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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. Ron

    "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him." I John 2:15

    August 14, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      “All right,” the Lord said. “You may bake your bread with cow dung instead of human dung.”
      –Ezekiel 4:12-15

      August 15, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  2. Ron

    "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." ....Psalm 53:1 Written in two seperate Psalms, now thats important.

    August 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • sam stone

      it is only important to those who accept the authority of the book you quote

      to the rest of the world.....most of the world.....it is fantasy

      August 15, 2013 at 3:55 am |
      • Observer

        You'll be praying til next Thursday to all the gods that you can count

        August 18, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
    • Kate

      The book says it's right so the book must be right.

      August 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Ron

    "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." ....Psalm 14:1

    August 14, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      And my all time favorite:

      Ezekiel 23:19-21
      19 Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prost itute in Egypt. 20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. 21 So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.
      (NIV 1984)

      August 15, 2013 at 11:35 am |
      • Kate

        Better than average porno.

        August 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  4. hharri

    If we confess, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us...

    It isn't fun being cleansed

    Confess means agree with... He already knows about our sins

    August 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • hharri

      The letter kills. The spirit gives life.

      August 14, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
      • sam stone

        how impressive.
        you can quote a book

        still waiting on that "plentiful, abundant and convincing evidence" of a god

        if you are not a coward, that is

        August 15, 2013 at 3:57 am |
        • hharri

          Lol

          August 18, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
      • sam stone

        allowing others to take the punishment you deserve is about the most immoral thing one can do

        yet, not only do you christian sycophants do so, you fvcking brag about it

        August 15, 2013 at 3:59 am |
  5. hharri

    The lives of believers changed radically

    August 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • hharri

      I know there is a heaven. He pointed to his heart and said cause I got hell right here. Drunks are closer to the kingdom of heaven than all the self-righteous

      August 14, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
      • sam stone

        drunks have damaged their brains via the poison of alcohol

        August 15, 2013 at 4:00 am |
        • hharri

          Weak

          August 18, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  6. hharri

    The evidence that proves god exists is everywhere. The blind can't see it

    August 14, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • hharri

      The god of this world won't let them see it

      August 14, 2013 at 10:31 am |
      • Honey Badger Don't Care

        Sounds like your god is a pettly little beotch.

        August 14, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • hharri

        Not everybody is as cool

        August 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
      • sam stone

        you keep on bloviating that the evidence is everywhere, but you do not produce any of it. are you a liar, or just a delusional little cvnt?

        August 15, 2013 at 4:02 am |
        • dan

          You seem extremely over-the-top mad about this.. to the point where you are up before dawn spewing hate at people that are just sharing their opinions... I feel bad for you, man. Try not to let the hate eat you alive.

          August 15, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • sam stone

      it's not that the people who don't see it are blind, it's that the people who do see are delusional. you prove it with every post. you claim evidence, but do not supply it. it's in your head

      August 15, 2013 at 4:04 am |
      • Joshua

        I agree with Dan. It appears to me that your anger towards Christians is over the top? Covering many pages of posts? I wonder why? I'm curious of why the Christian story is so absurd? A good book for a summary of evidence: Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh Mcdowell. A good read if your up to critiquing it? This book is only the tip of the iceberg for evidences of Christianity in the ancient world.

        August 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
        • Mellow out

          He probably just got home from the bar after being rejected again, so he is on here taking out his anger on Christians.

          August 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
        • Just the Facts Ma'am...

          Ah, the religious insult deflection when asked for evidence. It works every time, at least if you consider making yourself look like a moron with no defense "working".

          August 16, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
        • Athy

          Nobody's denying that there is evidences of Christianity in the ancient world. You're not paying attention, are you?

          August 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  7. Paul & Barnabas

    It is at the Cross we break the bad, there is healing and forgiveness of sins at the Cross. Without Christ there is a void for man to reconcile with God, as the chasm of sin separates man from God.

    August 14, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      There is no evidence that there is a god, that the jesus of the bible ever existed let alone any of the miracles.

      Please provide evidence for your delusion.

      August 14, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  8. hharri

    In all ways tempted like we are, yet without sin

    August 14, 2013 at 6:33 am |
    • hharri

      Karla Faye Tucker found out

      August 14, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • sam stone

      sin is a man made concept, and only applicable to those who believe in your god.

      get back on your knees, b1tch

      August 15, 2013 at 4:07 am |
  9. hharri

    Bryan reminded me of Stan Laurel in MITM with his high pitched, panicked screaming

    August 14, 2013 at 12:53 am |
  10. UncleBenny

    And I'm not a Christian because of Christians.

