A 24 Addiction?

John ArmstrongFilm

I reported several weeks ago that friends convinced me that I needed to watch the popular television series 24, starring Keifer Sutherland as agent Jack Bauer. I think they figured I was much too serious for my own good and that this venture would add a little pop-cultural advancement to my life. Well, it worked. I am not addicted, or so I think, but I have now completed Season Five. (Season Six is presently showing on Fox on Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m. CDT.)

24 is based on the idea that an agency called CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) is charged with defending the nation against terror threats that are very real. At times the show gets so close to reality that you wonder if they are laying out a vision of the future or just doing some highly creative and exciting fiction. I am told the writers, who are immensely clever to the point of brilliant, represent the two ends of the political spectrum, which makes sense. The show reflects the actual struggles of a left and right approach to balancing both the control of terror and pesonal liberties of speech, etc.

Each week’s show covers one hour in a twenty-four hour sequence, thus a season is 24 shows, or 24 hours in sequence. It is non-stop "on the edge of your seat" stuff I assure you. 24 fans are legion and they stand around the proverbial water-cooler discussing this stuff each week. Online discussion is huge and Web sites are all over the place that are dealing with 24. I have found getting into this allows me a point of reference with people from all backgrounds. One of the more intriguing discussions 24 prompts is about ethics. Almost every show presents a serious issue that Christians ought to be aware of and reflect upon. So far only one overt religious moment has occured and it is a president on his knees praying for divine help. The only problem is the president is a moral weasel so his praying is pretty hollow.

I got into 24 to see what was going on and to relax a bit. (Sometimes 24 does not help you relax given its pace and tension.) What it has done for me personally is to allow my mind to get into something far less intense than theological debate and personal stress points. It is, simply put, a real diversion. I know many Christians who would argue against such diversions. I simply think they are wrong. My primary reason for this conclusion is quite simple theologically—creation is good! All of it is given to us as a gift to enjoy and to use in humanly creative ways. Art, even film and pop-cultural art, can glorify God in good ways. Further, we are not made to be serious all the time, as modern science can demonstrate clearly. We cannot stand such a way of living and our bodies do not work well when we live this way. (I learned this the hard way!) In addition, people do not enjoy being around us too when we are serious all the time. Majoring on being somber, sad and serious is not a good thing. We must be sober, self-controlled and very wise, for sure. At every turn there are dangers for the thoughtful Christian in the modern media-driven age but avoiding the created world, and what is in this world through human culture, is not a serious Christian option. (By the way, many serious and sober Christians are addicted to news channels and talk radio/TV, which I find a far more dangerous form of "worldliness" than most imagine. If worldliness is properly defined as "adopting the mindset of this age" then it is primarily about living by ideologies that oppose Christ, not about film and pop-art.)

I know there are various arguments against my position and I once held some of them because of my deeply Puritan leanings. I also know John Calvin, and others like him among the early Church Fathers, opposed fiction altogether. I simply think they were wrong. I am much more inclined to the cultural thought of Abraham Kuyper. I also know that being serious all the time has not helped me be a balanced and wise, or healthy, Christian.

Having written these comments I do need your help. I just watched the first four episodes of Season Six on DVD. The rest of the season is unfolding now and in about six weeks will reach its climax. I would dearly love to see episodes 5-16, or thereabouts. I have a friend who has these on his TiVo. (I think the most recent two or three weeks can be seen online but not the earlier episodes.) My friend doesn’t know how to copy these programs onto a DVD for me. Can anyone help? Or can you provide me a copy of the programs current to the present week so I can watch the final episodes on live television and thus track to the conclusion of this season? This is an appeal that someone might help me with that would "make my day." As Jack Bauer would say: "Copy?"

For those who think this is all craziness you have two options: 1. Pray for people like me and then just get over it. 2. Run to your local video store and watch Season One and make up your own mind about 24. Actually, a combination of one or both might do wonders. I know I need your prayer and you just might love 24. That’s a win-win as I see it.