Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

What Christians can learn about morality from “Breaking Bad”

I found this post about the TV series “Breaking Bad” through J.W. Wartick’s “Really Recommended Posts“.

The author of the post argues that most of what you see in the arts and entertainment field tries to give us the idea that there is a dichotomy between small choices and big choices. But Breaking Bad rejects this by trying to show how small choices add up to your character.

Take a look:

I think Breaking Bad is a great show because it rejects this line of thinking [small vs big choices], because its running time is a five-season rebuttal to the idea that there are choices that matter and choices that don’t. Walt’s pride at a dinner table is ultimately as important to the villain he becomes as his murder, his lying as corruptive as his violence. In Gilligan’s eyes, there’s no differentiating between Walt’s pride and his rage and his enviousness and his determination to succeed at all costs, to be the Kingpin, the only one. Telling the story of how Walt chose to become the villain takes every minute of all 67 episodes aired so far.

You do not accidentally end up a drug kingpin, says the show. And the story is a five season long a fortiori argument whose conclusion is that you, viewer, also have a choice, in what to watch, or say, in how to treat people, in who to be. To echo James K.A. Smith, there are very few, if any, “morally neutral” practices. We get shaped by the things we do, or don’t do, even unintentionally, even if you’re not paying attention.

Breaking Bad echoes that not only in content, but in form. In the critical importance of little decisions (Walt’s wined-up boasting in front of Hank; his lying to his wife, Skyler; Marie’s shoplifting; Hank’s pride and arrogance affecting his job) that all compound in the direction of calamity.

“I just feel like I never had a choice in any of this,” Walt argues early on in season one, after he’s declined cancer treatment. “I want a say, for once.” When you first watch the scene, not knowing the kind of person Walt is going to choose to be, it’s a poignant moment. Walt wants to spend his last months with his wife on his own terms, rather than as a powerless and weak and hollowed out shell of who he used to be.

But as flashbacks inform the choices Walt made in the past, and as time and time again Walt refuses to stop cooking meth, to stop feeding his own pride, the scene is recontextualized as an ironic echo—as just another excuse for Walt’s behavior. The paradox central to Walt’s nature is that if you deny him a choice, he becomes furious. Because of this, most every conflict in the show stems from the interplay of Walt’s staggering intelligence and his equally impressive capacity for stupid, pride-motivated decisions.

But if you empower Walt, when he comes into real responsibility, he shirks it, he self-sabotages; he pretends he doesn’t have a choice, or never did have a choice. He becomes paranoid, and self-aggrandizing, and manipulative, until he’s relaxed from the tension of having responsibility—and as soon as that happens, he’s out looking for it again.

When all Walt has are choices, he demands a CHOICE; and as soon as it is presented to him, as soon as the danger of responsibility is there and real and able to hurt him, he denies it, labels it meaningless, and continues to victimize himself.

Walter is us. And that is a dangerous message, and it hurts. It hurts to be awakened to choices you didn’t know you were failing to make, or making poorly. It is always, always easier to deny choice than to accept it, to want to brush things off until it’s really important, until it’s a choice, and then perform well, and go back to the status quo of being a-volitional. We want to be fully ourselves already, and for our actions to be extrinsic, non-reflective. To keep separate who we are, our identities, and what we do in our everyday life.

But that’s not what it means to have character. And it’s not what it means to be a human being, created to shift and change dynamically. The tragedy of Walter White makes for a great narrative, and for really compelling TV. But the lesson of Breaking Bad is invaluable, especially in a culture like ours, that’s so allergic to prescriptive statements, to generalizations that aren’t platitudes, to Truth Claims about the nature of humanity. Breaking Bad doesn’t just make those claims—it does it with gusto. It confronts you with the ugliness of humanity like a Flannery O’Connor story, begging you to look and to look away, to see the outer extreme of an idea so that you’ll kick back and respond and fight with it, because engaging is just as much of a choice as anything else.

That reminds me of this well-known saying:

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action; reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character reap a destiny

Something to think about when we are making the decisions about “how far is too far?”. The best way to avoid becoming a bad person is by not trying to walk on a dramatic line, but by making a million decisions every day to consciously get away from evil.

I find that in the church there is this strange and ridiculous idea everywhere that you can just do whatever you want and that God will give you the strength to be courageous and effective in these dramatic moments when you are tested – perhaps by being asked to deny Jesus or die. That will probably never happen for most of us. We overestimate how much an “act of God” can really do compared to the long, slow hum-drum day-to-day work towards a goal. A person has to die a million little deaths in order to achieve big things, like marry well and raise Christian kids, or keep a job to support a home, to get an MS or a PhD, etc. It’s the million little sacrifices that lead to making a big impact in the end.

