Augustine and Breaking Bad

When, therefore, we inquire why a crime was committed, we do not believe it, unless it appear that there might have been the wish to obtain some of those which we designated meaner things, or else a fear of losing them. For truly they are beautiful and comely, although in comparison with those higher and celestial goods they be abject and contemptible. A man has murdered another; what was his motive? He desired his wife or his estate; or would steal to support himself; or he was afraid of losing something of the kind by him; or, being injured, he was burning to be revenged. (Book II, Chapter 5)

I’ve started watching Breaking Bad, now that it is over and all. The miracle of modern technology.

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I was talking about it one night online and found out Skyler, the wife of the main character (Walt), was not well received online. There are communities devoted to disliking her character, to the chagrin of Anna Gunn, the actress who plays Skyler. On the same token, people are really attached to the Walt character.

Walt, and stop reading here if you don’t want spoilers, is a meth manufacturer. Meth, as you know, if a highly addictive drug popular right now among dealers and users alike because of the ease in making it and, again, the addictive qualities. Walt, after he learns he has cancer, decides he must provide for his family and pursues meth as a financially sound method of doing so. In the first few episodes, Walt has killed two people, become an intensely angry man, and a drug kingpin. He is changed by the startling realization he is going to die. We know that and we are made to feel that.

Skyler is also changed. She wants Walt to live – Walt has become fatalistic. There is no need for treatment because treatment is only to make him suffer. She increases her antagonistic behavior but if we step back, what this really is is a care and concern for Walt. She loves him and wants him to live. He just wants to provide for his family. His erratic behavior increases as does her worry, manifesting itself as ‘nagging.’ With Skyler’s increased nagging, the fans turned against her. They love Walt. We love Walt. We feel compassion for Jesse, Walt’s sidekick. Yet, we hate Skyler.

We excuse Walt’s behavior — his making and selling of drugs, his murders, he anger — because his motivation is pure. He simply wants to provide for his family. Skyler has no motivation for her behavior, it seems. Of course, we get to see both sides. We know what Walk is hiding and how this is causing his behavior. But, this doesn’t matter. We judge Skyler on our knowledge and not on her.

We sit as God and condemn Skyler because she doesn’t know any better. We sit as God and praise Walt because the sins he commits are not sin, but self-defense for himself and his family. Her motivation is made from darkness (the ignorance of knowledge). His motivation to kill either by his own hands or with the drugs he is making is seen somehow at righteous.

Maybe this has nothing to do with Augustine, but the post title made you read it. I think Augustine’s shaping of motivation and desire has given us a way to accept the anti-hero. In an ideal world, Skyler is the one we should emulate, however, in reality we emulate Walt (and in some degree Jesse) because we judge their motivations as pure. Why? We can see the end goal. Walt is not simply stealing pears to feed to the hogs, a selfish desire. Rather, he is stealing pears to feed his family. Skyler, on the other hand, is acting out of pure selfishness. She wants the pears (namely Walt alive) so he can take care of her, regardless of the amount of suffering he may have to endure to live.

If you don’t know about the pears, go read Confessions.

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Post By Joel Watts (10,115 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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