Contemplating their Preterition, the castaways await word from Gilligan and -- most of all -- The Skipper
I don't harbor much affection for geekazoid types who analyze Star Wars into the ground. You just want to smack 'em upside the head with a copy of anything by John Barth and tell 'em to quit wasting their goddamned education.
Which is why it embarrasses me a bit to announce that I have formulated a Grand Unified Theory to explain the ABC show Lost, which aired its season finale last night. I've poked around a bit on chat boards dedicated to the show (my selflessness knows no bounds -- whatta buncha maroons!) and nobody else seems to have picked up on my angle. Which means that either
- I'm completely up a tree
- Or I'm so freakin' sane that what I'm about to say will TOTALLY BLOW YOUR MIND.
Now, hearken back to your Protestant theology class. (You did study Protestant theology, didn't you? You're not allowed to bitch if you didn't.) Who was it who posited Predestination, the idea that God chooses some to be saved and some to be damned?
Why, that would be your John Calvin, of course.
In Calvinism, Election (predestination to Heaven) and Preterition are based on God's will. Not on your acts in this world, the depth of your faith, or how many times you prayed to Baby Jeebus last week. These decisions were made before you were ever born -- even before the world was created.
Calvinism, needless to say, is an appallingly heartless theology.
As Calvinists view themselves as the Elect (aber natürlich!), they feel themselves uniquely chosen by God to rule the world, to remake government in their own image. Theocrats. (Any of this starting to ring any bells?)
Since I had that insight in Episode 16, the show has felt like a refresher course in post-Reformation European philosophy, leading up to the Enlightenment -- I don't think it's at all an accident, for example, that two characters are named Locke and Rousseau.
So let's take a look at last night's season-ending cliffhanger with a Calvinist eye, shall we? (You're not gonna tell me you watched that miserable American Idol piece-a-shit, are you? Oh, I'm so disappointed in you!)
At the Black Rock, while Jack, Locke and Kate are inside fetching the dynamite, Arzt bitches at Hurley about the cliqueishness of the show's protagonists. He can't possibly be clearer: He's a minor character, plainly Preterite, complaining that the Elect have all the fun. What does Arzt do when he's not cast away on an island? He's a science teacher -- not only a disbeliever but a dithering, weak man. But when the dynamite appears he finds himself in his pedagogic element. He begins to rabbit on about the stuff and is just about to fill us in on Alfred Nobel when -- ka-flooey -- it begins to rain bits of Preterition all over the jungle.
I think we could have seen it coming, don't you? Some people are just meant to suffer.
(You know who were the televisual Kings of Preterition? Those red-shirted guys on the old Star Trek series. You go down to a planet's surface with Kirk and Spock wearing a red shirt, it's a stone guarantee you will not live to the first commercial break. Doomed, doomed, doomed. The funny part about old Arzt is that he knew he was Preterite. He shoulda saved his breath -- he shouldn't have been Arzt, oh god I crack me up.)
[Later addendum: It's just occurred to me that Arzt and Jack are mirror-images: Both are scientists and thus disbelievers in Predestination. Preterite Arzt falls victim to his carelessness with the dynamite, while Elect Jack subsequently takes up the dynamite-burden and completes the journey.]
As the show progresses, we see in a series of flashbacks how the Elect came to be on the plane that crashed. Not a single one of them was on that plane because he chose to be -- each one was Predestined in one way or another. The numbers in Hurley's magic series -- numbers that have brought nothing but appallingly bad luck to anyone who comes near him -- appear everywhere during the last half-hour of the show.
The Calvinist talk becomes overt nearer the climax, when Locke and Jack come to loggerheads: Locke tells Jack that the reason he believes the hatch in the jungle contains "hope" is that he believes in destiny. "I don't believe in destiny," Jack, the man of science and medicine, says. "Yes, you do," Locke replies. "You just don't know it yet." (You'll know it, Jack, he may as well have gone on, when we Elect are standing before God. Remember, in Calvinism you don't even have to believe in predestination; you're already in The Club no matter what.)
So what of young Walt, who is snatched by The Others (we think it's The Others)? Why are they so interested in him?
Remember that there's always been something fishy about Walt. Remember that odd things happen around young Walt. It appears that Walt can actually make weird things happen -- there seems to be a connection between the polar bear in his comic book and the polar bear on the island. He seems to be able to make birds crash into windows.
In a Calvinist world where everything is predestined, what does the ability to foresee events mean? Where would a boy with ESP stand with God if he can bend events to his will? Who's the only human (or half-human/half-god, depending on who you ask) who's ever been able to pull off that sort of trick?
Oh, one other thing.
Unitarian Universalism grew out of a reaction in Britain against the harshness and ugliness of Calvinism. And which British philosopher, himself a Unitarian, the founder of what John Stuart Mill would come to call empiricism, had a seminal influence on the American Unitarian church? Who advocated religious tolerance and the subjection of religious assertions to the cold light of reason? Whose philosophical contributions were as important as any in fomenting what we now fondly remember as The Enlightenment?
Why, that would be your John Locke, of course.