    August 13, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Plausible reason,no doubt. But I'd suggest if your focus is on us you've missed the whole point.

      August 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
      • Reality

        Putting the focus on Christians for the new members of this blog:

        Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

        The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

        earlychristianwritings.com/

        For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

        Current RCC problems:

        Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

        Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

        Current problems:
        Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

        August 14, 2013 at 12:01 am |
        • hharri

          Lol

          August 14, 2013 at 9:20 am |
      • sam stone

        bill is right. do not focus on christians in order to deny christianity. focus on the absurdness of the story

        making fun of christians is like shooting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and a scope

        August 14, 2013 at 5:18 am |
        • Bill Deacon

          sam is right. Both activities require about the same proclivities.

          August 14, 2013 at 9:26 am |
        • sam stone

          i should have put quotation marks around that statement. it was from p.j. o'rourke

          the story is still absurd

          put lipstick on a pig, and it is still a pig

          August 15, 2013 at 4:11 am |
  11. AE

    “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that’s left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”
    C.S. Lewis

    August 13, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • tallulah13

      There is no rational reason to believe in things for which there is no evidence.
      Tallulah13

      August 13, 2013 at 11:15 am |
      • AE

        You are not a completely rational being.

        August 13, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      He makes a good point though I prefer the quote

      "An unexamined life is not worth living" -Socrates

      Impying that "evil" is some kind of otherworldly spirit we need to expell from ourselves and not us as invividuals making bad choices deflects personal responsibility in a way.

      August 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
      • AE

        That quote is saying that evil comes from within.

        Like the topic of the article, "'Breaking Bad' and the evil within us all".

        Mk. 7:18-22 “And he [Jesus] said to them [his disciples], ‘Are you also without understanding? Do you not perceive that whatever comes from without and enters into the man cannot defile him because it does not enter into his heart, but into the stomach and is eliminated out of the body.’ And he said, ‘What comes out of the man is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, envy, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. ‘“

        This supports that it isn't evil spirits to blame, but ourselves. The religious leaders in his time thought what we ate or the clothes we wore would make us evil. Jesus taught it was not that, or outside evil spirits.

        August 13, 2013 at 11:24 am |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          And yet other passages from the gosels completely contradict that..

          MARK 1:39 – “And He went through all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and expelling the demons“

          MARK 16:17 – “And signs shall attend those who believe, even such as those. By making use of My name they shall expel demons”

          MATTHEW 10:7-8 – “And as you go, preach, saying ‘the Kingdom of heaven is at hand’. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, CAST OUT DEMONS”.

          So Jesus contradicts himself and the Bible is shown again to be able to be interpreted to whatever anyone wants it to mean.

          August 13, 2013 at 11:41 am |
        • AE

          I've heard it described that Jesus is iberating those controlled by demons, or evil forces. Or sin. Or evil from within.

          August 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          AE,

          I get that but how do you determine that is the correct view?

          August 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
        • AE

          It works for me.

          August 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          And I am glad it does. I like your interpretation better than others but I think it shows people just ending up picking a religious viewpoint based on what feels right...which to me is the same as just making it up yourself.

          August 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
        • AE

          Yea, there is some truth to that. I agree.

          August 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Wayfaring Stranger

      When the mind is allowed to become reprobate and sink down into the cesspool of bad actions it will not be able to see up through all the crap until a great effort is made on oneself. After much purification of mind and a rise of consciousness one can see down on alll the delusions of bad actions where they can be examined if one desires. We go up and down like an ant trying to climb a sand hill. Be like the ant and and make it to the top – great thinks can happen.

      August 13, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • hharri

      A rare genius

      August 14, 2013 at 6:35 am |
  12. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    -I think they can admit it is a choice, unless God has chosen them.-

    That is a load of garbage, beliefs are not choices. I also love how believers claim to be so humble and then claim to be "chosen" by the creator of the universe, that level of arrogance is galling.

    -No. God is as real as the air in your lungs-

    I would say god is as real as the dragon in my basement.

    August 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • Commonly Sensed

      I don't even have a basement.

      August 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Then where do you keep your dragon?

      August 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • atomD21

      I keep my dragon in the attic. Keeps the squirrels away.

