Posts Tagged 'Post-modernism'

The Lord is My Jack Shephard: From System and Spectacle to Sacred Story, Part III

You may be ‘lost’ (forgive the horrible pun) without reading Part I and Part II!

From Faith in Himself to Faith in The Island

The story of Lost begins with Jack Shephard’s eye snapping open. He is lying on his back in a dense bamboo forest, wearing a torn suit; his body scratched and bleeding. He is in shock, confused, and alone. A golden retriever runs from deep in the jungle to lick him awake, and soon he is running through the bamboo reeds until he reaches the beach, the site of the horrific crash. Jack, the decisive, self-reliant spinal surgeon, immediately begins doing what he has been trying to do ever since he was a small boy: save everyone. He pulls people from burning wreckage, gives a woman CPR, and moves others safely out of the way of falling debris. He spends the next three months maintaining his role as the survivors’ hero – he tends to people’s wounds, finds the transceiver in the cockpit deep in the jungle, outruns the mysterious Smoke Monster that kills the pilot, and finds a pool of fresh drinking water. He makes rules for distributing the food that they find, he tries to save his friends from ‘the Others’ that kidnapped them, and he makes it his mission to get ‘his people’ off the Island.

Jack is the typical modernist man. He is ‘homo autonomous’ – a ‘law unto himself’ – as he is independent and rationalistic; he believes only in that which he can see, touch, or do himself. Walsh and Middleton say that for the modernists, “we are who we are by overcoming all that binds and inhibits us and by determining for ourselves who we will be.” (1) Jack is constantly trying to overcome his father’s harsh words to him as a child, “You don’t have what it takes [to save everyone].” He has been trying for most of his life to prove his father wrong, and he does it by ‘fixing’ as many people as he can. He has a bonified Messiah-complex, and believes he can, through his own rationality and medical abilities, help the lame to walk and the dead to rise. Before the crash, he ‘fixed’ the beautiful Sarah, enabling her to walk again and then marrying her. She left him a short time later, and as she was walking out of his life she said to him, “Look at it this way, at least now you have something to fix.” On the Island, Jack resuscitates a nearly dead Charlie and becomes furious with himself when he is not able to ‘fix’ the young Boone, who dies after falling off a cliff. He even tries to fix himself, as when he needs his appendix taken out, he tries to do it himself! When Juliet, another doctor, tells him she can do it, he still demands to be kept awake in order to ‘guide her through it’ (although she eventually has him put out when it’s apparent he is not handling the pain well). His mission to get everyone off the Island is just another broken situation to  ‘fix’. This controlling impulse does not come out of a selfless desire to help others, but out of a need to control, to master the natural world thereby putting himself in the center of it.

The modernist quest to master the unknown stems from people like Jack. For as Walsh and Middleton assert, “the whole view of the modernist project depends on this view of selfhood. Without an independently rational self there would be no reason to trust the results and achievements of modern science.”(2)  It is Jack’s view of himself as a rationalistic, independent being that allows him to see the world – and other people – as a set of mechanistic systems that can be studied, known, and conquered. Thus if something is wrong – whether is be paralysis or being stranded on an Island, his natural response is that he must fix what is broken, thereby achieving a mastery over it. (3) Jack only believes in what rationality and science can help him see, feel, or touch. If it is not logical, it must not be true. This naturally puts him into conflict with the Island’s ironically-named ‘‘Man of Faith’’, John Locke. It was the Island that healed Locke’s paralysis, not Jack. As a result, Locke has tremendous faith in the miraculous nature of the Island, telling Jack that he believes it is “different…special… because I looked into the eye of the Island, and what I saw was beautiful.” Locke believes that each one of them crashed there ‘for a reason.’ He says they have a ‘purpose’ on the Island, that ‘the Island chose you too, Jack,’ and it is his ‘destiny’ to be there. Jack thinks this is ridiculous, and consistently dismisses Locke as a delusional old man, telling him ‘I don’t believe in destiny.’ When the two discover a hatch that leads down into the DHARMA Swan Station with the computer button that needs to be pressed every 108 minutes to ‘save the world,’ Jack refuses to believe that anything will happen if it is not pushed. Locke, on the other had, believes this is part of their ‘destiny’ and tries to convince Jack to push the button first. When Jack refuses, they have one of the most memorable shouting matches of the entire series.


Locke spends his time on the Island struggling to find what exactly it is that the Island wants him to do, while Jack spends his time trying to rescue ‘his people’ from ‘the Others’ who kidnap some of them, and get everyone off the Island. Eventually, Jack makes contact with Widmore’s freighter, believing it is there to save them, while Locke tries desperately to stop him from leaving the Island.

Locke: You’re not supposed to go home.
Jack: What am I supposed to do? …What was it you said [before]? That crashing here was our destiny?…It’s an island. It doesn’t need protection.
Locke: An island? No… It’s a place where miracles happen.
Jack: There are no such thing as miracles.
Locke: Well, we’ll have to wait and see which one of us is right…You’ll have to lie to the people [when you get back home, about what has happened]. Lie to them, Jack. If you do it half as well as you lie to yourself, they’ll believe you.

Jack, as the typical modernist man, cannot believe in miracles, or a higher purpose, or destiny, because these things are rationally and scientifically inexplicable. He cannot produce miracles himself, therefore they must not exist.

Yet Jack is a ‘Man of Faith’ – faith in himself, and faith in science and reason as the highest possible ways of knowing. But his faith does not lead him to a very good place. Just as Walsh and Middleton suggest, when left to his own self-directed devices, the heroic, modernist individual inevitably does violence.(4)  Jack’s controlling, self-reliant ways caused him to physically fight anyone (like Ben) who got in his way of getting off they Island, and his ‘rational’ decisions got many people killed. He guided the people from the freighter to the Island and they ended up killing several people. The freighter eventually exploded, killing more and leaving them stranded on a helicopter, which crashed into the ocean. Only a handful of them, the ‘Oceanic Six,’ were rescued by another boat passing by. Remembering the last words of Locke, Jack convinces them all that they have to lie in order to protect those they left behind, who were still on the Island. The three years that they were off the Island were the most miserable of their lives. Jack succumbs to alcoholism and drug addiction.  He ruins all of his relationships and loses his job. His modernist, controlling tendencies rebounded upon himself. The last straw for Jack is discovering that Locke has committed suicide, after failing to convince the Oceanic Six that they all had to go back to the Island. Jack feels deeply responsible for Locke’s death and, realizing his controlling, self-reliant faith in himself, reason, and science had led to nowhere good, begins to believe that maybe Locke was right after all. He had become nothing but an emotionally bankrupt, deeply broken, shell of a man.

I like to think Coldplay’s sweeping ballad Fix You influenced Jack’s decision to go back to the Island.

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try
To fix you

Jack had tried his best to get everyone rescued, but was only successful in ‘saving’ six of them. He wanted to get away from the Island, and he wanted to ‘win’ Kate’s heart, both which he accomplished, but this was not what he needed. His life derailed and he became a drunk, unable to sleep or move forward with his life. Thinking of all that he had lost – his father, his job, his friends, and his love with Kate – caused him to drown himself in tears. But there was hope for Jack.  The Light of the Island would ‘guide him home,’ so he would no longer be lost. Fulfilling his destiny on the Island would ‘ignite his bones,’ would help him come truly alive, and would bring him healing and redemption. And in the end, for Jack who had become broken by trying so hard to fix things, the Island would be the One to fix him. Starting to believe that all these things would come to pass, Jack takes a leap of faith and goes back to the Island.

Once returned, now in 1977 (5) , Jack slowly starts to show signs of change. He lets others lead and when a young Ben gets shot (6) , Kate tries to plead with him to save Ben and he replies, “You know, when we were here before I spent all of my time trying to fix things. But did you ever think that maybe the Island just wants to fix things itself? That maybe I was just getting it the way?” He believes now in the seemingly impossible – that the Island is a special, miraculous, relational entity, capable of choosing him to complete some important task. He believes now that he is ‘supposed’ to be there, yet at first he doesn’t know why. When Daniel Faraday, the physicist who specializes in time travel, explains to them that if they were to drop a nuclear bomb into the pocket of electro-magnetism (that would eventually be the site of the Swan hatch), then it would break the chain of events that would lead to their plane crashing on the Island, Jack, believing still in the weight of scientific knowledge, believes that this must be why he is there, to prevent all the misery that they had experienced since crashing on the Island. He drops the bomb into the pocket of energy, which only succeeds in killing Juliet (7)  and catapulting them back into the present day. Jack, confused that his plan didn’t work and still struggling to know why he is on the Island, eventually sees his name on Jacob’s mysterious dial in the lighthouse (8),  and the images of his childhood home in Jacob’s mirror. After some time, Jack is finally able to let go of his need for rationalistic answers and embrace faith in the mysterious ways of the Island. When the four final Candidates (to replace Jacob as Island Protector) are finally able to talk to Jacob and he explains that one of them must protect The Light, Jack speaks up in his first moment of complete clarity.