Think abut it another way. How do the Armed Forces train soldiers in order to fight as a team and be brave? Do they just say “go about your lives, and when the time comes God will tell you what to do”? Hell, no. They drill and train and prepare for war because they know that this is what works. They have obstacle courses with live-fire machine guns and explosions to get soldiers used to making decisions under fire. They have classroom instruction and reading lists to share knowledge that will be useful in battle. All of this is to get the soldiers into the habit of making tiny brave decisions under controlled conditions. God doesn’t throw ordinary Christians out in a university auditorium and say “now perform like Bill Craig”. Bill Craig is Bill Craig because he chose to pass over fun things a million times and to instead focus on hard things like advanced degrees, reading advanced books and practicing debate. He isn’t debating in front of thousands of people because he made one “big” choice, but because he has a million little choices.

This lie about service being something that God has to lead you to is one of the biggest lies in the church today. That you don’t have to build the kind of life that honors God one self-sacrificial decision at a time. That you don’t have to have a long-term plan to be effective, but instead just do what you “feel led” to do moment by moment. That you can have as much impact as a Jim Demint or a William Lane Craig or a Ryan Anderson without having to train and prepare for it. It’s a lie to think that making an impact is a one-decision affair. We over-spiritualize the idea of serving God to give ourselves maximum autonomy and tell ourselves that “if it comes to that, I’ll be faithful”, while living ordinary lives the rest of the time. It’s probably never going to come to that, so shouldn’t you have some sort of day-to-day long-term self-sacrificial plan to achieve something for God instead?

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , ,

New study: couples who divide housework on traditional sex roles have a lot more sex

Here’s the press release from Agence France Presse. (H/T Stuart Schneiderman)

Excerpt:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say: the more housework married men do, the less sex they have, according to a new study published Wednesday.

Husbands who spend more time doing traditionally female chores — such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping — reported having less sex than those who do more masculine tasks, said the study in the American Sociological Review.

“Our findings suggest the importance of socialized gender roles for sexual frequency in heterosexual marriage,” said lead author Sabino Kornrich, of the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid.

“Couples in which men participate more in housework typically done by women report having sex less frequently. Similarly, couples in which men participate more in traditionally masculine tasks — such as yard work, paying bills, and auto maintenance — report higher sexual frequency.”

His study, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” looks at straight married couples in the United States, and was based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households.

[...]“The results suggest the existence of a gendered set of sexual scripts, in which the traditional performance and display of gender is important for creation of sexual desire and performance of sexual activity,” Kornrich said.

Prior to that study, there was this Norwegian study.

Excerpt:

Couples who share housework duties run a higher risk of divorce than couples where the woman does most of the chores, a Norwegian study sure to get tongues wagging has shown.

The divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.

“The more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate,” Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled Equality in the Home, said.

[...]“Maybe it’s sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity … where one person is not stepping on the other’s toes,” Mr Hansen suggested.

“There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight,” he added.

Men, if you want to avoid losing everything by marrying the wrong woman and getting a divorce, then pay attention to these studies and choose wisely. Find out what you are designed to do in a marriage, and what women are designed to do. Train to do your jobs well, and pick a woman who not only does her jobs, but wants you to do yours. And respects you for doing your jobs.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Study: 70% of divorces caused by domestic issues like money or housework

This is from the UK Telegraph. (H/T Stuart Schneiderman)

Excerpt:

According to analysis of divorce cases by Gateley, a UK law firm, seven in ten marriages fall apart because couples fail to reach an agreement on decisions relating to the home, such as how monthly finances are arranged, where couples live or how household responsibilities are carved up.

Only one in five marriages ends because of infidelity, the law firm said.

The company said that couples who treat marriage as a “business merger” – and talk about domestic issues – are much more likely to stay together in the long term.

Of the seven in ten marriages that fail because people can not agree on simple domestic issues, by far the most common cause is lack of agreement over finances. One in eight of these marriages disintegrate because couples are unable to agree on where to settle down.

Elizabeth Hassall, a partner and head of the family division at Gateley, said that it is surprising how many “fundamental decisions” are barely discussed before couples get married.

She said: “Yes it’s romantic to be walking down the aisle, but the realities of a ‘merger’ are a little more cut and dry, It is often the case that people simply don’t think about it, or feel comfortable discussing life choices, but what is apparent is that going into a marriage blind could be a recipe for disaster.”

