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The theological implications of ‘Breaking Bad’

The theological implications of ‘Breaking Bad’

I love AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” I am distraught that this amazing series will end on Sunday, though I gotta say, I am completely wrung out by the intensity of it all. I don’t remember when a TV show has explored more thoroughly the complicated and all encompassing nature of a man’s descent into evil.


While this tale of a mild mannered teacher turned drug lord has produced countless “Oh my God!” moments, none of the characters has moved toward what we’d recognize as any real closeness to God, even as protagonist Walter White’s escalating depravity has ruined everyone around him. Jordan Monge wrote a few days ago about the “Theology of Breaking Bad” at Patheos.com. He says he worries, given creator Vince Gilligan’s predilection for justice,

… that there may be no redemption for Walter. This, I think, is where the Christian narrative is most helpful: while there is forgiveness, it is hard earned. God doesn’t simply want to wash away the sin—nor would it be consistent with his justice to pretend that the evil has not been committed. Instead, God himself takes on human flesh to offer us a model of true goodness and to save us from sin by his death on the cross. He doesn’t want to wipe us clean on the outside, but to transform our broken hearts from the inside out. Jesus stops our moral inertia and can push us in the opposite direction.

Breaking Bad offers one of the richest insights into human nature on television today. Gilligan slyly signals his overarching theme when Walter stands before his class and tells his students, “Chemistry is… well, technically it’s the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change.” And so, too, Breaking Bad is the study of change—of a change from moral indifference to horrendous evil. It paints a picture of the development of sin in a way unparalleled in today’s television story-telling. And it makes us pause to ask important ethical questions:

• Must sin have consequences?

• Will there be justice in this life?

• How can we resist negative moral inertia?

• How do we avoid breaking bad ourselves?

Personally, I have trouble summoning up any hope for Walter’s redemption. I can’t remember when I’ve wanted so much to see a fictional protagonist suffer for his sins. But his battered compadre Jesse Pinkman– that’s another story. God bless him. He has a conscience. He has sinned, but how he has suffered. I want to see him embraced by a loving God. A God of justice. We’ll see Sunday night.

Read Monge’s column here. Anyone else care to weigh in on the theological aspects of all this?

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barbara snyder

I started watching this on Netflix (no TV these days), but never got into it; I think I'll have to try it again.

Thanks for bringing up the questions you're discussing here, though! To me, the Christian story is uniquely deep and powerful exactly because "God himself takes on human flesh to offer us a model of true goodness and to save us from sin by his death on the cross. He doesn’t want to wipe us clean on the outside, but to transform our broken hearts from the inside out."

Sin, redemption, salvation, transformation, justice; huge questions all. That's another thing that's so great about faith: you get to keep considering these (and other) deep questions, and looking at them from different angles - even maybe finding new insights. Faith impels deep thinking, of a kind I rarely (or never) did before I joined the church. And it's always revealing something more - usually something unexpected; it's really enlivening and exciting that way.

Well, sorry for rambling! Hope the finale is great.

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