Skip to main content
Essay

Better Together

By August 1, 2014 No Comments
Listen To Article

Last week we started watching a new show, still trying to find a replacement for Breaking Bad. I’ve read reviews of True Detective, but I’m not a fan of Woody Harrelson or Matthew McConaughey so we never watched. With a busted up knee, and a bit of t.v. desperation, I relented. The show is set in Lousiana—McConaughey and Harrelson play partners in a Louisiana state crime unit. The show is part testimony, part flashback. We hear the main characters talking to other detectives about a case they investigated back in the early 90’s. A serial killer, prostitutes, drug gangs… the usual. What drives the show is less the specifics of the case and more the character study. McConaughey plays a jaded, cynical, detective who lost his family. His approach to the world is rational and pessimistic. At one point he refers to human consciousness as evolution’s mistake. We weren’t meant to become self conscious and now we’re dealing with the effects of thinking that life is meaningful, that we’re meaningful, that any of use have any importance at all. Harrelson plays a family man who is loosely religious—a Roman Catholic—with a tendency to mess around in places he shouldn’t. But he defends religion; he defends the common folk. 

In one episode the detectives go to a pentecostal revival to interview a person of interest. They stand in the back watching the preacher and the congregation, each with their own interpretation. McConaughey is disgusted—he sees a narcissistic group of people who have to make it all about themselves. They’re so important, God love me, me me me he, he keeps repeating “me”  and “I” as he raises his hands into the air. He gives a quick psychological diagonisis—lower class, diabetes, welfare… all of them clinging to fantasy and myth to make life bearable. The Harrelson character interrupts him. He tells his partner that he doesn’t know these people, he doesn’t understand what their lives are like, and he certainly can’t reduce what’s happening to psychology and fantasy. After all, without religion the world would be an even bigger “shit hole.” 

These competing worldviews is what makes the show worth watching. The tension between them is symbolized by the ongoing tension between the two partners; and yet, they need each other—they’re better together. Which has me thinking… maybe the church needs its atheists and agnostics. Maybe we need our rationalists to scoff at what they consider our playing make believe. It’s good for us, not because they’re right, but maybe we need someone to remind us from time to time how the world perceives us. And I think we’re good for them. Reminding them that their worldview takes just as much faith… just as much make-believe as ours. It seems to me, as much as I love and appreciate science, that sometimes they’re hoping just as much as us religious folk.

Is it just me, or is some of the best theology happening on television? 

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

Leave a Reply