Friday, April 3, 2009

Catholicism in LOST

For a while, I've wanted to write a blog about the Catholic imagery in the T.V. show LOST on Abc. While, to my knowledge, none of the writers or creators of the show are Catholic, nor is the show's message a Catholic one, it is interesting that relatively sound Catholic doctrine lies below the surface in numerous episodes. Also, admittedly, I will be ignoring the show's philosophically anti-Catholic elements, most notably pre-destination and reincarnation. So, while I cannot say the show is "Catholic" by any stretch or logic, it does have interesting Catholic elements.

The three most recognizably Catholic characters in LOST are Charlie, Desmond, and Mr. Eko. Lets begin with Charlie. In his very first flashback, the means by which all characters display how they became who they are on the island, Charlie was in the confessional seeking forgiveness and direction. The priest advised Charlie by telling him that he always has a choice when it comes to moral decisions, that our lives are a series of choices, and that our choices shape who we are. In addition, Charlie portrays the Christ like quality of total sacrifice. When the original group of passengers were trying to get off the island, Desomond revealed to Charlie that the only way that would happen is if Charlie made the ultimate sacrifice. So, after turning off the jamming signal to the island, to allow it to be discovered, Charlie drowned as a result. Not, it is worth noting before making the sign of the cross and stretching his arms out in a Christ like symbol of sacrifice.

Similar to Charlie, Desmond shows the same sacrificial nature at the end of the second season. Desmond most resembles, in my opinion, the apostle Peter. Peter is dominated by cowardice and over-compensation for much of his life. He denies Christ, his master, runs from the crucifixion, and is constantly saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. And yet, he is the man Christ chose to make Rock, the rock which the church still stands on today. Ultimately, Peter gives his life in a similar manner to his Master. He gives himself up to death and willingly sacrifices himself for the love of others. Desmond, prior to his days in the hatch was dominated by his cowardice. He runs from Penny, he runs from the army, and he runs away from the monastery. However, when he resolves himself to love, specifically the love of Penny, he overcomes his cowardice and makes the ultimate sacrifice. He makes the sign of the cross, says "I love you Penny" and turns the key. He turns his fail safe key to save all of the others on the island, maybe in the world. He gave up his life to "save the world." And thus, the true meaning of sacrifice, the true meaning of love.

Desmond also spends a significant amount of time at a Catholic monastery in Scotland prior to meeting Penny. The priest who advises Desmond provides some sound insight on vocation. He says to Desmond, "The Lord tests our faith in many ways." In addition he explains to Desmond that maybe he isn't cut out to be a monk and that the Lord has bigger plans for him later (like "saving" the world). After his dismissal from the monastery, Desmond asks, "What am I supposed to do now," and the priest responds, "whatever comes next." In addition to the advice on vocations that Desmond receives, he also acquires his habit of calling everyone "Brother" at the monastery. Desmond always responds to the "callings" he receives in his life, rarely understanding them. After he overcomes his cowardice, he is fully able to trust the Lord's providence and act according to Love. For as St. John says, "God is Love." As a side note, I love the scheme that he has read every Dickens novel with the exception of one because he wants it to be the last thing he reads before he dies.

Finally we come to Mr. Eko, who has a most unusual connection to the Church. His brother is a devout African priest who serves his community steadfastly, administering the Sacraments, most obviously Reconciliation. Mr. Eko, on the other hand, was a drug dealer and a villain in the true sense of the word. His brother pleads with Eko to reform his life, but Eko refuses, resulting in the death of his brother. As a penance of sorts, Eko impersonates his brother and impersonates a priest. While deeply misguided his attempts are, he tries to make up for what he has done, even going to the extent of building a church on the island and Baptising Aaron. This character is the main flaw of the Catholic imagery in LOST in that the writers do not understand that just anyone can't be a priest just by saying that they are one. In addition, the Bishop of the diocese would immediately recognize Eko as an impostor and stop his faux ministry.

However, Mr. Eko's character does reveal the spiritual and emotional consequences of pride and refusal to seek forgiveness for one's sins. When he encounters the 'ghost' of his brother, the priest, on the island Eko refuses to ask for forgiveness and says, "I did my best with what I was given." This statement immediately results in his death at the hands of the smoke monster. Unlike Desmond and Charlie who give themselves in love for the betterment of others, Eko's refusal and turn into self results in destruction. His character is complex in that he does feel remorse for his life, but yet he refuses to take that regret and remorse to the healing end of asking for forgiveness.

In addition to these three main characters, Catholic imagery appears in other instances as well. Most notable of the images are the statues of the Virgin Mary found on the island in the second season. The statues were filled with drugs and were being used by drug smugglers who crash landed on the island. Ironically, or perhaps by purpose, Charlie was at one time a drug addict and forced to confront his demons. But, Charlie trusts his faith and resolves to turn away from temptation and throw the drugs into the ocean. I like to think that this represents how the Blessed Mother is always watching out for us, protecting us through her intercession. I'm sure the writers of the show were not thinking this but, it is a logical conclusion don't you think.

Most recently, the newest season of LOST had the most profoundly Catholic moment of any thus far. Benjamin Linus and Jack, the hero of lost were in a Catholic church discussing their plans to return to the island. Jack, previously had been seen as a 'man of science' refusing to believe in the island's mysterious powers or in any external powers of will. Ben points out a picture of St. Thomas the Apostle placing his fingers in the side of the risen Christ. Ben remarks how prior to the Passion of Christ, Thomas expressed a willingness to accept crucifixion if it meant standing at the side of Christ. Ben remarks how it is a shame that Thomas is not remembered for this comment but only for his doubt. Ben also remarks that Thomas needed to be convinced, he needed to be convinced of Christ's divinity. Jack asked, "and was he convinced?" to which Ben replied, "everyone is convinced eventually." Of course Ben was referring to the island, but this scene very purposefully and obviously has a double meaning and can be quite profound depending on the context.

I hope I have sufficiently expounded on this topic and that someone reads it and is interested by it ... if not, this exercise in nerdiness on my part was at least fun for me. I know many of you, probably Stephen, will remark on how allegory is horrible and a poor substitute for the authentic story of the Gospel. This is true, of course. But, I am only expanding on Catholic imagery in a T.V. show and saying, "Huh, that's interesting." And that's all I'm really trying to say.



Anonymous said...

Each year at this time, we watch "Jesus of Nazareth", one of our collection of DVD's.

The Zomparelli film is quite good and in my opinion a realistic and reverant depiction on film of Christ's life.

For us engineer types, that is about all the "allegory" I can handle!

Rena said...

i don't even watch Lost but i read the whole thing and was intrigued! your blogs are always fun to read. I hope all is well in So. IL.

John said...

We just moved into our house. So if the grad school thing doesn't work and Amanda can come live with us. But I'm going to make you cook...we have good knives though.

Oh yeah, nice blog entry. I don't watch Lost either, but I enjoyed the nerdiness.