      August 13, 2013 at 2:04 am |
  13. hharri

    Blessed are the merciful

    August 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • FAT AND HUGE

      NO

      August 12, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • hharri

      For they shall obtain mercy.

      I can gather a reserve of mercy by giving it to others. What goes around, comes around

      August 12, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
      • John

        That's karma, dude!

        August 12, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
        • Akira

          Funny how that translates in all religions/beliefs, isn't it?

          August 13, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • hharri

      Blessed are they who mourn, they will be comforted

      August 14, 2013 at 9:22 am |
  14. peppercorns

    THe end does not justify the means. I have never watched this and never will. It is not right that this became such a hit. Drugs are wrong and should never be made to be a source of income. Don't we have enough drugged up losers in this world with out the TV idolizing them?

    August 12, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • jim

      Believe me, Breaking Bad does not idolize anyone. Despite his money and power, Walt loses everything. He doesn't even get any material benefits from his money, except a new car very late in the game. And the portrayal of meth addicts is accurate–as in, disgusting and pathetic.

      August 12, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Drugs are wrong and should never be made to be a source of income."

      Wow, where do you start?
      How are inanimate objects either right or wrong?

      Drugs should never be a source of income? Wow.....tell Anheuser Busch, PepsiCo and Phizer that

      "Don't we have enough drugged up losers in this world with out the TV idolizing them?"

      What is your excuse?

      Since you have never seen the show, what makes you think the show idolizes the characters?

      Were you born this dumb, or did you work on it?

      August 12, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • sam stone

      got nothing else to say, peppercorns?

      come on to bloaviate and a run when your drivel is challenged.

      congrats, you are like the other pious cowards on this blog

      August 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • hharri

      Cranston is a genius. Glad he is getting some recognition. BB glamorizes/makes se cool his lifestyle. He is a geek/outlaw/scientist/gangster and he lives in a fantasy world about which many fantasize. He plays the part so well, you get drawn into the frenetic pace he keeps, which leaves little time to reflect on mortality and that very soon, all of us will depart this life for good.

      August 14, 2013 at 12:45 am |
      • sam stone

        morality is subjective

        we all die

        August 15, 2013 at 4:14 am |
  15. CommonSensed

    Really? This belongs in Entertainment. Belief column is really reaching...

    August 12, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
  16. Frank B

    Walt has Hank by the cahones! Walt will tell Hank he is going down too if he turns Walt in. How could Walt have operated a huge meth cook right under his brother-in-law’s nose? Where would Walt get the hundreds of thousands to pay for Hanks therapy without drug money? How would Hank know exactly where to go to find Tuco Salamanca and shoot him if he was not a dirty DEA agent? Why did Pinkman drop the assault charges against Hank? Why did Hank know just when to take shelter in Waco when the turtle/head blew up? Because Hank was in on the whole scam, Walt will say. Hank insisted on pursuing Mike Ehrmantraut as a ruse to draw attention away from Walt. Why did Hank get shot? A dispute with his bosses in Mexico! Hank is screwed…

    August 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  17. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Another "insightful" article from Rachel Evans...

    August 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Colin

      Someone else called her Rachel Held Over. Classic.

      August 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • flying spaghetti monster

      I know, her columns are drivel.

      August 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • flying spaghetti monster

      She is cute, though. I'd be happy to do some good ol' fashion sinning with her anyday.

      August 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  18. hharri

    Top administrators at morton-thiokol and NASA are directly responsible for the deaths of the challenger crew.

    August 12, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • hharri

      Boisjoly begged m-t and NASA not to launch. He pleaded with them. Suddenly NASA required m-t to prove it wasn't safe. It had always been NASA's burden to prove it was safe. They were alive when they slammed into the water from 68,000 feet. It took several minutes to plunge that far.

      The Columbia crew died from their heads being bashed by their helmets. The Styrofoam debris that punctured the fuselage was clearly visible as NASA reviewed tapes of the liftoff in super slow motion. They never told the crew a safety issue existed.

      August 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
      • Akira

        Clearly this is the result of Coolidge's failed policies.

        August 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  19. lamelionheart

    God and all of God's family trees generations dare I say resides and takes up residencies within the atomized realms of all cellular cosmologies... (Just a theory of mine)

    August 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • lamelionheart

      (I should have typed) God and all of God's family treed generations dare I say resides and takes up residencies within the atomized realms of all cellular cosmologies... (Take note of the difference)

      August 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
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About this blog

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.