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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

soundoff (1,137 Responses)
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    November 28, 2013 at 2:56 am |
  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 |
  3. Yaakov

    From the book 300 times 0 on Amazon

    The concept of Atonement is another point of disagreement between Christianity and Judaism. Christians believe that only the shed blood of the perfect Lamb of God [Jesus] is capable of washing away sin. Besides the logical problems with this concept, such as God creating a world with sin and having everyone go to Hell until after the death of Jesus some 4,000 years after creation, the Hebrew Bible never required human sacrifices for atonement. It is incomprehensible how one can believe that a loving and merciful God would create a world containing sin, yet would not give mankind a way to atone for it until a 4,000 year waiting period was completed for the death of his son. This is tantamount to creating an office building and not putting fire exits in the structure until an actual fire broke out, by then it would be too late. The means [repentance] was built into the very fabric of creation. The fire exits were built, before the office building opened for business. In Judaism, repentance has always been a necessary and accessible means of atonement since the very moment of creation.

    Judaism has always held belief in the biblical concept of Teshuvah, which means “return to God”. When someone is penitent and feels remorse and regret for the sins they have committed, they are immediately returned to favor with God and all their sins are forgiven. To a Jew, the most important question is not “how are we saved?” which is what Christians ask, but how can I best serve my God? As such, God gave the Jewish people 613 commandments to help us improve our lives and build a stronger connection to him. The more we strive to follow the commandments, the closer we come to understanding God and his role in our lives. Let us look at how the Torah instructs both Jews and Gentiles on the proper way to get saved.

    Isaiah 1:16 – Wash, cleanse yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes, cease to do evil. Learn to do good, seek justice, strengthen the robbed, perform justice for the orphan, and plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us debate, says the Lord. If your sins prove to be like crimson, they will become white as snow; if they prove to be as red as crimson dye, they shall become as white wool.

    God requires more than just faith; he also requires that we stop doing evil and perform acts of kindness. In fact, Isaiah 3:10 says “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds”. As Jews, we believe that what we do in this world, directly impacts us in the next which is why God is so concerned with how we live. A Gentile who lives a life of kindness and love for his fellow man is guaranteed a place in Heaven.

    Hosea 14:2 “Take words with you and return [Teshuvah] to the Lord. Say to him: Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the bulls [sacrifices] of our lips”. Here, Hosea shows us that words enable us to return to the Lord If we ask him to forgive our sins, he will; this is the concept of repentance.

    Psalms 51:16 & 17 “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. King David shows us that sacrifices are not needed or wanted; God requires only a broken heart. If one is truly repentant, God always forgives. We do not need anyone’s shed blood to atone for us.

    Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings”. Once again, no sacrifice needed or wanted. God just wants our acknowledgement.

    Jonah 2:1 & 9 “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord”. Again we see that Jonah’s song of thanks to the Lord was considered a sacrifice. God heard his call and saved him.

    Psalms 50:14 “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me”. God desires the “sacrifices” of prayer and thank offerings for salvation. He does not desire the blood of goats or of men.

    Psalms 40:6 “You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I understand you do not require burnt offerings or sin offerings.” It doesn’t get clearer than this.

    1 Samuel 15:22 “But Samuel replied: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams”. Here, Samuel clearly shows that “faith” is only part of the equation. Obeying the voice of the Lord is better than sacrifice.

    The Hebrew word for sacrifice is ‘Korban’ which is a derivative of the word ‘Karov’ meaning to ‘come close’. The concept of sacrifice is not that the blood itself atones for you; the concept of a sacrifice is that you feel remorse that it should have been you that is punished to die, but instead, an innocent animal is being killed because of you. The blood provides a way to help you atone and ‘come closer’ to God. The purpose of the sacrifice was that when you participate in slaughtering an animal, you commit yourself to try and sin-less because you don't want to take another creature’s life. The sacrificial process was designed to develop compassion, remorse and sensitivity in the offender; however, since the intentional sinner is unapologetic and lacks these necessary characteristics, the sacrifice cannot absolve him of guilt. This is why the Bible specifically states that the sacrifices were only for unintentional sins [Leviticus 4:2, 4:13, 4:22, 4:27, 5:15 and 5:18]. This is extremely logical because if someone sins intentionally, knowing full well that they would need to slaughter an animal, they really don’t care that another living creature must die and therefore the sacrifice itself will not expiate the sin.

    The only way to completely atone for intentional sin is through repentance and this is the concept of the sacrifice. Now, blood was the best way for atonement because it required the sinner to play an active role in the sacrificial process by giving up and slaughtering his own animal, however not everyone owned animals which is why God arranged alternate processes to give flour and money as atonement offerings. Exodus 30:15 states “The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel, with which to give the offering to the Lord, to atone for your souls. You shall take the silver of the atonements from the children of Israel and use it for the work of the Tent of Meeting; it shall be a remembrance for the children of Israel before the Lord, to atone for your souls." The fact that the Bible says that the money was atonement for your souls, shows that blood alone was not needed. In addition to money, when people were unable to give an animal they were permitted to use fine flour for the sin expiation process. Leviticus 5:11 “But if he cannot afford two turtle doves or two young doves, then he shall bring as his sacrifice for his sin one tenth of an ephah [measurement] of fine flour for a sin offering. He shall not put oil over it, nor shall he place frankincense upon it, for it is a sin offering. However, the flour and money also only worked when repentance was part of the process. In fact, money is still used as an offering today in conjunction with other forms of repentance. God provided Yom Kippur, the Day

    of Atonement, [Leviticus 16:30] once a year to atone for our sins. We are to afflict our souls by fasting, which is abstinence from eating or drinking for a 25 hour period. The Torah says in the passage that the day itself atones for our sins, once again, only if we are penitent.

    Using this logic, it now becomes crystal clear why all the prophets above said God doesn't need sacrifices. It was because the whole purpose of the sacrifice was only to make you repent, if someone repents than that is truly what God wants. Active participation in the sacrificial process was the means through which the person was able to ‘come close’ to God in order to feel remorse. The concept that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and that the sinner had no part in the atonement process completely contradicts the entire point of the Korban Sacrifice. If however, we actively repent and feel remorse for our transgressions we come close to God through our own actions and do not require an animal sacrifice. Human sacrifice and specifically the sacrifice of the Messiah was never part of the Jewish atonement or salvation process. This concept was born from the integration of other cultures and beliefs into the Christian faith. This has never been part of the Jewish belief system and runs contrary to its very foundation.

    September 10, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  4. Magister

    The reason so many people hate Christianity and most other religions is this: They don't preach about the cool, fun, cosmic evil of movies and comic books that are safe, sanitized, and stored well away from us. No, they remind us that human beings commit acts of evil and no, more narcissism and more pleasure won't improve our lives. They will only make us slaves to ourselves, and that's a bad master to have. The very notion of spiritualized, religious living runs counter to the self-centered life. That is the essence of good versus evil. And to all those who are about to insult me: thank you for making my point.

    August 25, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  5. sdfasdf

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  6. politic-schizo54353

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  7. makulitfgh564

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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.