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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. hharri

    But men loved darkness.

    I am and always was and will be the light of the world. Believers in me shall never walk in darkness.

    August 11, 2013 at 4:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Why is it about belief and not knowledge?

      August 11, 2013 at 7:09 am |
      • hharri

        It is?

        August 11, 2013 at 9:47 am |
  2. albie

    I always find it amusing how Christians adapt and re-interpret their message to what suites them. The irony of this article is that, if it were up to most Christians, you would never even have the chance to see a show like Breaking Bad. The author takes the stance of the "cool" sunday school teacher, the one with tats, who says cuss words in between bible quotes ... oh man, so freakin fun to watch

    August 11, 2013 at 2:15 am |
  3. lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

    The older women are supposed to teach the younger to love their hubbies and children. Her concerns about misogyny are well founded when americult's girlies KILL 30 mil girls.

    August 11, 2013 at 1:56 am |
  4. Reality

    Our sins were recognized and recorded well before Christianity and Judaism. See p. 1.

    August 10, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
  5. hharri

    The odds that there is no afterlife are miniscule

    August 10, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
    • LinCA

      @hharri

      You said, "The odds that there is no afterlife are miniscule"
      And you base this assertion on what, exactly?

      August 10, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • skytag

      I too want to know the basis for your claim. You do know that belief is not fact, right?

      August 11, 2013 at 12:05 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      The odds that you are talking out of your a$$ are nearly certian.

      August 11, 2013 at 12:15 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I think you meant to write "The odds that there are any gods is minuscule."

      August 11, 2013 at 2:49 am |
      • Colin

        Since the word you spelled "gods" refers to idols you are almost correct.

        August 11, 2013 at 6:52 am |
        • AtheistSteve

          Actually no. Idols can be found everywhere. It's your God that remains conspicuously absent.

          August 11, 2013 at 8:01 am |
        • HotAirAce

          The Babble allows for multiple gods, provided that Babble Humpers place the god of The Babble before all others, real or false. But if you want to insist that there is only one true god and all the rest are idols, I have no problem with that, especially if you can prove the existence of your god.

          August 11, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Since you were nothing before you were conceived, and what you are now developed in a way always dependent on your biological development, it seems likely that when your body is no longer alive there will be no you. If you want to know what death is like, try deep anesthesia. After you wake up, imagine that it went on forever – no you.

      August 11, 2013 at 7:08 am |
  6. AE

    "Confession... It’s not about pointing out the sins of others, but acknowledging our shared brokenness..."

    -James 5:16 "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed."

    I've experienced that healing. I thought my sins only damaged others, but they hurt me, too. I needed healing. Confession works.

    August 10, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
    • Reality

      “Now Rome which developed the Church of Dogma (rather than metanoia) dared to add things which have scant basis in scripture like the Trinity, Individual priesthood, Auricular Confession, Transubstantiation, Infallibility, Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. None of these are present in scripture not can they be deduced. Matthew 16:18 was discovered to apply to the papacy by Damasus I who had over a hundred of his rival's supporter's killed to gain the bishopric of Rome. It is after this time that the phrase from Matthew is more and more centered on Rome. The bishops of Rome committed many crimes. The biggest one was to ascribe their malfeasance to the Holy Spirit. Still is.”-

      August 10, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
    • skytag

      If you've wronged someone, go to him and apologize. You don't need church or "confession" to do that.

      August 11, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  7. TheInfamousRatman

    Morality is ultimately a choice, or it has no substance. Evil must be a consequence of choice or it has no meaning. Ultimately, Walter chose to commit his early crimes to make money. This crimes caused him to descend further and further into the underworld until it was too late to turn back. This story has reminded me a great deal of Macbeth. The only question now is whether Walter will have his downfall.

    August 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • hharri

      It is never too late

      August 10, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  8. Paul

    Well said

    August 10, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  9. Donald

    Negative, mental attachments. If you really want to remove a cloud from your life, you do not make a big production of it; you just relax and remove it from your thinking. That's all there is to it.

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

      You sound like you've sat in a few too many hippy drum circles, which is cool, but ultimately reality bites you on your ass.

      August 10, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
  10. Donald

    Reality is divinely indifferent. A mother doesn't care what part her child plays in his games; one day bad-guy, next day good-guy. God doesn't even know about our illusions and games. It only knows Itself, and us in its likeness; perfect, and complete. Balanced, positive and negative.