Jack: I’ll do it. This is why I’m here. I’m supposed to do this.
Jacob: [whispering gently, knowing Jack’s previous confusion] Is that a question, Jack?
Jack: [shakes his head, without hesitation] No.
Jacob: [smiles softly] Good.

Jacob performs the New Island  Protector Ceremony, and gives Jack a cup to drink while reciting a Latin incantation over it (like the Eucharist!).  Jack’s destiny, of which he is now certain, is to protect the Light, thereby saving all of humanity from the the Man in Black (aka the Smoke Monster) who’s soul now resides in John Locke’s body (who I’ll call Fake Locke, or ‘Flocke’ for short). Flocke’s goal is to destroy and leave the Island, thereby killing all of humanity. Jack however, is now ready to do what is necessary to protect the Light and destroy ‘Flocke’ (who up until this time, could not be killed by regular means). (9)

Now with a deeper, mystical connection to the Island, Jack goes with Desmond (who has a unique resistance to electro-magnetism) and ‘Flocke’ to The Light so that Desmond can turn it off. Jack believes this will enable him to kill ‘Flocke’, but ‘Flocke’ believes it will destroy the Island. They are both right. With the Light turned off, the Island begins to shake and sink into the ocean. Meanwhile,  ‘Flocke’ (the Smoke Monster) becomes fully human again, allowing him to be killed by regular means.  During an epic battle with the Smoke Monster on the side of a cliff in the pouring rain, Jack is stabbed in the side. But with the help of Kate, Jack is victorious in killing him. Yet the Island is still shaking and sinking, and Jack knows that he must go turn The Light back on in order to save the Island – and all of humanity. He declares his love for Kate and they share a passionate embrace before he pleads with his friends to run for the Ajira plane that brought them back to the Island. He returns to the cave and turns on The Light again (by placing a giant stone back into the core of The Light). He weeps with joy as he realizes that his destiny has been realized. He saved the Island and protected The Light thereby saving the world.

The final moments of Lost are pure poetry. Jack, bleeding profusely from his side, slowly stumbles back through the bamboo forest – the same one he first woke up in at the beginning of his journey. All his strength gone, he collapses to the ground and gazes through the trees. (Here the camera flashes to the ‘sideways world,’ which we now know is a sort of purgatory – outside of time and after they are all dead – so that all the plane crash survivors can find one another so they ‘move on’ together. Jack and all his beloved friends that he saved – and some that he couldn’t save, like the real Locke and Boone – are being reunited in a church sanctuary.) Flash back to the Island: Jack is laying on the ground and the same golden retriever, Vincent, runs to him from out of the forest, this time not to lick him awake but to lick his wounds and lay beside as he dies (and this is where I started sobbing uncontrollably).

Jack musters a weak laugh at the sight of Vincent, knowing that his epic, destiny-ridden journey has come full circle. (Flash sideways to the church: Jack embraces Locke, Hurley, and finally, his love, Kate, who guides him to sit down beside her in a pew.) Flash back to the Island: Jack’s final sight is the plane flying overhead, and he smiles knowing that his friends are safe. (Flash sideways to the church: Jack’s father, Christian Shephard, with whom he had made peace, proudly squeezes Jack’s shoulder. Christian walks slowly to the back of the church and opens the doors, allowing The Light – The Light of the Island that Jack had died to protect – to fill the church, and all the survivors –including Jack – are in awe of its pure warmth and radiance.) Flash back to the Island: the final image of Lost is Jack’s eye closing shut.

Only by letting go of his modernist ways and embracing, in faith and against all logic, his place in the Story of the Island, was Jack truly able to do the one thing he never been able to do before: save everyone. In the end, Jack didn’t need all of the ultimate, rationalistic answers. He didn’t need to know why he needed to protect The Light, or what it was, or how it got to the Island. He recognized that his modernist drive to rely on himself, master the unknown, and ‘fix’ people and situations only ended in tragedy, both for those around him and for himself. For reasons far outside the realm of logic and science, Jack relied on faith in something outside of himself, faith in something beyond the limitations of rationality, to guide his path home. Only by indwelling the Story of the Island, embracing his place among the many Island Protectors that had come before him, and sacrificing himself (adopting a healthier Messiah-likeness) for the good of others was he able to find ultimate healing and redemption, and spend eternity in peace with his beloved fellow pilgrims.

From System to Story (10)

Like Jack, the Church’s hope for guiding this generation through the jungle of post-modernity is found in letting go of our modernist ways of knowing, and embracing, in faith, our place in a socially embodied Story. We must abandon our idolatrous faith in rationality as the highest form of knowing and interpreting the Scriptures.  We must recognize that ‘finding the objective principles’ is not possible because we can never have access to a ‘neutral’ position outside of our socially, historically, and culturally rooted perspective. (11)  There is no such thing as an absolute, timeless, contextless system of Truth that simply ‘floats in space’ somewhere ‘out there’ for us all to grasp with our reason. Our belief that truth must equal objectivism simply implies that we have been culturally captivated by the modernist quest to master the unknown which as we have seen inevitably leads to violence against the ‘other.’ Rather, truth in scripture is always socially embodied in a tradition; rooted and intertwined in a culturally infused overarching Story. Instead of pretending that we are able to stand outside of  Scripture, from a neutral position, and then able to apply it to our own lives in a completely different cultural context, Lesslie Newbigin says that we must “indwell” the story in such a way that it becomes our story. (12)  We can come to a more authentic interpretation of the Scriptures the same way that we can come to a more genuine understanding of Lost: by abandoning our modernist quest for absolute answers, understanding that the narrative itself contains a critique of this way of thinking, and seeking to see ourselves as ‘lost’ as the characters in the story.

If the Creator of the Universe wanted us to know truth as a contextless system of ‘objective facts’, why didn’t he instruct the writers of Scripture to create systematic theology charts, graphs, and lists? Instead, he revealed truth through a socially and culturally embodied Story, that like Lost, contains within its narrative a critique of the totalizing and inherently violent ideology that results from modernist thinking. Spanning all of time from pre-existence to eternity, the Scriptures contain the epic tale of the creation, fall and redemption. It is the story of a suffering people whose cry was heard by a sensitive God who responded by taking the suffering upon Himself. It is the story of God’s purposes for the world – shalom, compassion, and justice – being worked out through Israel, Jesus, and the Church.(13)  Because this story of redemption is for all of creation, any “violent, ideological, self-justifying ownership of the story – either by nationalistic Jews or by sectarian and self-righteous Christians – brings the story to a dramatic dead end that has missed the creationally redemptive point.” (14)  The narrative itself – with its concern for every creature from every tribe, tongue, and nation, especially those who are weak and suffering  – is a critique of the totalizing exclusionary violence that occurs when one person or group embarks on the modernist quest to master the unknown. Like those who seek absolute answers in Lost, those who interpret scripture through modernist eyes are missing the very point that the narrative is trying to drive home.

Instead, we must seek to become part of the story. We can more authentically interpret Lost once we see that we are the stranded survivors – flawed, alone, and ‘lost’ in the chaotic, disorienting postmodern jungle; we are like those who arrogantly seek mastery over the unknown and thus cause harm to others; we are like Jack – struggling to let go of our need for control, to ‘fix’ people, to rely on ourselves and to seek absolute answers; we would be better off if we placed our faith in something beyond ourselves, something that cannot be known rationally, something as mysterious and beautiful as The Light; we could find healing and redemption by choosing to love, serve, and lay down our lives for the good of our fellow pilgrims.  In a similar tone, we can find a purer interpretation of the Scriptures, as Walsh and Middleton write, by noting that “We are the people whom God liberated from Egypt and led through the Red Sea; we are the people languishing in exile and crying out for release; we are the disciples whom Jesus rebuked for misunderstanding his mission and to whom he appeared after his resurrection; we are the newly formed church who received the outpouring of the Spirit after Pentecost.” (15)  By placing ourselves in the biblical narrative, we are able to gain a much clearer, intuitive insight into the ‘dramatic movement’ of the story and learn how we are to carry it forward, in our own context, in a manner that is faithful to the Author’s intentions.