That study is from one law firm, but it reminded me about this story about a Norwegian study that discusses the importance of traditional roles within the marriage.

Excerpt:

Couples who share housework duties run a higher risk of divorce than couples where the woman does most of the chores, a Norwegian study sure to get tongues wagging has shown.

The divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.

“The more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate,” Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled Equality in the Home, said.

Researchers found no, or very little, cause-and-effect. Rather, they saw in the correlation a sign of “modern” attitudes.

“Modern couples are just that, both in the way they divide up the chores and in their perception of marriage” as being less sacred, Mr Hansen said, stressing it was all about values.

“In these modern couples, women also have a high level of education and a well-paid job, which makes them less dependent on their spouse financially. They can manage much easier if they divorce,” he said.

There were only some marginal aspects where researchers said there may be cause-and-effect.

“Maybe it’s sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity … where one person is not stepping on the other’s toes,” Mr Hansen suggested.

“There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight,” he added.

For another academic study on this featuring Brad Wilcox, click here.

I think that these studies are interesting because I often hear from women that they are most afraid of being cheated on by men and that this is the cause of divorces. That is the number one threat to divorce in their minds – adultery. But the data seems to show that there are other issues that are more important – and more preventable. Feelings of love don’t resolve these domestic issues that are the real threat to marriage – it takes rational communication and planning before the marriage to defuse them. Naturally, negotiation works best when there are no distractions from crazy emotions and sexual passions. But I have often found that women are opposed to answering tough questions and being led in a particular direction during courtship. So on the one hand, they are fussing about adultery, which is a low-risk problem. And on the other hand, they are preferring an emotional roller coaster to reasonable courting discussions, which exposes them to the real threat to marriage.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

To marry and have children, it’s important to make a realistic plan

This is a guest post by Mathetes entitled “The Road That Was Taken”.  You can find his last post here.

The Daily Mail is the gift that keeps on giving. And usually the gifts are a witness to the outcomes of bad choices. Previously, we discussed how to live your worst life. Unfortunately, some people serve as stark examples. Enter Megan, and her story that is told in “It’s NOT my fault that I missed the chance to become a mother”.

The story is familiar: a gal lamenting that she has no man or children. But in a world where women have the ability to define and achieve any of their goals, where does this lament come from?

Playing with her nieces one day, Megan burst into tears because “I couldn’t bring myself to articulate the truth — that, at the age of 38, I realised I’d probably never watch my own child doing somersaults on a summer’s day.”

But how did this come about for someone with children as a goal?

“I wasn’t childless for medical reasons, or out of choice. The right man had just never come along.

As a writer living in London, with a fulfilling career and a great social life, I was a doting aunt to Harry, Jack, Emily and Freya.”

This sounds so strange. In a world where women are go-getters, here we have a lady who just sat around waiting for a man to mysteriously “come along”. I don’t believe the incongruence struck her – she has a career in which she is fulfilled, but she probably didn’t devote as much time to finding her man as she did to getting her career in order.

We come to the problem a little later on:

“I’d just assumed I’d address the subject of having children when I met the right partner with whom to confront it later in life. But I never did.”

Wintery often states that it’s important to have a plan for your life. This unfortunate lass didn’t have one, and the result is typical.

Or maybe she did have a plan. Because a plan is a restricted range of choices that is meant to lead you to a particular goal. So how did Megan’s choices influence her life? We read:

“I lived with a long-term boyfriend throughout my 20s, but we were young, and parenthood seemed a long way away. In my early 30s, I entered into a relationship that was so unstable, I knew we would never have children. He was a commitment-phobic poet, and while my friends urged me to finish the relationship and find one in which children might be an option, I didn’t long for a family enough to give him up. At 35, I finally accepted that we were never going to work out. Other relationships came and went, but none turned into something more permanent.”

So here was Megan’s plan:

  • Step 1: Live with boyfriend throughout her 20’s
  • Step 2: Enter an unstable relationship in her early 30’s, where she knew she’d never have children
  • Step 3: After a few year break up with a man who was unsuitable material for a husband

So Megan’s goal was to find a mate and have kids. And her plan was constructed to achieve the exact opposite result.

Maybe after her mid-30’s Megan figured this out. With age comes wisdom, so they say. So what did Megan set about to do:

“I began to think more about having children when I was in my late 30s, but didn’t start sizing up potential fathers on first dates because I didn’t want to rush into having children with someone I wasn’t certain about. “

So let’s add another step.

