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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)
  1. Apple Bush

    Solve a layer of physics down to the next level and you are in a different universe. Solve new laws of physics and you advance again. New universes are infinite.

    The trigger: when enough multi-verses are normalized, they intersect. There is no “science” to it. Change 0 and you have found another universe. In other words, 1 is now zero. New universe.

    August 10, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  2. Apple Bush

    The tender cheek once in a life once in life once in a life once in a life It is a terrible thing to lose your thoughts to permanent melancholy. Logic replaced with dread and misdeed Eat?
    Why the same dreams and people?
    Why the same shame and funeral?
    Sleep?
    My potion did not kill me. It doesn’t matter.
    Open me and purge it. Make me a child.
    Regrets adding up. Must balance the books.
    The wrinkles in his fingers smelled of gasoline
    Tremble and swallow and wipe and push and beep
    The little smear looks more like a face than his face does
    Shut the visor with a tap.
    He should have been smart enough to die before 50.
    He should have been just that stupid.

    August 10, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNsrK6P9QvI&w=640&h=360]

      August 10, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  3. Apple Bush

    You cast your shadow on me and I burn like candle wax dripping on tiled floors only to remember the carnival but popcorn can't be held responsible for back stabbing cocktail gowns when the fleas were just everywhere!

    August 10, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  4. skytag

    Rachel Held Evans seems to spend a lot of time trying to rationalize why she needs church.

    August 10, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • Akira

      That she does, skytag.

      August 10, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
    • KennyKiklar

      A view of the world/universe different than your own is clearly threatening to you.

      August 10, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

        How do you see that subtext?

        August 10, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
      • Beth

        Really? Somehow I donkt get that from skytag's post. He's right. Her last three blogs have been nothing but her constant questioning her own need for church. Not religion, church.

        August 10, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  5. Apple Bush

    If I had a shoe string I would make it a yo yo
    If I had a yo yo I would tie a string to it
    If I was me, I would make me into a yo yo with a string attached to it and practice

    August 10, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  6. Lagos

    Really, the capacity for evil isn't in every one of us? You've never stolen, lied knowing it'd hurt someone, screamed at someone, hurt someone physically, tore someone else down to build yourself up, or anything evil at all?

    August 10, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I think one issue here is that people these days mostly tend to reserve the word "evil" for the more extreme and sustained of "bad" or "selfish" acts. Ariel Castro or Jeffrey Dahmer are evil. For many of us hearing the word "evil" applied to cases where someone acted rashly and with less concern than they should have, or where an instinct took over briefly rings of melodrama and fanaticism. Of course people have human drives that aren't in perfect alignment with societies needs. But evil? Really?

      Btw, I'm in my 40s and The only thing I ever remember 'stealing' was an M&M from my sister. Was that evil?

      August 10, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  7. Apple Bush

    You are at a German “sparkle party”. You are wearing your party pants. You are ready to dancy dance. It is a hard-core German sparkle party and you are wearing your rubber boots. The music is pulsating and it feels good to dance. You notice a familiar face standing at the bar. You dance over to her as fancy as you please in your polished rubber boots. You bend low to smell her perfume and say hello. It is your father. Where is your god now?

    August 10, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  8. Apple Bush

    If you can understand it, it has nothing to do with you.

    August 10, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  9. Apple Bush

    He could smell her from his position, directly downwind of the Santa Ana’s, the putrid air-born tendril of urine and body odor makes a formidable weapon. Her socks, slung over the tops of her borrowed Converse flaps. Here teeth only a reminder of public service announcements. The hair was everywhere. Not untidy exactly, just….everywhere. Like a blanket over her. She had a pleasing form though. Hard not to look twice. So hard in fact, many had made her their project. Each had failed. For her the addiction was her destiny and would lead to her death. But not today.

    Joe Skinner rarely looked up when he was walking in L.A. Nobody on these streets needed directions or knew where any stars lived. This was Korea Town, the crossroads where Heaven and Hell conduct their business. It was different now. The riots broke the peace and historians were quick to point out that Korea Town was marginalized during the Rodney King Riots of 1992 and it was happening again. Neighborly “hellos” became tense and less friendly. If you want someone to get your back, stay in your part of town. And don’t bother calling 911.

    Joe called 911. The voice on the other end of his “iMate” spoke in hushed tones. Joe laughed. He knew they would have to follow up on any call. If Ryerson shows up, He’s dead. Joe still had friends everywhere in the eight block neighborhood of K-Town. He walked without being disturbed, but only because he understood protocol. K-Town in 2033 was not only unsafe, it was anarchy and there were untouchables.

    That is when he saw it. A photograph. Hard to see in the wet gutter, but the man in the image was beautiful. Long flowing hair that wasn’t messy but practically covered his whole upper section. Skinner reached for it. It sizzled in his fingers and glowed. This was Jesus and he was come unto the Earth to save humans at long last.

    Joe on the other hand really wanted to get baked before work and needed a paper and Jesus was handy. It was wet but they had one of those electric 2025 hand dryers in the rest room of the filling station he stood next to. He blazed, and soon saw Jesus once again. This time Jesus stood before him saying, “I brought unto you a miracle and this is how you betray your lack of awe to the sight of me?

    Joe thought a moment and finally looked at Jesus and said, “You crazy fuck, here, toke up bro!” The party lasted long into the night. Jesus got tore up and the moral of the story is that Marijuana should be legal in the United States.

    August 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
    • Akira

      You have such the knack for imaginative writing, Apple; my favorite line, of course, is "the moral of the story is that Marijuana should be legal in the United States."
      Cracked me up as I agreed...