How exactly are we to do this? Walsh and Keesmaat borrow from N.T. Wright as they explain that the task of indwelling the biblical story requires ‘faithful improvisation.’  It is helpful, they say, to think of the biblical narrative as an unfinished six-act drama, with Act I being creation, where the Author’s plot intentions are initially revealed, Act II being the fall or the initial conflict, Act III the story of Israel, Act IV the story of Jesus and the climax, ‘the pivotal act with begins to unravel the conflict at its deepest roots’, Act V the story of the Church, and Act VI being the eschaton when the Author’s narrative purposes are finally realized. We are all like actors living in Act V, the story of the Church, but the problem is, we have been given no script and the Author wishes us to finish Act V ourselves. In order to do this well, with the help of the wise and comforting Director (the Holy Spirit) we must, as actors, become so immersed in the script we have been already been given that we acquire an ‘intuitive imagination’ for how we are to improvise in a manner that is faithful to the Author’s narrative purposes. (16)  To do this well, Walsh and Keesmaat say it “requires taking the risk of improvisation that is creative, innovative, and flexible.” We must not simply cut and paste from the culturally imbedded stories of Israel into our cultural context, because “these earlier passages are not a script intended for our performance in a postmodern world but are the record or transcript of past performances of God’s people.”  To merely copy what Moses, David, and Paul did without taking into consideration that their actions were part of a particular culturally embodied story would as absurd as trying to find the Island in order to kill the Smoke Monster. Instead, we must learn of the Author’s purposes for the story and humbly seek to embody spirit of the story – justice for the oppressed, compassion for the poor and marginalized, sacrificial, selfless love for all of creation – in our own cultural context.

The Conclusion of the Matter

Lost was never about forming a systematic grid of answers, it was about engaging in the human story. It was prophetic critique of the modernist quest for ultimate answers and an allegory for how life should be lived in the carnivalesque aftermath of modernity’s demise. Those who cynically bitch that we never found out why Walt was so special, how The Light got in the cave, and why the Smoke Monster makes mechanical noises, have sadly missed the entire point of the narrative. The lack of answers was an intentional, brilliant literary device so that we would struggle along with the characters that were just as disoriented and ‘lost’ as we were. Jack never got all the answers spoon-fed to him – he had to reject his need for rational answers and rely on his intuitive connection to the Story of Island in order to fulfill his destiny.  Likewise, to come to a more authentic interpretation of Lost – and more importantly, the Scriptures – we must abandon our need for absolute, objective answers – a mindset that caused only violence and destruction on the Island – and so immerse ourselves in the narrative that we gain an intuitive sense of its overarching dramatic movement that is faithful to the intention of the creators. For Lost fans, to be faithful to the intentions of Damon and Carlton means that we must interpret it as a character study, and learn from the horrible mistakes of those who sought to control the Island, as well as the redemptive sacrifice of Jack Shephard who died to protect it. For the Church, to be faithful to the intentions of the Creator means that we must seek to live out shalom, compassion, justice, and sacrificial love within a community of fellow pilgrims. It is only by rooting ourselves in this Story of the Light that we may illuminate the Way for those who are lost at sea, battered around by the crushing waves of the postmodern storm.


1 – Middleton and Walsh, 47.
2 – Ibid., 48.
3 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 123.
4 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 49.
5 – When Ben moved the Island, it skipped through time until it ‘rested’ in 1977 until Jack and the others returned.
6 – This was during ‘DHARMA times’ and Ben, whose father joined the DHARMA Iniative in 1975, is just a small boy.
7 – Juliet, another doctor, was a member of the Others who joined up with Jack’s people when she tried to get off the Island. She became close with many of them, including Jack. She died by getting sucked into the pocket of electro-magnetic energy.
8 – The large and lovable Hurley is told by Jacob to lead Jack to the Lighthouse, where hundreds of names are written beside numbers on a large dial. Jack’s number is 23 (like the 23rd Psalm, the ‘Lord is my shepherd’) and when they turn the dial to point at 23, Jack sees his childhood house in the mirror. This is how Jacob was able to watch them, and mysteriously draw them to the Island.
9 – As a ‘rule’ the Smoke Monster, who has no body, is able to take the form of whatever dead bodies are on the Island. Jack brought John Locke’s body back to the Island after he committed suicide. Ironically, even though Jack is now a disciple of Locke, visually it appears as though Jack is battling against Locke, which is reminiscent of their original relationship. It is also ironic that Locke was the only one who believed in the Island and wanted to stay and now his body is overtaken by the Man in Black who’s only goal is to destroy the Island and leave it forever.
10 – Middleton and Walsh, 66.
11 – Ibid., 174.
12 – Ibid.
13 – Ibid., 68-69.
14 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 109.
15 – Walsh and Middleton, 174-175.
16 – Ibid., 183.
17 – Walsh and Keesmaat, 133.
18 – Walsh and Middleton, 183.
19 – Ibid.

Works Cited (for Parts I, II, and III)

Colquhoun, Nathan, “5 Reasons Why LOST Disappointed.” Linking Life. May 24, 2010.

Lang, Michelle A., “Lost: Post-structureal Metanarrative of Postmodern Bildungsroman?” Society for the Study     of Lost. Issue 2.1. March 1, 2010.


Middleton, J. Richard and Walsh, Brian J., Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity     Press, 1995).

Porter, Lynette and Lavery, David, Lost’s Buried Treasures (Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2010).

Moore, Pearson. Email to the author. May 15, 2010.

Seay, Chris, The Gospel According to Lost (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009).

Smith, James K. A., Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).

Vaughn, Cari, “Lost in Hypertext.” Society for the Study of Lost. Issue 2.1. March 1, 2010.

Walsh, Brian J. Walsh and Keesmaat, Slyvia C., Colossians Remixed (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2004).

White, Heath. Post-modernism 101. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006).


The Lord is my Jack Shephard: From System and Spectacle to Sacred Story, Part II

(You may be ‘lost’ without first reading Part I!)


Benjamin Linus: Omnipotent Leader or Bluffing Manipulator?

Benjamin Linus is not only the most complex and compelling character on Lost, but perhaps in all of television history. A leader of ‘the Others’ who helped plan ‘the Purge’ of the DHARMA Initiative, Ben is wickedly deceitful, conniving, and downright creepy. His menacing, cold stare is enough to give anyone the chills. When we first meet him, he is caught in a trap in the jungle and claims, quite convincingly, to be a survivor of a hot-air balloon crash. This was his first of many lies to come. Throughout the next five seasons Ben vehemently claims that his ways, though obviously evil (genocide, kidnapping, and torture, to name a few), are for the ‘good of the Island’. He seems to have ultimate knowledge about the Island’s mysteries, and the viewers are led to believe that if anyone has a ‘God’s-eye-view” of the Island, it is Ben. He is absolutely ruthless in his loyalty towards it, as well as towards Jacob whom he claims to ‘take orders’ from. After Jack is able to make contact with Widmore’s freighter (which he believes to be a rescue boat), Ben pleads with him to not let them come to the Island, as they are not ‘good people’ and will kill them all. Jack does not listen, and Widmore’s mercenaries come and hold Ben’s daughter hostage in an attempt to capture him. Instead of doing everything he can to save his daughter, Ben refuses to leave the Island, and she is killed. Ben is shocked, and whispers “He changed the rules,” implying again that he has ultimately knowledge about the ‘rules’ of the Island. Then, in an attempt to hide the Island from Widmore, Ben ‘moves’ it, through time, by turning a mysterious frozen wheel (the wheel that the Man in Black was going to install centuries earlier) far below the surface of the Island. This causes it to disappear from sight, and transports him off the Island to the middle of a Tunisian desert. He spends the next three years manipulating the Oceanic Six – some of the plane crash survivors who were later rescued – to return to the Island because they “were never supposed to leave.” Again, Ben seems to have an ultimate knowledge of the Island and the survivors’ ‘special purposes’ on it. He has a master plan of how to return to this Island, which includes convincing the Oceanic Six that they all need to go back. The friends they left behind, he says, “are in danger.” Ben appears to know what is happening on the Island, even though he has not been there in three years. His seemingly all-knowing ways convince us that he must have ultimate knowledge that will unlock the mysteries of the Island for us all.

