what drives them isn’t all that different than what drives you and me.

Nor is the grace that would ultimately save us all.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Evans. 

Evans has written previously for CNN's Belief Blog, including: Why millennials are leaving the church; and Not all religious convictions are written in stone.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Opinion • TV

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  2. shanieboy

    Regardless of the truth or untruth of the existence of god the moral principles contained in the gospels are a beautiful thing and if everyone applied them to thier lives the world would be a better place I'm sure.

    November 1, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.