Lost is the best show ever made. Period.
Mr. Ecko, a former drug dealer turned priest, stumbles through the jungles of the mysterious island and encounters his dead brother, who was also a priest. The time has come for Mr. Ecko’s redemption; his priest/brother beckons Mr. Ecko to confess his sins. But Mr. Ecko replies:
“I ask for no forgiveness, for I have not sinned. I only did what I needed to do to survive … I killed a man to saved my brother’s life. I am not sorry for this. I am proud of this. I did not ask for the life I was given, but it was given nonetheless. With it, I did my best.”
Even though I love this show so much, and this scene is so powerful and moving, it’s also a little unsettling. It is as if many people said these exact words to my face at one point or another, except it was complete and utter bovine excrement. I realized that Mr. Ecko’s redemption demonstrates the pivotal difference between the believer and nonbeliever, those who are honest about their flaws and those who aren’t.
In the final book of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, The Last Battle, Aslan gathers all the animals of Narnia into a single file line before him. As the animals proceed past him, each one stares into Aslan’s face — either they look upon him with fear and hatred and then go off into his shadow, or they look upon him with love and enter the door of paradise.
An obvious metaphor for God’s judgment. Those who loved Him in this life will walk into paradise, but those who stand defiant before God and refuse to repent, such as our friend Mr. Ecko, will march into an unexplained and probably terrible eternity, heads held high in humanistic self-righteousness all the way. That’s why Hell, if it exists, is built by its dwellers and locked from the inside.
Those who hold a highly individualistic worldview I suspect fashion themselves like Mr. Ecko — a tragic hero, a victim of circumstances, the romantic rebel of a lost cause. She highly regards herself, because while she can admit that she might not be perfect — she might kick the dog, insult the driver who cut her off, she might watch TV all day, she might be an alcoholic, she might sleep around — she counts these as petty sins, justifiably dismissed for the fact that she never murdered anyone, or perhaps was a good mother, or that she was loved by her community, or picketed environmental rallies, and because of that deep in her heart she is a well-intentioned person. So for what, she demands before the pearly toes of the Lord, must she repent?
Or what of the tyrants of history? That dead king, brainwashed by his own Machiavellian ideology, was certain that the genocide and enslavement wrought by his scepter were for the good of his subjects. Crusaders? Psychopaths? Nationalists? And, please, don’t make me drag Hitler into this.
If God exists, he must be perfect, or at least a lot more perfect than a human being. Perfect enough to count the atoms of our bodies, to set the universe in harmony, to weave the plans he has for humanity with the individual choices we make. Perfect enough to fairly judge the human race. Maybe he is an alien. It’s all beyond me.
This is not an excuse for moral relativism.
Regardless of any theological arguments, how could any human being seriously stand up at the trial of his very life and say he has not made a single mistake? Or say that he hasn’t made a mistake big enough to hold up the Heavenly customs gate? Or even say (and with a straight face) that he had spent every day and hour doing his best to live “the right way”? Balderdash! If anyone is honest with himself, he would see the swarm of all his tiny imperfections agglutinate into a gigantic, rabid elephant in the room. Before anyone can move on from his earthly life, there will be the demand for repentance, to become transparent, and then holy.
I’ll go first:
I’m a coward who would rather stick to his sad little routine than do something risky. I’m so obsessed with my writing that I forget people’s names and birthdays. I am filled with delusions of my own grandeur. I habitually obfuscate my language merely to appear intelligent around people, especially if I think they’re less intelligent. I have difficulty staying in the same room as those whose decisions concerning their sexual appetites and products of conception are not so moralistic as mine. I believe everyone is stupid, even myself. I am full of self-pity. I am self-absorbed. I am cynical. I hate people.
Wait, there’s more! I swear at my cat. I swear at nothing. I waste food. I waste time. I experience suicidal impulses at the sight of a beautiful woman. I daily take my white middle class privilege for granted. I forget that it was only because of my parents that I today am free of college debt. Comment on this post if I’ve missed anything.
I’m sorry, everyone.
Not easy, is it? As I made my confessions, though each was like a pinprick through my skin, there was also a strange relief. I would like to pat myself on the back, assure myself that mine is just a grocery list compared to the encyclopedic volumes I wish my worst enemies would write about themselves, but alas, what if there’s is somehow the shorter list? Maybe drugs, alcohol, adultery, iconoclasm, lies, racism, Antisemitism, hedonism, all don’t count for much. Maybe I’m the bad guy all along …
The people with whom I have the most abrasive relationships, or really none at all, I realize tend to privilege themselves quite lavishly with the same redemption as Mr. Ecko. To you I say, let us be clear of the true nature of that scene — he was a character who was told his entire life that he was a terrible person for a dramatically hard choice he made as a child, even though his actions were quite ethically defensible, and so coming to terms with that was a major step in his life’s journey.
(If you actually killed a man to save your brother’s life, please do comment. I’d love to hear about it.)
If a man cannot judge evil, he’s better off dead. Am I self-righteous? Or am I just plain, old-fashioned right?
Ah, but I might be wrong.