      August 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Thanks Akira. It is important to lay a foundation for the case early on.

      August 10, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
  10. Doodlebug2222

    Somethings I do, I consider good – but others consider them bad. Somethings I do, I consider bad, but others consider good.

    In the end, only what I feel is what should matter and it is vital that what ever it is I believe in, that I hold to those convictions and do not let others sway how it is I feel, or how strongly I feel about it.

    August 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  11. mom

    @nope
    mom

    August 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  12. k

    Strictly, evil is not inside us. In fact, strictly, evil doesn't exist. Evil is a privation of good. Like a cavity in a tooth, it undermines the integrity of the being. Ok. But that's more of a fine point. The (Catholic) Christian belief is that we are created in God image (i.e., good) but when we push God away ... evil creeps in. By pushing God (who is all good) away ... we create a privation of good. My point is that we choose to do bad things. They are choices. And I think the author's point was that we can easily see how these characters make these really bad choices and that our society, while it doesn't condone the bad behavior, it papers over them. Right ... nowadays, every kid gets a trophy because nobody cal lose. Nowadays, if you do bad things you're told to stop beating yourself up. The author is simply saying that this is crap.

    August 10, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
  13. dan mckeown

    "'Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

    Steven Weinberg, noble prize winning physicist

    August 10, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Donald

      Imagine being fictional for a while. Sometime fictional characters are more real than people with bodies and heart beats.

      August 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • nope

      @dan
      nope

      August 10, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • popseal

      My life was that of a near out of control drunk (circa 1970). Several good friends convinced me that God could fix me. They were right and 43 years ago I had a spiritually regenerating conversion to Christ. His resurrection Life 'fixed' me. Yes, I am embarrassed by the stupid and dangerous things religious people do. What I have is not religion.

      August 10, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        What "popseal" ?

        I had a drinking problem too so I quit drinking.

        August 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
      • sinner saved by grace

        AMEN

        August 10, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
      • skytag

        You fixed yourself. All you needed was for some people to make you feel you were worth fixing.

        August 10, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
      • rick

        congratulations on your sobriety, pop

        August 10, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
      • Vic

        That's pure Faith my friend. That's all you need!

        God bless.

        August 10, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        Good for you pops,,!

        August 10, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
      • LinCA

        @popseal
        You said, "My life was that of a near out of control drunk (circa 1970). Several good friends convinced me that God could fix me."
        I guess that the deeper the despair, the easier target one becomes for the scam.

        You said, "Yes, I am embarrassed by the stupid and dangerous things religious people do. What I have is not religion."
        Baloney. You may not belong to a particular church, but you took the bait, hook, line and sinker. Maybe you should investigate what it is that drives other religious people to do stupid and dangerous things, and see if your beliefs are really all that different.

        August 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • dan

      @nope
      dan

      August 10, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      He has also said: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it (also) seems pointless."[

      August 10, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
  14. nope

    @mom
    nope

    August 10, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  15. lamelionheart

    I've seen Life... I've read peoples torments... I've even wrote torments... I am no different than anyone else... I am no god and no one else is a god... I have loved and continue to love... So does everyone... We are but remnants of passing ages... We are the lasting fruits that has fallen from the abundances measured and are taken as refugees in many lands... You are either my friend or my enemy... I do not take sides... You show me your words and then I take notice... I show you my words and will you seek comforts to notice their intent..? I hate all another's shallowness words meant to disfigure the meanings of one another's Life. Hate me and I will hate you in kindness... Know me and show me and I will know you and show you that which is mine owned will...

    August 10, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      @lamelionheartstaples

      You are avoiding the great fundamental. The joy is in the notes. The Universe is notes. Pitch. Vibrating strings that invented a toy called math. A toy no longer needed once solving physics on a "per universe" scale makes it possible to travel by teleporting or our of body.

      August 10, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        Sired Apples...

        You may want to do a redo on your post...

        BTW. I am lionly lamb... I screwed up my email and had to do a redo... 😳

        August 10, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Yes, it was pretty obvious who it was.

        In ten words or less, why do I need to re-do my post?

        August 10, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        makes it possible to travel by teleporting or our of body.,?

        August 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
        • Akira

          That was eleven words.

          August 10, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          Oops,,, 😳

          August 10, 2013 at 9:17 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Akira. lol.

        August 10, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          Akira the bean-counter Ya goota luv her tenaciousness for taking brevities Sired Apples... 🙂

          August 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    August 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  17. Lisa W

    So stop reading the 'Faith' sections and keep your trolling hatred to yourself.

    August 10, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  18. Lisa

    Fine but it's not only Christianity that recognizes the potential for bad in all of us.

    Reality-based living is perfectly capable of the same.

    August 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • G to the T

      Incorrect – almost all religions and philosophies are intended to "fix" apparent problems with humanity. Some focus on "suffering", some focus on "sin" and others focus on "humanity". Confucianism in particular holds that all humans are imperfect so the only way to a functioning society is strict adherance to social laws/norms/rituals.

      August 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  19. But...

    We DO have the potential inside of us all. That is one thing the Christians do have right. All of us have options in everything we do and depending on your point of view of what is morally right or wrong in your mind is how you will base your decision. Whether or not you call it good or evil is up to you, but it's all the same moral decision. Personally, I prefer to use morally logical and morally illogical, but it boils down to the same general concept.

    August 10, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
  20. Mom

    Shut up you spoiled brat.

    August 10, 2013 at 7:16 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.