We eventually learn however, that Ben was nothing more than a bluffing, emotionally scarred man who desperately wanted to be ‘special.’ After returning to the Island, he confessed to Locke that he had never even met Jacob and had deceived everyone in order to hold his power. He knew nothing about The Light or other mysteries of the Island, only that the Island was unique and needed to be protected. Yet Ben was not born a manipulative seeker of power. His behaviour was socially constructed. His flashbacks reveal that he was brought to the Island as a child by his father, a member of the DHARMA Initiative. His father was an alcoholic who blamed him for the death of his mother, who died in childbirth. Ben was consistently beaten and insulted by his father, which caused him to feel powerless and dejected. When he saw a vision of his dead mother, he followed her into the jungle where he met Richard Alpert, the ageless represented of Jacob who lived with ‘the Others.’ After telling Richard that he followed his dead mother out there, Richard told Ben that because he could see his mother, he must be ‘special,’ and that he could join them if he wanted. Ben, desiring to feel valuable, eventually helped the Others to kill the DHARMA Initiative, which earned him respect in the eyes of the Others. Eventually he became their leader, and slowly his desire to feel special grew into a love of power, which he eventually became willing to protect at all costs. In the end, Ben was terribly regretful and repentant about his manipulative ways, and sought the forgiveness and well-being of all those he had hurt. His life story is a critique of the modernist belief in ultimate and objective truth. For although we were led to believe that Ben possessed infinite knowledge about the Island, in the end we learn he was nothing more than a broken, lonely man whose perspective was  merely socially constructed, limited interpretation of reality.

Eloise Hawking: Oracle of Destiny or Student of Her Murdered Son?

A similar pattern is echoed in the life of the seemingly all-knowing, time-traveling guru, Eloise Hawking. (1) We first meet her as an elderly woman who guides Desmond (2)  towards his ‘fate’ of crashing on the Island in order to push the button.  She talks much of people’s ‘destiny’ and what is ‘supposed to happen’ and ‘sacrifice’ for the ‘sake of the Island’. She appears to know all about the unique nature of the Island, what will happen next, and what needs to happen for the ‘good of humanity.’ She is a stoic woman who tells Ben that if the Oceanic Six don’t return to the Island than ‘God help us all’.  She also tells Desmond that he must return with them as “the Island is not done with you yet.’ She is the one who informs us all – by telling some of the Oceanic Six in a mysterious DHARMA station in Los Angeles called ‘the Lamp Post’(3)  – that the Island is outside of time and is constantly moving.  She tells them that they must get on Ajira flight 316 (a reference to the biblical verse describing God’s plan of salvation – a foreshadowing allegory for the Island’s plan of salvation) that will fly over a portal to the Island at a specific time that will get them back.  In all she says and does, she seems to have a mystical union with the Island and ultimate knowledge about its mysteries.

“Seems” being the key word, for nothing is as it appears on Lost. For in a number of flashbacks we learn that in her twenties, Eloise was once the leader of ‘the Others’ who had an affair with Charles Widmore, who was her co-leader. Shortly after she became pregnant with his son, she shot a 35 year-old man that had entered their camp waving a gun. As he lay dying, he told her that he was her son. This man was Daniel Faraday, a physicist who had time-traveled back to the 70s in order to prevent the chain of events that would lead to the crash of the survivors’ plane.(4)  After he died, Eloise looked at his notebook full of highly advanced equations concerning time travel and saw a note in her handwriting, signed, “Love Mother”. She was shocked, and took the notebook for herself. In another flashback, we see Daniel as a small child, in America, and a grief-stricken Eloise, 10 years after she shot her adult son on the Island, telling him that it is his ‘destiny’ to pursue science. She pushes him through school, and he earns a PhD in Physics and specializes in the research of space-time. He is sent on a mission to the Island by his father – Charles Widmore – with the other freighter people who were ordered to capture Ben and kill everyone else. Eloise knew that Daniel would be on the Island when Ben turned the mysterious wheel, which would cause the Island to move through time. She knew that Daniel and the others would end up in the 1970s – when she was the leader of the Others -where he would eventually storm into her camp and she would shoot him.

Even though it pained her to send Daniel to his death at her young hands, it was his journal, with all the advanced time travel equations, that allowed her to manipulate the Island’s time-traveling capabilities. With that journal she would not be able to travel through time and space, and she would not know so much about the people who eventually came to the Island. Originally, Eloise appeared to have ultimate, infinite knowledge about the Island, but as we discover, everything she knows is because of the space-time equations in her son’s journal. In reality, we find that she is a plain woman who once made a horrible, ill-fated mistake, one that just happened to provide her with scientific knowledge from the future.

Jacob: Demigod or Flawed and Lonely Mama’s Boy?

We didn’t see him till the end of the fifth season, yet if anybody held ultimate knowledge on the Island, it was the enigmatic, god-like leader of all leaders, Jacob. During the first 102 episodes of Lost, we constantly heard Ben and the Others mention ‘Jacob’s lists’, and whether or not Jack or Kate were ‘good’ enough to be written there. We also heard them talk of ‘Jacob’s orders’ and ‘Jacob’s rules’, of which we were given little more information about. The mere mention of his named caused those present to straighten their posture or bow their heads in reverence. In a brainwashing film that the Others’ forced a young ‘traitor’ to watch, all sorts of eerie images and sounds flashed before him including a 3-second flash of the phrase “God loves you as he loved Jacob” in bold bubble letters. Like the Jacob of the Bible, the island’s Jacob seemed to be some sort of chosen patriarch, the truest and highest father, the one who knew all of its deepest mysteries.  His children – those he was able to mysteriously ‘bring’ to the Island – seemed to be wandering in the ‘wilderness’ of the Island’s jungle for many years, obeying his every command.

When we first see him in the last episode of season five, he is young man, blonde, and wearing a white tunic. He is living alone, in a chamber under a broken statue of the Egyptian goddess of birth and rebirth, Taweret. He is weaving a tapestry full of Eygptian hieroglyphics and Greek phrases. He catches a fish and while sitting on the beach, his adversary, the Man in Black, appears. He sits and sees an old ship coming in the distance. Their dialogue feels Shakespearean.

MIB: You brought them here. Still trying to prove me wrong?
Jacob: [Looks calmly at him] You are wrong.
MIB: Am I? They come; they fight; they destroy; they corrupt. It always ends the same.
Jacob: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that…is just progress.
MIB: [Pause] Do you have any idea how badly I want to kill you?
Jacob: Yes.
MIB: One of these days, sooner or later, I’m going to find a loophole, my friend.
Jacob: Well, when you do I’ll be right here.

It seems they have been having this conversation for centuries. We later learn that Jacob believes that mankind is good and capable of loving sacrifice for others; while the Man in Black believes ‘it is in their very nature to sin.’ We soon see a contemporary Jacob in the flashbacks of many of the Oceanic survivors, touching them at some pivotal moment in their lives – Kate when she steals a lunchbox as a child, Locke when his father pushes him out of a window, and Jack after his father humiliated him during his first spinal surgery. He touches all six of the ‘Candidates’ – those he has chosen as his potential replacements as Protector of the Island. He seems wise, kind, and compassionate – a father figure to all of the Candidates who, we have learned, all have dysfunctional relationships with their fathers. At the same time, it appears that Jacob may be using those he brings to the Island as pawns in a centuries-old game to prove his nemesis wrong.

His backstory though, reveals a much different picture. Jacob is not a god, nor is the Man in Black. As I mentioned earlier, they were twin brothers whose mother arrived on the Island after being shipwrecked. Jacob clung to his guardian ‘Mother’ and always felt a bit stung when she seemed to favor his brother (the opposite of the Biblical story in which the mother favors Jacob). After the Man in Black left to join the other camp of people, Mother brought Jacob to The Light again and told him he has to be the one to protect it, for as long as he can, and then he will have to find his replacement. Jacob, far from his stoic, calm, wise self that we had come to know, reacts like a mere whiny child.

