Tuesday, May 19, 2009

“It’s never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.”

Do a Google search on Jack Bauer, and most of the images returned feature Jack holding a gun. Or Jack surrounded by an exploding fireball. Or perhaps most emblematic, a "Jack Bauer" action figure kicking down a door. Like Captain Kirk from a generation before, Jack is our vicarious stand-in for life's great dilemnas... should I/we follow the rules or save the busload of children (save the kids). Should we torture a man to extract a truth that may save the lives of countless thousands? (yes, with relish) Should one choose close family relations or national security? (national security over family security almost every time) Action Jack has busted through the doors of dozens of dilemnas over seven seasons, but now he faces his greatest dilemna yet... He's dying.

Jack's seizures, random twitches and grimaces have surfaced more often than uber-nerd Chloe's signature pout and squint. We're reminded how weak and powerless Jack is, even as he shoots his former friend and current traitor Tony before he can exact personal revenge. Our can-do post-modern MacGyver is reduced to reliance on his daughter to save his life. And then, just before he is placed in a morphine-induced coma, (say it ain't so Jack!) he calls for a single, solitary figure. An Imam--a Muslim holy man.

Not to ruin the plot for those of you (non-Hulu) folks who haven't watched the last few episodes, but some shadowy arch-conservative pseudo-patriots (let the reader understand they mean Blackwater aka Xe) have manipulated good, peace-loving Muslims into being the facade for a biological attack on Washington D.C. At first, Action Jack falls for this ruse, almost pulling out all his Guantanamo-esque skills of interrogation on the hapless Imam. But in a blinding flash of insight, our hero realizes that both the Muslims in question AND the Imam were innocent men, and that once again, he had been on the brink of doing something heinous. (torturing an innocent man--you'd think he'd have gotten used to it by now). Foreshadowing Jack's call for the Imam on his "deathbed" the Muslim holy man tells the man with the tortured conscience "“It’s never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.”

Now let me get down to my thoughts. I certainly don't want to get into the debate about whether all Muslims are heaven-bent to take us poor infidels into the great beyond. Surely such over-generalizations belong to those who need life cut into convenient, cookie-cutter categories. Nor am I going to shout and scream that Christians are getting a poor shake because Jack called out for a mullah instead of a reverend. Frankly, a man with as much violence in his past as Action Jack is doing well to talk to anyone of a spiritual ilk. Nor am I offended at the writers' evident attempt to patch up hard feelings in the Muslim community for casting them as evil nasties in previous seasons. None of that bothers me; after all this is entertainment.

What concerns me, however, is that the TV Imam gives rather un-Muslim advice. And for that matter, the advice doesn't fit into Christianity's script either. The holy-man character repeats his previous statement to Jack, "I hope that you can forgive yourself.” Hello--when did Oprah become a guest on my kick-down the door, blow up the helicopter, shoot your former friend in the shoulder action show? But that's where this psycho babble advice comes from. No Muslim or Christian or Jew in their right theology would tell someone that the key issue to settle before you die is to forgive yourself.
I'm not saying that forgiving yourself isn't important. I've made some God-awful, searing mistakes that still wake me up some nights in chilling, sweating regret. Is it hard work to not beat myself up for all those past mistakes? (Even though I wouldn't count torture, murder or growing an ugly beard and hiding in Africa in my mea culpas) You bet. But before I die and face my maker, I think that it would be slightly more important to consider the ways that I have failed Him, sinned against Him and His design in my life and seek His forgiveness. A great king who blew it said it this way, "Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned..."
It's not my place to tell you that you must choose the Christian answer above the Muslim answer or the Buddhist answer, or the St. Oprah answer, for that matter. That's up to you. I'm merely clarifying according to the Bible, when life comes down to mono y Deo, just you and the Divine, the issue is worship failure. A life that fell short of it's divine intent. I reflect on God's purpose for my life, one He characterizes as "glorious" and realize with grim certainty that I have often fallen far short of it... Sure I need to forgive myself. But more importantly, I need to ask God's forgiveness. I was made for Him, and I lived for myself instead. The ultimate answer isn't more SELF, it's more G-d. After all, it's never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.


nile said...

Rich, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree wholeheartedly. "24" this season tried to wrestle with the moral dilemmas of topics such as state-sanctioned torture and the conscience of a dying man who's committed atrocities in the name of "God" and country. And I think it failed miserably in its sermonizing. It failed not because these aren't serious topics, but rather, because they were handled with the total glibness of the political correctness movement where true evil does not exist except in the guise of corporate America.

Your point about the Imam who preached the gospel of Oprah to Jack on his deathbed is spot on!

Talwolfe said...

I was really fascinated by that whole section of the show. It is interesting to see what our brothers and sisters in the world are struggling with not in terms of the drama of the show but in terms of the philosophical and life questions that the show struggles to deal with. As much as people would like to argue that the answer to many of the questions people grapple with are not spiritual, we are seeing more and more that our actions all point to the fact that we realize we need something beyond us to solve our problems. There is only one right answer to those problems and I hope we Christians can shake of the weights of our previous identifications and really represent Christ and His answer to a world in search of answers. As One singer so eloquently put it, "Jesus is the answer for the world TODAY, above him there's no other. Jesus is the way"

Grace said...

When Jack called for the Imam, I found it both refreshing and awkward at the same time. I loved that it brought some reconciliation between them(didn't think of it in terms of the intentions of the writers, which shows I get so enthralled in the drama!), but the weakness in only finding forgiveness within yourself made me tilt my head to the side and say, "uh, ok." Jack seemed to find some peace in that, but it was almost like, "I think I'm supposed to feel better, but I'm not really sure why."

The world is searching to make some connection between the temporal and the eternal. That's what's so great about storytelling. There is still an open platform for the gospel to be heard. Someone once said to me that the purpose of movie-making is not to tell the truth; it's to make a point. While that may anger fellow Christians, I think instead of being angry, we as Christians need to be better at making our point in a world that has largely tuned out anything overtly Christian.

KiddDoc said...

Nile--I agree that the story has gotten a bit preachy for me. But I'm with Talwolfe too in appreciating the attempt at least to address those larger questions... especially with bullets and pathogens flying around at such alarming rates.

I am very sympathetic to the storytelling ability of the medium, Grace. And that's why I think I want it to be more authentic. I'd actually rather see Jack submit his will to Allah and become a Muslim than hear an Imam dispense the gospel of Oprah. It's more authentic. Then he could represent the very real argument within Islam between the terrorists and the rationalists...maybe season 8?

Christennnn said...

Dr. Kidd,

I just want to say thank you for posting that picture of Oprah because I laughed for a good while. Then posted it on various facebook walls.

Thanks again.