  • Step 4: Date men but don’t evaluate them for spousal quality

Though Megan made some bad choices, she does see what’s necessary for a child, and she should be commended for this:

“Nor did I want to become a single parent by choice. I’d seen how hard it was to bring up children even with a partner, thanks to my sisters, and I’d witnessed at first hand the struggles of a close friend who had unexpectedly become a single parent.

I just didn’t think I could tough it out by myself. I wanted to share parenting, and never dreamed of becoming ‘accidentally’ pregnant. I wasn’t going to trick anyone, or short-change myself.”

This is to be commended, and I mean this in all seriousness.

But getting back to her choices, Megan was warned:

“A friend who had been ambivalent about children until she was 39, and became a mother at 41, warned me that I would go through a grieving process if I didn’t become a mother. I laughed it off, but my friend was right.”

And here we read the unfortunate result when dreams and aspirations collide with the harsh wall of reality.

“… it dawned on me that I was fast approaching 40 — the age at which it seemed that if I hadn’t had my own child, I probably never would. My feelings of panic grew.”

“Feelings of resentment began to build inside me when, in the space of a year, five of my closest girlfriends told me they were pregnant. I felt happy for them, and increasingly sad for myself.“

“I tried to hide my feelings. I bought baby gifts and picked up newborns with a smile fixed on my face, even as my heart sank when I thought of the children I might never have.”

“Panic flooded over me every time I read a celebrity talking about how their little Petula/Tommy/Isabella was the best thing that had ever happened to them.”

“More and more, I felt weighed down by all the judgments — some proffered, some unspoken — about single and childless women. From being too picky to be satisfied by a partner, to just too career-orientated and selfish, the judgments are endless. In my experience, they’re generally inaccurate, too.“

This is an object lesson in the internal psychic dissonance that takes place when one’s goals collide with their choices.

Perhaps enlightenment at this stage is the best that can be hoped for. Mature adults come to accept that the choices they’ve made have resulted in the position they are in. Thus, we are able reflect and see where we went wrong and how to grow from this. Perhaps Megan will take responsibility for her choices and her current situation.

Not entirely.

“When I analysed the reasons why they and I were in this position, I came to one conclusion: bad luck, bad choices or bad timing. Not selfishness.”

Her choices she can control. But luck and timing? Perhaps, but not as likely, given her focus on career and relationships. And her choices? Doesn’t that imply that she is choosing?

And why blame luck or timing at all?

The reason for this is simple: it’s very hard to realize that you are responsible for your position. This isn’t a hard rule, but you usually got where you’re at because you followed your own path.

And she’s not alone. Other women share her plight:

“‘One of them is that more and more women are childless through circumstance. They are grieving for something few people acknowledge they have the right to grieve for, and many of them don’t even realise that’s what’s happening to them.

‘Some of them are losing some of the most powerful and productive years of their lives as they get stuck in their grief.’

I know what you’re thinking. Now, at last, maybe Megan realizes the way out. She can decide to make sure she dates in the right way. That she won’t waste time on things that take away from her goal. Even if she can’t have kids, she should still be able to find a mate and adopt. So there are possibilities for her.

The question is: where does she go from here?

And the answer is:

Morocco!

“I was determined not to lose some of the best years of my life in this way. I’d written eight books, had a life full of friends and family, and yet I felt like a failure. I had to do something.

So I did. I bought a plane ticket to Marrakesh in Morocco — a place I’d visited just once for a long weekend.”

“If I wasn’t going to have the rhythms and responsibilities of parenthood, I could make the most of my freedom.”

Megan is educated and has a successful career. She’s enjoying her freedom. But there’s still her life-long goal of having children.  How do these diverging paths reconcile with each other?

And here we come to the end. The need to rationalize, and downplay what others have, so that one’s situation is more palatable.

“I’d spent months thinking that motherhood was the answer, but I now began to realise that it wasn’t an instant passport to growth. Just look at the one-track minds some mothers have about their children.”

“You have to be open to change, and that’s possible with or without being a mother. Each side of the coin loses and gains.”

“For all I’d envied about the lives of mothers I knew, they’d envied what I had — freedom, time and the ability to nurture other relationships in a way I never would if I was a parent.”

“More importantly, I realised I wasn’t childless. I had my sisters’ children, my godchildren and a gaggle of girlfriends who were all generous with theirs.”

“For now I am splitting my time between England and Morocco, enjoying the best of both worlds. I no longer feel weighed down in England, just happy to visit.