    August 10, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  11. Donald

    We are game-playing, fun-having creatures. We cannot die; we cannot hurt ourselves any more than illusions on the screen can be hurt. But we can believe we're victims, killed and killing, shuddered around by good luck and bad luck. Anything that’s got space and time is all movie and all illusion. But for a while we can learn a huge amount and have a lot of fun with our illusions, can we not?

    August 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Are you a solipsist?

      August 10, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Solipsists don't use 'we' that much in my experience.

        August 10, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          True, but the guff about illusion sounds like either a solipsist or a fan of The Matrix.

          August 10, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
        • Saraswati

          An idealist probably.

          August 10, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
      • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

        Just another Wegodian pontificating doctrines from the ghosts at the Frankfurt School. Conjuring up the dead, so to speak.

        August 11, 2013 at 6:37 am |
        • midwest rail

          How many times does "Wegodian" occur in the KJV ?

          August 11, 2013 at 6:40 am |
        • midwest rail

          'smatter, lol??/GaveThemUp/faith ? No answer for your own "pithy" question ? By the way, pithy is another word you obviously don't know the definition for.

          August 11, 2013 at 7:09 am |
        • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

          Pithyism is misunderstood.

          August 11, 2013 at 7:12 am |
    • Donald

      There is no evidence to support solipsism so no, but I do find very interesting.

      August 10, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
      • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

        There's also no evidence of a matrix.

        August 10, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Donald

      I am quoting "Illusions" by Richard Bach. Thought the reference would be recognized. Great book. Same author as Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Also excellent.

      August 10, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
      • lol?? Pithiest, YES!!

        Yup, a delusional hateful bird priest from the socie flock, with a dose of Woody Allen angst.

        August 11, 2013 at 7:10 am |
  12. Donald

    Some people spend a lot of money and time to see horror or soap-opera problems that to other people are dull and boring. You don't have to see their films, and they don't have to see yours. That is called "freedom.”

    August 10, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • skytag

      Are you bored? Is that why you're posting this drivel that has nothing to do with the article?

      August 11, 2013 at 12:09 am |
  13. Prologue

    1.There was a Master come unto the earth, born in the holy land of Indiana, raised in the mystical hills east of Fort Wayne.

    August 10, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • Akira

      Fort Wayne? What a dump. I don't trust where this is going already.

      August 10, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  14. lamelionheart

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwCJZi8IlcU&w=640&h=360]

    August 10, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  15. Vic

    Ted Turner is a Christian.

    August 10, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Lassie was a canine.

      August 10, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Leon Spinks is a retired pugilist.

      August 10, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Jeremiah was a Bullfrog

      August 10, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  16. TV is not real

    They were acting, yo! It doesn't take jesus to make us do good things. Do them for yourself, do them for someone else, but the only reason to do good things for jesus is to placate god into letting you into heaven where you can deuce rainbows with Mother teresa. Selfish.

    August 10, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  17. Apple Bush

    Some communist bastard at CNN blocked my IP address a few weeks ago. Can you believe that? ME? What the fuck did I do? Did I offend some dead babies or something?

    August 10, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • LinCA

      Same here. And all I did was post a script to circumvent the damned word filter. Go figure.

      August 10, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Apple Beach

      Good idea.

      Right now I am just masking my IP behind a VPN.

      August 10, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
      • LinCA

        Here is the Python script for Notepad++ that will scan selected text for the word fragments on the banned list. It will then insert a couple of HTML tags that will allow you to circumvent the filters.

        You can find the script below between the lines with the # signs.

        To install it:
        – If you don't already have it, get Notepad++ (it's a free download, just google it).
        – Go to: Plugins – Plugin Manager – Show Plugin Manager – add the plugin Python Script.
        – Go to: Plugins – Python Script – New Script.
        – Give the new script a name and save.
        – Copy everything between the # signs below into the new script.
        – Save the script.
        – Go to: Plugins – Python Script – Configuration – Add script to Toolbar icons.

        To use it:
        – Compose comment in Notepad++.
        – Select entire comment.
        – Run script by clicking the toolbar icon.
        – Copy and post.

        If you need to add new words, just add lines to the script in the "banlist" variable (mind the quotes and comma).