Jacob: I don’t wanna protect it.
Mother: Someone has to.
Jacob: [rebelliously] I don’t care!
Mother: My time is over.
Jacob: [confused and afraid] Why? Why is your time over?
Mother: It has to be you, Jacob.
Jacob: No it doesn’t! You wanted it to be him! [Angrily] But now I’m all you have.
Mother: It was always supposed to be you Jacob. I see that now. And one day you’ll see it too.     But until then, you don’t really have a choice.

Jacob reluctantly takes the cup of wine and assumes responsibility for the role of Protector. The next morning, his brother, the Man in Black, kills his mother. Jacob throws his brother into the Light, turning him into the Black Smoke and for the next few centuries, he would bring people to the Island, trying to find his replacement. He revealed to the remaining four Candidates, Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley, that he chose them because they were like him – flawed and alone, and in need of the Island as much as it was in need of them.

Flawed and alone. Though he had confidence that people were capable of choosing good (which Jack proves in the end), Jacob chose the Candidates because they were in need of healing and redemption – which they would find by struggling together on the Island. He knew this not because he was not an all-knowing, all-powerful, god-like leader as we were led to believe for almost six full seasons. He knew because he was able to travel through time and meet them at various times in their lives. In the end, we learn that, like Ben and Eloise, he to was a simple, broken, lonely person who crashed on a special Island and regrettably turned the last of his family into a cloud of evil smoke.

Benjamin Linus, Eloise Hawking, and Jacob were all characters who initially appeared to have ultimate knowledge but who ended up simply being regular people who made terrible choices that resulted in much heartache. As much as we trusted in each of them to be the ones that would unlock the mysteries of the Island, they all were as just as ‘lost’ as we were. In weaving these characters’ stories into the heart of the narrative, the writers are pounding yet another nail into the modernist coffin. If we believe that it is possible to know things ‘ultimately,’ ‘objectively,’ and ‘rationally,’ we are deceiving ourselves, as these characters deceived us, into thinking that our upbringing, surroundings, and culture have no effect on us. No one is capable of having a “God’s-eye perspective,” or “The Absolute Answer to it All” because all of our experiences and knowledge, like that of Ben, Eloise, and Jacob, are limited interpretations of reality, which are merely socially-, historically-, and culturally constructed. It is this concept that the Church tends to feel uncomfortable with.

But the Church need not be alarmed, for just because a perspective is an interpretation, it does not mean that all interpretations are equally valid; relativism is not the automatic alternative to objectivity. James K.A. Smith’s words are both insightful and encouraging:

To assert that our interpretation is not an interpretation but objectively true often translates into the worst kinds of imperial and colonial agendas, even within a pluralistic culture. Acknowledging the interpreted status of the gospel should translate into a certain humility in our public theology. It should not, however, translate into skepticism about the truth of the Christian confession. If the interpretive status of the gospel rattles our confidence in its truth, this indicates that we remain haunted by the modern desire for objective certainty. But our confidence rests not on objectivity but rather on the convictional power of the Holy Spirit (which isn’t exactly objective); the loss of objectivity, then, does not entail a loss of kerygmatic boldness about the truth of the gospel. (5)

Recognizing our perspective as an interpretation is simply a more authentic and humble epistemology (theory of knowledge) that will prevent the arrogant violence of modernity and open up space for the voices of the suppressed and marginalized – who were silenced during modernity- to be heard. But what is the difference between a ‘true interpretation’ – as Smith suggests – and ‘Objective Truth’? This is an important question, and one that I’ll explore during our discussion of Jack Shepherd’s transformative journey. For now, the stories of the characters we have looked at so far serve as a warning to us about the dangers of the modernist sensibility. If the desire to conquer the unknown by seeking ultimate, rationalistic, objective answers leads only to violence against the ‘other’ and ignores the socially constructed nature of our perspectives, we must reject this desire. The postmodern sensibility though, is not much easier to swallow.

A Chaotic, Complex Cacophony of Cultural Confusion

mural found in the hatch

Like the alliteration above, there is a method to the madness of Lost. While the narrative offers us a weighty critique of modernity, the literary devices used throughout the story offer a reflection of the postmodern response. Lost is a ‘pastiche’ – a random, hodge-podge of various philosophical, literary, religious, mythological, and pop culture references – that is intended to make us feel as disoriented as the plane crash survivors who discover a polar bear on a tropical island. Characters are named after philosophers, religious icons and spiritual or literary figures: John Locke, Desmond Hume, Danielle Rousseau, Jeremy Benthem, Jack and Christian Shephard, Kate Austen, James “Sawyer” Ford, Richard Alpert (the birth name of Baba Ram Das, a contemporary spiritual teacher), Charlotte Staples (C.S.) Lewis, and the Island’s patriarch, Jacob. There are literally hundreds of direct and indirect references to Star Wars, as Hurley (the large, hilarious, genuine, and most-loved character) regularly compares their situation to those in the films. He refers to Jack’s healing of another survivor’s asthma by simply calming her down as a ‘Jedi moment’ and Jacob’s vague instructions on how to protect the Island as ‘worse than Yoda.’


As the characters discover various DHARMA Stations, we regularly see the octagon DHARMA symbol which is an allusion to the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. There are hundreds of Egyptian hieroglyphics discovered on secret doors in the homes of ‘the Others,’ in the various DHARMA stations, in caves, on the walls of underground passages, and the Temple. Jacob lives under the statue of the Egyptian goddess Taweret. In one of the last scenes of Lost, the characters all meet at a multi-faith church, and there is a significant camera focus on a stained-glass window that is literally a patch-work of eight different religious / philosophical symbols – a Yin-Yang, a Star of David, a Christian cross, a Buddhist Dharma Wheel, a Hindu Omkar (Aum), and an Islamic Star and crescent (Ottoman symbol). Far from the ‘One True Culture’ that would have been represented by the Christian cross, or the scientific Atom symbol, a variety of perspectives are seemingly put on a level playing field.

Pomo in a Window!

There are also hundreds of examples of hyper-textuality (the postmodern theory about the inter-connectedness of all literary works and their interpretation) that serve to broaden the scope of the confusion. Characters are seen either reading, looking at, or displaying on their bookshelf texts such as Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, The Bible, Catch-22 by Josephy Heller, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Ulysses by James Joyce, and Watership Down by Richard Adams, among dozens of others.

Sawyer reading ‘Watership Down’

Characters also make direct references to The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Superman by Jerry Siegel, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, amongst many others. Furthermore, Damon and Carlton (the creators) have mentioned that Stephen King’s The Dark Tower trilogy (which describe a “Gunslinger” and his quest toward a powerful tower), and the post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel The Stand are both extremely influential on the story of Lost. The multitude of connections to other texts, all with their own themes, ideas, and critiques, provides a limitless realm of exploration for viewers who are seeking to understand their significance for Lost. As Cari Vaughn asserts in her article “Lost in Hypertext”:

This virtual enlargement of the already complex entity of Lost provides the willing viewer/reader, with a virtually limitless string of interconnected characters and themes, one that encourages a more personal and individual experience of the show. Allowing, even encouraging, viewers and readers to create meaning is the very definition of reader response and hypertext theory. (6)

By linking the story of Lost to hundreds of stories outside of the narrative, the writers create a sense of interaction by leading the viewers on a journey far outside of Lost, one that leads down a labyrinth of rabbit holes with no clear exit in sight. All this combined with the myriad of mysterious happenings, questions that remain unanswered, and fragmented storylines that are revealed in a non-linear fashion through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways, the writers are creating a sense of vertigo that enable the viewers to feel as dizzy and confused as the characters in the narrative.

“Come In and Get Lost!”

This advertisement on the outside of the bargain superstore Honest Ed’s in downtown Toronto provides a clue for understanding the foundation of the postmodern sensibility. This huge, sprawling, carnival of gaudiness that is Honest Ed’s, with its blinking show-tune lights and signs is disorienting to say the least. Replacing the circus of modernity, with its one great central performance  (calling itself the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ or the ‘One True Culture’), the carnival that is post-modernity offers us hundreds of sideshows. (7) At Honest Ed’s there are sideshow-like displays of plastic Elvis statues, jumping dolphin clocks, and polyester socks all competing for the consumer’s attention. The walls are plastered with old newspaper clippings, wacky signs, and framed pictures of random celebrities who have visited the store, further adding to the confusion. The choice of consumer products and the chaotic clutter is overwhelming. The experience of shopping at Honest Ed’s feels much like the experience of watching Lost, and much like trying to find our way through the jungle that is the postmodern age.