“And while our lives might be different to the ones we envisaged when we were young, they are just as complete.”

And so Megan’s rationalization takes us full circle. Megan actually is a mother. She is completely free. She can do what she wants with her life. Her friends with children envy her. She is more open than her friends, who have one-track minds. And she, of course, realizes that motherhood was never the answer. It wasn’t a passport to growth. Her life is complete.

As I walked the halls of my work a few months ago I found a notice on a door that showed someone in an uncomfortable situation. The caption said: Sometimes the purpose of someone’s life is to be a lesson to others.

Megan, of course, may never be able to grapple with the repercussions of the feminist lies she bought into. She followed them, despite consciously knowing her choices were not leading her to the life she wanted.

But we can observe and know how to act. Let her story be a lesson to you if you are contemplating her path. Find out what you want, and live with this in mind.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Does the Christian life involve taking the initiative and executing plans?

Does God expect us to make plans and achieve goals?

Does God expect us to make plans and achieve goals?

I’ve noticed a disturbing view that many Christians seem to absorb who grow up in the church. Basically, the church view says that life is so unpredictable and unknowable that it’s pointless for Christians to make plans to achieve goals. In fact, the only thing that Christians can do, on this view, is to wait for God to provide whatever he’s going to provide, without the person having to know or do anything that they don’t feel like knowing or doing. On this view, it’s best not to know too much about how the world really works, because what God wants from us is not to produce a return on our talents, but for us to just muddle through on our prayers, intuitions and feelings.

Well, which view is right? Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason has an opinion on this question.

Excerpt:

In Matthew Jesus talks about prayer and says, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened.” So it’s not just asking, there’s seeking and knocking as well. In the same passage Jesus gives us this famous promise. He tells us not to worry about food and clothing because food and clothing will be provided by Him. He says, Look at the lilies of the field, they don’t toil or weave. Look at the birds in the field, they don’t plant and harvest. The Father takes care of them. He’ll take care of you as well.

Now, are we going to read that verse and conclude that God doesn’t expect us to weave or till the soil? Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3, “Anyone who does not work ought not eat.” It seems to me we could say to Paul, “Why should we work? Jesus has promised to take care of us.” We all understand that in a verse like there is a corporate effort. God has promised to take care of us, but we have to couple that command with other commands that God has given us to toil and weave, as well. To work, as well. And, I would say, to try and find ways to get pregnant that are morally acceptable. The same thing with dating and getting married. We have the liberty to find a mate, and I don’t see in any way, shape or form that that’s not trusting God.

Now, in any of these things there may be a sense of franticness in getting a job, or getting pregnant, or getting a mate that represents an attitude that’s wrong. It can be taken to extremes, but then our Christian ethic would inform our attitudes. The very act of taking the initiative in itself is not unbiblical.

In fact, the way I would put it is that it’s 100% God and 100% man. What does that mean? It means that God, even though He is in control and we must look to Him, still delegates a portion of active responsibility to us so that He can see to it that we’re fed and clothed, but it’s our responsibility to go out and look. You can do the act of looking with confidence that God will provide. I think that that obtains in all of these other circumstances, as well.

So there’s is not this sharp dichotomy between God working and our working. They go hand in hand. If God expects our initiative in the area of food and clothing, though He has promised to provide, by what standard do we disqualify taking initiative in the ares of reproductive technology and dating? It appears that He’s in control here, too.

I think that there are three places where the fatalistic view is most likely to creep up. Those are: 1) romantic relationships, 2) parenting and 3) money management. I think people really want to be free to do whatever “feels good” in those areas. Praying about these matters is a way of stealing God’s blessing for a decision that we are making based on feelings, because we don’t want to be bothered to take the initiative and do what we have reasons to believe will work. We don’t want to have to put in the work to study something and then bind our will to what our investigation shows is the most prudent course – even if it’s more difficult.

Some things aren’t going to work whether we pray about them or not, because of the way the world works. For example, buying lottery tickets instead of stocks as our retirement plan or marrying the buxom blonde stripper. Praying about a bad idea isn’t going to make it work, because our feelings don’t change the universe in any way. The universe is the way it is. My advice is to set specific goals, find out how the world really works, and then make informed decisions to achieve those goals. At the very least, don’t think that praying about something morally wrong gives you permission to do it.

I really recommend that people consider reading “Decision Making and the Will of God“. And, if you are male and you like fiction, then read “Rifleman Dodd“. In case you missed my previous post on decision making and the will of God, you should definitely click through and read it.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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