Worldview and ‘The Blacklist’
In an increasingly post-Christian culture, theology may seem irrelevant to the concerns of everyday Americans. After all, who has time to consider the truthfulness of the Bible or the basis of truth when there are bills to pay and appointments to keep?
But theology is always closer to the surface of the day’s headlines than you might think. And theology usually has a way of intruding into our lives, often in unexpected places. A recent example of theology bubbling up to the surface in the entertainment world occurred in the most recent episode of NBC’s long-running drama “The Blacklist.”
Now in its 10th and final season, “The Blacklist” follows Raymond Reddington, a notorious criminal and FBI informant who works with a secret task force to capture some of the world’s most wanted criminals in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Although Reddington’s penchant for pushing ethical limits is a long-running theme of the show, a conversation between two of the show’s newcomers on the most recent episode provided viewers with an insightful lesson on worldview that illustrates some of the real-world findings of researcher George Barna.
The relevant exchange involved a conversation between characters Siya Malik and Herbie Hambright. A developing subplot of season 10 has been Siya Malik’s investigation into the life of Meera, her deceased mother. The elder Malik served on the task force in season one before she was killed in the line of duty. Siya, an MI6 intelligence officer temporarily serving on the Reddington task force, has spent much of her spare time digging into Meera’s past in hopes of learning more about her mother. In last Sunday’s episode, Siya uncovers something startling: contrary to everything she has believed, Meera may not be her biological mother.
After learning that Meera and Siya may not be biologically related, Herbie, Siya’s FBI colleague, runs a DNA test. Approaching Siya with an envelope containing the results, Herbie suggests that Siya discard the file if she doesn’t want to know the truth. Implying that she may not like what she learns, Herbie says, “If your worldview is working for you, why take a risk in fixing something that isn’t broken?” Studying the envelope, Siya pauses. Then, looking at Herbie, she says, “Because I need to know.” Siya opens the envelope, and the camera pans to the result: Meera is not Siya’s biological mother. A distraught Siya cries, “That worldview is broken now.”
The brief interaction between Herbie and Siya is intriguing for a few reasons. First, it is rare for characters on television to talk about their worldview. In an age of short attention spans, most movies and shows are light on dialogue and heavy on action. But “The Blacklist,” which is known for witty banter amongst its characters, intentionally used a term that most Americans seldom consider. And that is worth noting.
Second, while it is rare to hear the term “worldview,” it is even rarer to see a character wrestle with how their worldview ought to affect their behavior. Herbie’s approach to worldview mirrors the approach that most Americans take when it comes to their decision-making process. If one’s guiding beliefs seem to maximize present happiness, why, in Herbie’s words, “take a risk in fixing something that isn’t broken?”
Although Herbie’s guiding principle motivates him to avoid hearing potentially unpleasant news, Siya is after something more. At the conclusion of her anguished deliberation, Siya values the truth over her desire to avoid emotional distress. She is willing to risk the possibility of profound disappointment to learn more about her mother. And despite the disorienting revelation, Siya now knows the truth about her adoption and can move forward in her quest for further answers about her identity.
When it comes to developing one’s worldview, George Barna has shown that most Americans follow Herbie’s approach. In fact, 88% of Americans have what has been described as a syncretistic worldview (a worldview made up of a mixture of beliefs and values based on preference and taste). Although this approach inevitably leads to a patchwork of conflicting and often irreconcilable beliefs and values, syncretism remains prevalent.
Why is syncretism so prevalent? Although there are several possible explanations, one reason is that many people have never thought seriously about their guiding beliefs. Most people go through life and unassumingly adopt their culture’s dominant values. A second reason people (including many professing Christians) hold contradictory beliefs is a desire for control. Whereas a consistent worldview often makes uncomfortable demands on our behavior, a syncretistic approach to worldview allows people to pick the values and beliefs that suit their perceived needs, emotions, and desires.
Although the writers of “The Blacklist” likely did not intend it, the brief scene in Sunday’s episode reminds us that most of our friends and neighbors are like Herbie with no desire to fix something that we don’t perceive as broken. But the episode also illustrates how worldview affects behavior; a misguided worldview can lead to an impoverished life, while a consistent worldview can lead to a more fulfilling and joyful life.
In short, because a worldview is the intellectual, moral, emotional, and spiritual filter through which one understands, interprets, and responds to every reality in life, a consistent worldview is crucial. For Christians, a worldview based in the metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation provides grounding for moral action, accurate perception of the world, and a basis for obedience to God. The cultivation and development of this worldview has never been more important.
David Closson is Director of the Center for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.