Inside Honest Ed’s

After liberating ourselves from the horrors of modernity, with its “manipulative reason and fetish of the totality,” we are left to our own devices, wandering aimlessly through the pluralistic ‘shopping mall of ideas’ of post-modernity.(8)  A typical postmodern woman may practice yoga, wear clothing from Indonesia, cook Mexican food, and attend a Catholic Mass on Sundays.(9)  She is able to adorn herself in whatever bits and pieces of various cultures she wishes, creating her own ‘personal worldview style.’(10)  For with the rejection of the ‘One True Culture’ that characterized modernity, Western society has embraced the unlimited options of religions and worldviews that have been made available for our consumption. Walsh and Middleton give us the image of the modernist project being like the tower of Babel, and the postmodern situation like confusion of tongues, the overwhelming nature of the “cacophony of private languages and tribal agendas, all clamoring for our attention.” They go on to say that “the cultural unity of the tower of Babel is replace by the culture wars of the post-Babel situation.” (11) With each idea and worldview given ‘equal-footing,’ they are available to us in the West to pick and choose whatever parts suit our fancy at any given time.


Peter Berger perceptively refers to this as the ‘commodification of belief.’ The pluralist situation, he explains, is essentially a market situation. For with the range of options available, each religion and worldview is forced into competition with one another, like Nike vs. Addidas, or like the plastic Elvis statues vs. jumping dolphin clocks at Honest Ed’s. While the motto of modernity was the Cartesian “I think therefore I am,” the motto of post-modernity is “I consume therefore I am.” (12) Essentially then, post-modernity aids and abets the Empire – the Western, market-run economy of globalized consumerist capitalism. It may disguise itself as being tolerant, willing to listen to the perspective of the ‘other,’ and open to diversity, but if the Western market system is dominant, isn’t this still a modernist conquest – only this time of the global economy?(13)  Thus, as Walsh suggests, there is no such thing as post-modernity; it is really just hyper-modernity.(14)  It is hegemony (a conquest-driven ‘One True Culture’) in disguise as heterogeneity (‘diversity! freedom! tolerance!’). As Bruce Cockburn puts it, post-modernists are simply ‘slavers in drag as champions of freedom.’ (15) While the postmodern critique and distrust of modernity is accurate, its response is nowhere near radical enough. The liberation from modernity has left us not only wandering through the disorienting postmodern jungle, but getting snared in its vines. Who will come and untangle us lost sheep from the thorny thicket? Lost shows the way to freedom through the transformative journey of the Good Shephard we have come to know as Jack.

Part III

The Lord is My Jack Shephard; I Shall Not Want to Fix Everything : What the North American Church Can Learn From the Good Doctor

From System to Story

The Conclusion of the Matter


1- She is appropriately named after Stephen Hawking, a contemporary theoretical physicist who has written about the possibilities of time travel.

2 – Desmond is a Scottish man who crashed on the Island and spent 3 years entering the numbers into the computer in the hatch (the Swan Station). One day he failed to enter the numbers within 108 minutes, which caused the survivors’ plane to crash. Some theorize the electro-magnetic energy that was released when the button was not pushed melted the instruments of the plane and made the Island visible to the world for a brief minute.

3 – ‘The Lamp Post’ is a reference to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the lamp post marks the passage between Narnia and our world. The Lamp Post serves a similar function with regard to the Island.

4 – Daniel believed that if they dropped a nuclear bomb into the drilling site of the Swan Station, than the electro-magnetic energy would be destroyed, and the Swan Station would never be built, and Desmond would never not press the button that caused the plane to crash.

5 – James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 51.

6 – Cari Vaughn, “Lost in Hypertext.” Society for the Study of Lost. Issue 2.1. March 1, 2010.

7 – Middleton and Walsh, 42.

8 – Ibid., 37.

9 – Heath White, Post-Modernism 101 (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 128.

10 – Ibid.

11- Ibid., 44.

12- Walsh and Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2004), 32.

13- Middleton and Walsh, 43-44.

14- Brian Walsh. “Post-modernity lecture.” Wycliffe College. Februrary 9, 2010.

15- Walsh, “Cockburn, “Justice” and the Postmodern Turn.” 7.

The Lord is my Jack Shephard: From System and Spectacle to Sacred Story, Part I

“A product of mean story-telling bullies.” -Nathan Colquhoun, Lost blogger (1)

The series finale of Lost outraged thousands of fans. Many were furious at the way the show did not provide concrete answers for the hundreds of questions it raised during its six year run. After investing in the show for 121 episodes and pouring themselves into countless of hours of research, they felt cheated. They studied with vigor and passion the various cultural references – from Buddhist teachings to Egyptian hieroglyphics to European fantasy novels. They created plot charts to follow the  multiple, fragmented, non-linear storylines. They wrote elaborate theories showing how every minor detail would fit in a larger scheme that would make perfect sense in the end. They read weekly analyses on many websites and blogs dedicated to uncovering all the ‘Easter eggs’ hidden in each episode: the numbers; the whispers; the artwork. They listened to podcasts, debated theories with friends, and viewed creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse as storytelling gods. And now they feel like their gods have betrayed them.

I do not share their view. I believe that Lost is the greatest, most prophetic work of fiction to ever grace the small screen. The genius of this epic tale of redemption is not compromised by the mysteries it left unresolved. To the contrary, the lack of answers is intentional and serves as a brilliant literary device to help the viewers feel as displaced, disillusioned, and ‘lost’ as the characters in the narrative. The creators are inviting us to see the story of Lost as our story, a reflection of humanity in this disorienting postmodern age. For Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Locke – who represent us – the greatest mysteries of life can never be fully be grasped. Those seeking ultimate, objective answers will be endlessly frustrated because they are essentially asking the wrong questions. Damon Lindelof said, “For [the writers], the real mystery of the show wasn’t ‘Where is the island?’ but ‘Who are these people?’”

For at its heart, Lost is a character study; an exploration of what makes people the way they are and the results that spring forth from their behaviour. Specifically, it is an exploration – and critique – of the modernist quest to master the unknown. All the characters that attempt to conquer, control, and harness the mysteries of the Island inevitably do violence to the ‘other’ and are eventually led to their own demise: the DHARMA Initiave; the Man in Black; Charles Widmore. The characters that appear to have ultimate knowledge are revealed in the end to be nothing more than a social construct with a skewed and limited perspective of reality: Benjamin Linus; Eloise Hawking; Jacob. While Lost condemns the modernist project, this ‘metaphysics of violence,’ it is also a reflection of the disorientation that results from being liberated from it. (2)  The smorgasbord of cultural references and seemingly random patchwork of mysteries creates a sense of being ‘lost at sea’ for both the characters and viewers alike. (3)

Yet in the midst of the tumultuous storm, the transformative journey of Jack Shephard offers us a prophetic allegory for how we can live on stable ground. Initially a self-reliant, controlling, ‘Man of Science’, Jack finds redemption by abandoning his modernist ways and embracing his place in the larger Story of the Island. His ability to save everyone is only realized once he stops trying to fix everything and places his faith in something much bigger than himself – the Island – to bring ultimate healing, within and through a community of beloved pilgrims. Lost can teach the Western Church – a community of  lost pilgrims – how to find our way through the postmodern jungle by abandoning our modernist, systematic, and dangerous ways of knowing ultimate reality and interpreting the Scriptures. Instead, we must embrace the narrative nature of the Scriptures and find our place within the epic drama of the socially embodied Story of Yahweh.

A Failed Social Experiment

Those who demand that all the questions of Lost must be answered according to their own logic-based standards do not view the mysteries as something to be wrestled with on a journey of discovery, but conquered. This is nothing more than a modernist quest to master the unknown. During the age of the Enlightenment, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution, (roughly between the 17th – 20th centuries), the great mysteries of life, like those of Lost, were seen as puzzles to solve. The questions, “What is the best way to achieve freedom in society?”, “What is the true nature of salvation?” and “Why does an apple fall to the ground?” were thought to have definitive, black-and-white answers that could be discovered through one infallible vehicle: human reason.

