Monday, May 21, 2007

Is Jack Bauer a Christian's Role-Model?

24... also known as "Jack Bauer: The Series." It has become a national hit, but is it something Christians can justify watching? For the last six years, its been one of the most popular shows on television. Even though its ratings have dropped this season due largely to the show's creative team hitting the inevitable writer's block, it is still a weekly primetime hot spot. And I'll admit, it is one of my favorite shows, a list that includes such gritty hard-nosed dramas such as Family Matters, Ducktales, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Can you guess the odd-man out?)

24 just wrapped up its latest season in the ongoing efforts of Jack Bauer to save America from the dastardly deeds of terrorists and government conspiracies. In order for Jack to save the world this year (as has been the case every year), he had to resort to making split-second, life-threatening decisions that often included deceiving his adversaries and even the ever controversial interrogation/torture of suspects and perpetrators. The show's depiction of torture has drawn national criticism in light of such real-life controversies over American G.I.'s torturing their prisoners. The logic goes: Why should Jack Bauer get a free pass when a handful of America's finest are facing demerit and criminal charges for doing essentially the same thing? Does a Christian have the right to condone the idea that morally-dubious means (torturing prisoners) are justifiable to achieve clearly moral ends (saving millions of lives from acts of terrorism)? Furthermore, are the show's writers guilty of crafting a show that glorifies gore and violence that sells itself to man's barbaric lusts?

I have to concede the point that 24 at times seems to cross the line between entertainment and duty when it comes to torture. This is a legitimate moral strike against the show, as is its use of profanity, and its occasional moral indifference to unmarried characters who are engaged in sexual relationships. There, I said it. (On the other hand, I don't think the show is responsible for depicting Muslims in a stereotypical light, seeing as how Jihad is a reality and that the show's villains come from very diverse backgrounds.)

24 is not a perfect show when it comes to morality. I contend, however, that it is a show that forces its viewers to consider what is the right thing to do, even if it is the unpopular decision. Take this season's finale, for example. A young boy's life is held for ransom as a terrorist demands his life in exchange for a military component that will prevent America from engaging in an unnecessary war with Russia. The acting president, in cooperation with most of his cabinet, decide that one innocent boy's life is worth the price of sending off thousands of innocent young U.S. soldiers to their death in a war. This decision can be likened to the decision of Winston Churchill to sacrifice the British city of Coventry to the Nazis in order to prevent them from getting wise to the fact that Britain had cracked their communication codes. The ruins of the city's cathedral stand as a reminder that the blood of Coventry was on Churchill's hands. Was Churchill right? The citizens of Coventry probably didn't think so, but in hindsight most of us would agree that he chose the lesser of two evils. In the course of war, a few must be sacrificed for the lives of many.

But what if Churchill had decided that he should bear the sacrifice with his British brothers? What if he had waited until the last minute before the attack to enter the city to suffer with his people and (assuming he survived) would be in position to help lead the recovery mission? Perhaps, this is a ridiculous suggestion, but this is the kind of decision that Jack Bauer makes on an hourly basis. It is exactly this sort of decision that Bauer made in order to save the life of this particular innocent boy after the government had abandoned him as an unfortunate yet inconsequential sacrifice.

Bauer proves again and again that he is not willing to sacrifice the lives of the innocent if he can do something about it. His decisions are not always popular with his over-seers, but it is his conviction that often the right thing must take priority even over blind submission to authority. It is Bauer's recurring unselfishness that makes him the ultimate fictional patriot, in spite of his other character flaws.

Is Jack Bauer a Christian's Role-Model? Of course not. He is not a man of faith, so he can't be considered on the same level as the flawed heroes of Hebrews 11 such as Abraham, Samson, and Jephthah. But Jack Bauer does exhibit a moral sense that a Christian can appreciate. Jack acts upon his convictions, not what is politically correct. He makes the hard choices, not the ones that will give him the most comfort.
Every Christian has the responsibility to determine what is appropriate moral stewardship of his/her time. There are many factors that must be taken into account in such a decision, such as setting an example for the family for instance. Not every Christian will come to the same conclusions on these decisions. It has been my purpose to articulate one possible interpretation of the show's moral conscience. I hope that it has been well-articulated and hope that it will serve as a defense of a show that (while not perfect) has many characteristics that a Christian may find worthy of appreciation.

Fight on, Jack Bauer. Your country needs you.