Sunday, December 16, 2012

To be lost is to be found...apparently...


Lost logoSo, R and I just finished watching Lost.  I think we made it through most of the series in the last six months.  Needless to say, it has been roller coaster!  I loved the character development and how you initially hated some characters, but came to love them dearly at the end, and others, who were newish, you came to love as you saw them grow in the short time they were there.  Yet the ending...I must say there may be spoilers ahead, but then again, it has been two and a half years since it aired, and if you knew anyone who watched it then, you probably heard plenty about the series if you had never watched it, especially from those who *despised* the ending!

I didn't despise the ending, but am processing it.  Really, that is probably the whole point of it.  However, in talking about it with R, she made the comment that it kind of makes you think of where the culture is now (or where culture has seemed to always have been in pop religion...).  It all works out in the end, there is a happy ending somewhere, even if it isn't here, it's raining somewhere, so let's drink (sorry, that's Jeffersonian anecdote I heard years ago, not Lost...).

Yet, it did drive me to quite a speech with R.  I just came out of an ethics class in seminary this semester and really, there are a few things to say that relate here, I believe.

I love Virtue Ethics.  Especially after reading N.T. Wright's After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.  It was tonight that I realized that a few things that I read from Peter Kreeft's Christianity for Modern Pagans (one of my favorite books, for reasons that I can't go into here) perfectly line up with Lost in, sort of, an inverse kind of way.

You see, Pascal saw man as both wretched and great, and in some ways great because he could see his own wretchedness.  But the answer to man's paradoxical way of life was through Christ.  We could only become great by embracing our wretchedness (seeing that we had no way out of it) and through that embracing Christ.  Culture, however, sees us either as great or wretched.  Pascal nailed it when he said, "Man is neither angel nor beast, and it is unfortunately the case that anyone acting the angel acts the beast."  We are neither, but culture, seems to think that we are one or the other.  And because of this, we come to think that if we are angels all we have to do is summon the strength from within to act appropriately, or in terms of Lost, find ourselves on the Island and discover who we really are.

On one hand, there is some truth in this.  It is right that we can't simply get to heaven from what we are now.  We don't get there from here, we have to change what we do.  Think of the scene when Hurley says, "Dude, I didn't know Ana Lucia would be here," and Desmond replies with, "She's not ready."  Her time on the Island didn't fit her for "heaven" and she needs to spend time in this in between place of the "flash-sideways" to get it right.  See, everything works out in the end, just not at the same time for everyone.

Yet in this sort of truth that we can't get to heaven from where we are right now, is the dangerous lie that we can get to heaven if we change ourselves, whether drawing from within, or from responding properly to outside forces, or some combination of both (the Island, maybe??).

It's all very Aristotelian, actually.  What, you ask, does that even mean??

Aristotle put forward what is called a "Virtue Ethic."  There is an end goal to life, that is, to be happy (in the good ol' Greek sense, a well formed life, not our uber subjective understanding of it today).  To get to that goal, though, we have to develop virtue.  How does one do that though?  By observing and imitating those who are virtuous, of course!  But we don't seem to have any virtue to get us started....You see where the problem arises.  To cut the tension, one has to assume that we have at least the beginnings of virtue within us and we need something to bring it out.  But, is that in anyway true?  Is there some "seed" of virtue within?

I would say that answer is "No."  But with some qualifications...I'm not saying that we can't ever do something that is good, but I am saying that whatever "good" we do is not really good enough to count for actual virtue.  We can't get to the end goal of a "happy life" from where we are now, we just don't have it in us at the end of the day.  Our imitations don't even come up as good as my three year old son's drawings of the field outside our house that consists of merely a circle of brown with some green scribbled in it!  Now, hear me out here...we aren't total beasts (we do some things that can be considered good), but we aren't angels (who would presumably be able to do actual good, that is, virtuous things).  We're somewhere in-between.  Something that is neither angel nor beast, but a whole different category.

That is the mistake I see in our culture, though.  There is no third category.  We are simply irredeemable (in both positive, not needing it, and negative, unable to be so).  That is, we are so lost that we can't be found, or we weren't ever lost and so don't need to be found...Really, we need to see that we are lost and thus, in need of being found.

I'll say some more about this and virtue later, after I hash it out in my own brain some more...