It was a time to throw off the shackles of church and civil authority and embrace the freedom and progress that could be achieved through human rationality. The British philosopher John Locke (whom our beloved ‘Man of Faith’ on the Island is ironically named after) believed that the “reasoning power of a human being…is competent to answer his deepest questions”. (4) This included the questions of Christianity – he believed that God could be known absolutely through human logic. Likewise, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (the namesake of the insane French woman who lives in the jungle) believed that humans are rational, good, and capable of achieving great progress. The ultimate goal was a “prosperous, happy, peaceful society that would be constructed on the basis of a rational, scientific understanding of humanity.” (5)

Sounds pretty good, except for the fact that the century immediately following the height of the Enlightenment was the bloodiest century of human history. For as Middleton and Walsh say in their book Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be, the modernist quest is at its foundation an “impulse to mastery and ultimately to violence.” (6) The various executions of the Catholics, the Anabaptists, or the Reformers, depending on who held the throne of England, were the result of each monarch believing they had mastered ‘the Truth.’ The First and Second World Wars proved that even the countries most influenced by the Enlightenment could engage in tremendous amounts of needless slaughter. The holocaust demonstrated the scientifically calculated methods that an evil regime could apply to genocide. Modern advances in technology lead to the development of nuclear weapons that could eradicate millions of people at the touch of a button. Beliefs in a ‘One True Culture’, which had been ‘enlightened’, led to imperialistic oppression and colonization so the ‘savages’ could be ‘enlightened’ as well.

The development of capitalism and democracy, which was promised to ‘lift all boats’ and provide freedom for the masses only lead to an increase of global wealth disparities, social inequalities, and an oppression of a new kind. This ‘metaphysics of violence’ was the result of seeking to “grasp the infinite, irreducible complexities of the world as a unified and homogeneous totality.”(7)  As postmodern philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard put it, the modernist quest to master the unknown has given us “as much terror as we can take.”(8)

The Island Will Not Be Mastered

In Lost, the Island is the Great Unknown that many people, time and time again, have tried to master and yet have catastrophically failed to do so. From the moment Oceanic flight 815 crashed there, we knew it was no ordinary island. It healed John Locke’s paralysis and Rose’s cancer. It was home to a polar bear, an insane French woman who had been stranded for 16 years, and a mysterious jungle-dwelling Smoke Monster that killed whomever it chose. Jack Shepherd saw visions of his dead father. The large and lovable Hurley saw his friend from the mental institution where he lived before the crash. The beautiful and strong Kate, a fugitive for killing her abusive stepfather, saw the horse that had once helped her escape the police. The Island contains ‘unique electro-magnetic properties’ that seem to be able to bend the space-time continuum. It is outside of time and thus not visible to the outside world. It requires special knowledge to find (unless Jacob, the enigmatic Island Protector, mysteriously draws one to it). It is not surprising then, that many people wanted to conquer, control, and manipulate the powers of Island for themselves. People like the DHARMA Initiative, the ‘Man in Black,’ and Charles Widmore. However, following in the footsteps of the modernist quest to master the unknown, they committed great violence upon the ‘other’, which inevitably led to their destruction.

Noble Hippie Scientists Turned Massacred Conquerors

The DHARMA (Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications) Initiative, a multi-research project founded in the 1970s, came to the Island to conduct scientific research in various disciplines that would supposedly “save the world as we know it.” The word ‘dharma’ in a Hindu context means “one’s righteous duty”, which emphasizes their belief in themselves as saviours of humanity.(9)  It was revealed in the Lost Experience, an alternate reality online game designed to engage fans and expand the storyline, that a mathematical calculation called the ‘Valenzetti Equation’ was used to predict the exact day that humanity would destroy itself through either environmental crisis or nuclear warfare. The numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 – the numbers that are seen hundreds of times in various ways throughout the six seasons (on clocks, soccer jerseys, cans of soups, etc) – are explained as the numerical values to the core environmental and human factors of the Valenzetti Equation. The supposed purpose of the DHARMA Initiative was to change the numerical values of any one of the core factors in the equation in order to give humanity a chance to survive by, effectively, changing doomsday. (10) The mysterious powers of the Island would play huge role in this research, and it was these powers that the DHARMA Initiative sought to harness.  They built over 10 research stations in secret location throughout the Island for the purpose of their experiments. At ‘the Swan’ station, they drilled deep into the ground for the purpose of tapping into a pocket of electro-magnetic energy, which they were hoping to use to ‘manipulate time’, thereby giving humanity more time to survive based on their calculations.

A noble mission, one could argue – much like the original goals of the modernist project which sought to better humanity – to produce a society of order, peace, and prosperity. The DHARMA folks began as a peaceful group. They greeted each other with ‘Namaste’ meaning the ‘Divine in you greets the Divine in me.’ They lived on the Island in a sort of hippy commune and worked together to save humanity from its own destruction. They believed that their project was of utmost importance, never doubting the truth of the science behind the Valenzetti Equation. Yet like James Olthuis says, the “unity of truth is purchased only at the cost of violence, by repressing what doesn’t fit and erasing the memory of those who have questioned it.” (11) Totalizing aspirations, such as those of the DHARMA Initiative, inevitably seeks to conquer, destroy, or ‘dissolve into a homogeneous unity’ those that who are different, those who seen as ‘other.’ (12) This is precisely what happened with the DHARMA Initiative. They were not the only ones on the Island. There were original inhabitants that they called ‘the Hostiles’ (who our plane crash survivors would eventually call ‘the Others’). They had an ongoing conflict with the Hostiles and would kill or capture those that were on ‘their territory.’ Stuart Radzinsky, the controlling, determined Head of Research in the DHARMA Initiative, was so paranoid about the Hostiles discovering his plans to build ‘the Swan’ station, that he sought to kill those that he believed were ‘spies.’

Even though he was warned that drilling into the pocket of electro-magnetism would release an enormous amount of energy – like Chernobyl – Radzinsky refused to give up drilling, which caused the catastrophic ‘Incident.’ As a result, the energy was contained in tonnes of concrete, but small amounts needed to be released every 108 minutes by entering ‘the Numbers’ into a computer. Radzinsky, devastated by the cosmic failure of his research, did this job for a number of years before he shot himself in the head. The rest of the DHARMA Initiative were eventually killed by ‘the Hostiles’ in a holocaust-like genocide referred to as ‘the Purge.’ Their modernist quest to master the Island and ‘save humanity’ resulted in nothing but a bloody, horrific tragedy – much like the wars of the 20th century. Yet this was not the first time a catastrophe of this magnitude had occurred on the Island. Centuries before the DHARMA Initiative was ever founded, the Man in Black also desired to manipulate the powers of the Island.

Curious Boy Turned Evil Smoke Monster

He was not a trained scientist, nor did he desire to do complex experiments, nor did he seek to ‘save humanity.’ The Man in Black’s aim was simple: he wanted to leave the Island. He was born there, along with his twin brother Jacob (the ‘Man in White,’ who later became the ‘Protector of the Island’), after their mother was shipwrecked. He was raised by the woman who was the current ‘Protector of the Island.’ This woman had murdered the boys’ mother immediately after their birth so she could raise them as her own. She told him that nothing was across the sea, that the Island was all there was. When he and Jacob were young boys, she took them to a cave that contained The Light (which the DHARMA folks later would call ‘electro-magnetic energy’). But for them it was simply the warmest, most brilliant light they had ever seen. She told them that it was the ‘heart of the Island’ and it was ‘birth, death, and rebirth.’ (In Christian terms, we could say it was the ‘Alpha, Omega, and Author of Salvation’ or the ‘Light of the World.’) She told them that a little bit of this Light was inside of every person, but that they always want more. She said that she was protecting it from the dangerous people who tried to conquer and manipulate the Light. According to her, “they come, fight, corrupt, destroy; it always ends the same.” She told them that eventually her time would be up, and when she was gone, one of them would have to become the ‘Protector of the Island’ in order to protect the Light. For when people try to capture the Light, it would go out, and once it did, humanity would cease to exist.

The day that his dead birth-mother appeared to him in a vision, the Man in Black learned that the woman who had been raising him was a liar and a murderer. His real mother told him that there were many things across the sea, and that her people who had been shipwrecked on the Island lived on its other shore. Shocked and angry, the Man in Black confronted his guardian mother and told her that he was going to live with ‘the other people.’ He tried to get Jacob to join him, but Jacob did not believe his story and was loyal to his guardian mother. For the next 30 years, the Man in Black lived with the other people, who were ‘smart men who were curious about how things work.’ They discovered that there were places on the Island where ‘metal behaves strangely’ (what the DHARMA folks would call ‘electro-magnetism’). When they discovered it, they dug, and found the Light / electro-magnetic energy. The Man in Black, along with his people, had developed a system where they would ‘channel the Light and water.’ They installed a giant wheel that would harness the power of the Light, which would mysteriously transport them to another place, off the Island, and across the sea.