        Script below:
        #############################################################

        banlist = ( 'arse',
                    'bastard',
                    'asshole',
                    'bitch',
                    'clit',
                    'cock',
                    'coon',
                    'cracker',
                    'cum',
                    'cunt',
                    'douche',
                    'effing',
                    'fag',
                    'ftw',
                    'fuck',
                    'goddamn',
                    'gloryhole',
                    'homo',
                    'hooters',
                    'horny',
                    'hump',
                    'jackass',
                    'jap',
                    'jism',
                    'kinky',
                    'kooch',
                    'necrophilia',
                    'nigra',
                    'nigger',
                    'nipple',
                    'orgy',
                    'pis',
                    'poon',
                    'porn',
                    'prick',
                    'pussy',
                    'queer',
                    'rape',
                    'sex',
                    'shit',
                    'slut',
                    'smut',
                    'snatch',
                    'spic',
                    'tit',
                    'twat',
                    'vag',
                    'whore',
                    'wop',
                    'wtf',
                    'xxx',
                    'wonderful us' )

        editor.beginUndoAction()
        selStr = editor.getSelText()

        startAnchor = editor.getSelectionStart()
        endPos = editor.getSelectionEnd()
        if( endPos > startAnchor ):
            startAnchor = editor.positionFromLine( editor.lineFromPosition( startAnchor ) )
        else:
            tmp = startAnchor
            startAnchor = endPos
            endPos = tmp
        selectionLength = endPos - startAnchor
        addedCharachters = 0

        for index in range(len(banlist)):
            findString = banlist[index]

            if ( findString != 'wonderful us' ) :
                isWU = 0
                replacePos = 3
            else :
                isWU = 1
                replacePos = 10

            l = len( selStr )
            f = len( findString )

            if ( l >= f ) :
                c = (l - f)
                lastTagIsOpen = 1

                while ( c >= 0 ) :
                    clip = str.lower( selStr[ c : c + f ] )
                    if ( ( l - c ) > 2 ) :
                        if ( str.lower( selStr[ c : c + 3 ] ) == '<b>' ) :
                            lastTagIsOpen = 1
                    if ( ( l - c ) > 3 ) :
                        if ( str.lower( selStr[ c : c + 4 ] ) == '</b>' ) :
                            lastTagIsOpen = 0
                    if ( clip == findString ) :
                        if isWU :
                            selStr = selStr[ 0 : ( c + replacePos - 1 )] + '&nbsp;' + selStr[ ( c + replacePos ) : len( selStr ) ]
                            addedCharachters += 5
                        else :
                            if lastTagIsOpen :
                                selStr = selStr[ 0 : ( c + replacePos - 1 ) ] + '<b></b>' + selStr[ (c + replacePos - 1) : len( selStr ) ]
                                addedCharachters += 7
                            else :
                                selStr = selStr[ 0 : ( c + replacePos - 1 ) ] + '</b><b>' + selStr[ (c + replacePos - 1) : len( selStr ) ]
                                addedCharachters += 7
                    c -= 1

        editor.replaceSel( selStr )
        editor.endUndoAction()

        endPos = editor.getLineEndPosition( editor.lineFromPosition( endPos ) )
        editor.setSel( startAnchor, selectionLength + addedCharachters )

        #############################################################

        August 10, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          You rock LinCA, thanks man.

          August 10, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Apple Beach

      Hey I called myself Apple Beach accidently. I like it. I may use that.

      August 10, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • guest

      just listen to yourself–rather:read, then you may understand why you were blocked.

      August 10, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        What the fuck "guest"? I thought we were buds.

        August 10, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  18. lamelionheart

    The Triune Manifestations of Cosmological Orders

    The 1st manifestation of cosmological order is the atomized cosmologies... The 2nd order is the celestial cosmologies and the 3rd is the cellular cosmologies... You could not have the celestial and the cellular cosmologies without having the atomized cosmologies and likewise you could not have the cellular cosmologies without having the atomized and celestial cosmologies... The atomized cosmologies are ancient while the celestial cosmologies are quite young and the cellular cosmologies are fixed renditions of the ancient atomized cosmologies...

    As science peers ever inwardly upon the atomized cloisters the veils of rational reasonability becomes our scientific awareness and as science peers ever further outwardly upon the celestial depths they just may discover that there is no ending to this celestial cosmos of multiple big bangs too numerous to even be counted...

    August 10, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • sam stone

      blah, blah, blah

      August 10, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  19. Apple Bush

    I was crawling in the sky watching the water drain and the only sound I tasted was coming from tiny flying insects made of glass but I only asked one for the truth and it never asked all the others to a coffin may be the only fruit pudding we can throw over board.

    August 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxcM3nCsglA&w=640&h=360]

      August 10, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
  20. This week on "Helpin' Folks"

    How Depression Stole and then Returned my Life

    By God

    A true book of pretend realities about not recovering from the depression that never left.

    August 10, 2013 at 9:05 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.