When Jacob told his ‘mother’ about the Man in Black’s plan to harness and manipulate the Light, she transformed herself into the Smoke Monster (13)  and murdered his entire village of people (an act which would be replicated with ‘the Purge’ of the DHARMA Initiative centuries later). Knowing that the Man in Black would seek to kill her, ‘mother’ took Jacob back to the cave of the Light and performed a ceremony that made him the new ‘Protector of the Island’. When she arrived back at her camp, the Man in Black, who would now not be able to leave the Island, murdered her in a fit of rage. Jacob arrived just in time to see his ‘mother’ stabbed to death by his brother, and angrily beat him. He then dragged him back to The Light and threw him down into the cave. This caused the Man in Black to be forever separated from his body and his spirit transformed into the Smoke Monster. His desire to control and harness The Light, no matter what his motivations were, resulted in horrific violence and a terrifying end. Just like what would happen with the DHARMA Initiative, his attempt to master the mysteries of the Island led to the Man in Black’s demise. Unfortunately, no record of this lesson would be passed on to future generations, and so history continued to repeat itself on the Island. Forty years after ‘the Purge’ of the DHARMA Initiative, Charles Widmore, a powerful industrialist living in Los Angeles, sought to find the Island and capture it for himself.

Betrayed Island-Lover Turned Ruthless Tyrant

He had once lived in peace on the Island as the leader of ‘the Others’ but had been banished by Benjamin Linus, an aspiring leader of the group, who had discovered his ‘questionable’ misconduct. Ben believed that Widmore was an unworthy leader because he was disobeying Jacob’s ‘rules.’ Once he banished Widmore from the Island, the two became mortal enemies. Widmore hired a freighter of people – a mercenary team and scientists – to find the Island and kill Ben and everyone on the Island (which at this time included our beloved plane crash survivors) so that he could resume his leadership on the Island and claim its powers for himself. Widmore’s plan to conquer the Island was systematic, ruthless, and inherently violent.
Like the DHARMA Initiative and the Man in Black, things did not end well for the power-mongering conqueror. Like the Spanish Conquistadors who sought the riches, fame, and glory of the American Continent, Widmore had no concern for the people already on the Island. He ordered his mercenaries to kill everyone, including Ben’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Alex. Though they were unsuccessful in killing everyone and capturing Ben, Alex was murdered right in front of Ben.  Enraged, he made it his purpose to take revenge on Widmore and eventually succeeded, years later, by shooting him. Widmore’s quest to master, control, and harness the powers of the Island led to much needless bloodshed, including his own.

The DHARMA Initiative, the Man in Black, and Charles Widmore, though in different time periods and with different motivations, all sought to become what Rene Descartes called “masters and possessors of nature.”(14)  They all had faith in their own rationalistic methods of harnessing the unknown which led to catastrophic violence against all the ‘other’ who did not share their totalizing worldview. The tragic stories of these characters portray the modernist’s faith in reason and science as a ‘metaphysics of violence’ that must be rejected. The Island, or The Light, will not be mastered. As an allegory for God, it will not allow itself to be domesticated, placed in a box, or submit itself to be known fully by human reason. As Lost analyst Pearson Moore insightfully suggested,

The point of Lost is that there are things completely beyond our control, completely beyond our understanding, beyond our grasp.  I like to say we are like dogs trying to read a newspaper.  We only understand a few of the black-and-white photographs.  That’s it.  The full reality of God is there in the newspaper, but we will never be able to read it, never completely understand it.(15)

This echoes the apostle Paul’s sentiment in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.” Human reason too limited as a means to understand the great mysteries of life, included the great mystery that is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Author of Salvation. This is not to say that we cannot know God, but this knowledge requires something much more holistic than logic, which I’ll expand upon later. This holism begins with understanding that all of our knowledge is a mere interpretation. For as we shall see in the life stories of Benjamin Linus, Eloise Hawking, and Jacob, what originally appears to be their ultimate, objective knowledge is little more than a socially constructed and limited interpretation of reality.

Good-bye Objectivism

Jean-Jacques Derrida

The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Derrida asserted, “There is nothing outside the text,” or in other words, “everything is an interpretation”. According to the contemporary Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith, Derrida believes that the whole concept of people being able to reach absolute, objective “Truth” is in fact a faulty epistemology that stems from modernist philosophers such as Rousseau.(16)  Rousseau believed that language prevents us from experiencing the world “as it really is.” As soon as there is language, he believed, there is a distorted interpretation of our experience. Rousseau believed that the “state of Nature” is a place of direct knowing, where mediated interpretation is not necessary; we just “know things as they are.”(17)  Like cold, hard facts that are simply “floating in space” with no connection to time, culture, or space; they somehow exist independently of everything.

James K. A. Smith

According to Smith, Derrida believes that 21st century thinkers are “Rousseaueans are heart.”  In other words, many believe that they can know things objectively, “as they really are”. For example, Smith points out that many biblical commentators believe that only with difficult texts, such as certain Scriptures and C.S. Lewis allegories, it is necessary to go through a process of interpretation in order to get the meaning behind the text. According to the commentators, the rest of the time we are “simply reading” and seeing things “as they really are” – and no interpretation is taking place. However, Derrida believes that there is never a time where we are not interpreting. (18)  Everything that we read, and more significantly, every time we use language, we are engaging in a humanly constructed, mediating process of interpretation. Here he agrees with Rousseau – language means interpretation. However, unlike Rousseau, Derrida does not believe that language is a pesky obstruction of reality, something that we need to remove or get past in order to understand things “as they really are.” Derrida believes that we can never experience things “as they really are”. Rather, “everything must be interpreted [through language] in order to be experienced.”   Thus, language/interpretation is the arena where our experience, and thus our truth, takes place. Therefore, our sense of the world, our truth, is constructed through the lens of history, culture, time, and place. This is Lost’s most powerful critique of the modernist sensibility: no one person or group of people can hold objective knowledge because there is no such thing as objective knowledge. It is all a façade, like the Wizard of Oz, a quivering little old man behind the curtain. It was a failed social experiment in the human ability to master the unknown that resulted in the most violently imperialistic atrocities of human history. Later, I will discuss how we need not throw out the concept of truth, for there are in fact more holistic and biblical ways of knowing truth than simple objectivism. In Lost, characters such as Benjamin Linus, Eloise Hawking, and Jacob, who initially appear to have ultimate knowledge, are eventually discovered to have only a socially constructed and finite perspective of reality.

Part II :

Benjamin Linus: Omnipotent Leader or Bluffing Manipulator?

Eloise Hawking: Oracle of Destiny or Student of Her Murdered Son?

Jacob: Demigod or Flawed and Lonely Mama’s Boy?

Reflection of Post-modernity: A Chaotic, Complex Cacophony of Cultural Confusion

“Come In and Get Lost!” – Honest Ed’s and the Commodification of Beliefs

Part III :

The Lord is My Jack Shephard: I Shall Not Want to Fix Everything: What the North American Church Can Learn From the Good Doctor

From System to Story

The Conclusion of the Matter


1 – Nathan Colquhoun. “5 Reasons Why LOST Disappointed.” Linking Life. May 24, 2010.
2 – J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity     Press, 1995), 35.
3 – Ibid., 62.
4 -Heath White, Postmodernism 101 (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 31.
5 – Ibid., 33.
6 – Middleton and Walsh, 34.
7 – Ibid., 34.
8 – Ibid., 35.
9 -Lostpedia. June 10, 2010.
10 -Lostpedia. June 10, 2010.
11 -Middleton and Walsh, 34.
12 -Ibid., 35.
13 -We never saw her do this, but it was alluded to by the way the entire village was killed. Bloggers theorize that many years prior she must have gone into the Light herself, which caused her to become the Smoke Monster. The Smoke Monster is able to take the physical form, and all the memories of whatever dead body is on the Island.
14 -Middleton and Walsh, 34.
15 -Pearson Moore. Email to the author. May 15, 2010.
16 -James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 36.
17 -Smith, Ibid.
18 -Ibid.
19 -Ibid.

Follow Jen Galicinski on