If you've no interest in the show Lost then you'll have to excuse me while I geek out a little bit. I won't bother sticking what follows underneath a 'spoiler shield' but in case you're planning on watching the show eventually, be aware that I'm gonna talk about the narrative up through 2x03 - an episode explicitly about 'faith' in one or another capacity. So, um, 'spoilers ahead'.
[I wrote this on the train from NYC to Buffalo, and haven't looked at it since then, and couldn't actually see the screen as I wrote, so this might be low-grade adolescent fanwank crapdoncular assbaskets, which wow what a phrase but also I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry for what has happened to me and to this blog and now to you and me, Reader(s), and I'll see you soon but it's sleep time I think.]
First off, let's get this out of the way: Lost is, I'm sorry to say, not a particularly well-written show. It's interestingly plotted, but line to line it's clunky and at times aggravating, never moreso than in Wednesday's episode, 2x03 (I forget the title). Maybe the problem with the most recent episode was incoherent direction as well - when Jack threw his hissy-fit about the button and mind games, I had no idea why he was acting the way he did, and when the moment of revelation/confrontation came, it didn't explain anything, and didn't offer any insight into character. I get the sense that it was supposed to be a suggestive character moment for Jack - 'What happened to the girl? 'I married her!' and then he breaks down - but irritatingly, I think we're supposed to wait for the next Jack-flashback episode to find out (a) why she's no longer around and (b) why Jack gets batshit where matters of faith are concerned, in a very programmatic (i.e. unconvincingly written) way.
In any case: faith.
I think Locke is one of the few interesting characters on the show. And personally, I found the final confrontation with Jack (about whether Jack should push the button) about 50% compelling - specifically everything Locke said was involving and mostly believable, and everything Jack said seemed like dramatic machinery to generate a climax that was from the opening segment of the ep a fait accompli. I like the idea that Locke isn't actually strong enough in his beliefs about the island to proceed alone, and I don't think his request for Jack's participation was evangelical or ritual in nature - I think that as much as anything, when he said 'This is a two-man job,' he meant that he wasn't capable of sustaining his faith on his own. The very human quality of his struggle with the question of destiny is one of the few characterological bright spots on the show (but kudos also to Kate Segal, magnificent in middle age, who brought sparks to an underwritten part as the girlfriend - I can't wait to see what happened to her character).
The question I want to pose, though, is this: with whom should the audience's sympathies lie? If the Jack/Locke pairing is the central philosophical tension of th show - and honestly I'm not sure the show is written consistently enough to make that claim with certainty, but let's just go with the flow here - if the axis of Big Questions on the show is between Jack and Locke, the man of science and the man of faith respectively, with whom do the writers of the show expect us to sympathize?
See, I tend to think the writers are taking an uninspiring 'they're both important' perspective on the whole thing, but more specifically I don't think they presented the final moments of this week's episode as a 'triumph' for the faith perspective at all. Jack's skepticism failed at the last minute, maybe, but so did Locke's faith - why, after all, does he keep demanding proof? ('blessed are you who do not see and yet believe.') You could say that in the end Jack is learning to believe in possibility, in copmlexity - and Locke is learning to be whole as a social being, to fit his personal eschatology into a social framework on the island. The guy went a little bonkers down there on the beach (what with the whole no-longer-paralyzed thing, you can't really blame him), and I think the show actually has a fairly skeptical outlook on his character. His faith in one or another sense might have helped him come through some sticky situations, but it's also led to Boone's death, and it's put the crew in this ridiculous position of having to push the button every 108 minutes. Is that a victory? As a metaphor about faith/religion it's a pretty scathing one (church/religious ritual as a weekly clock-punching, anyone?).
Tha said, one of the least interesting character moments on the show was Charlie's very brief religious awakening (remember that little detail? The writers evidently don't either). I think the show would like to lay claim to an exploration of the importance of faith and pragmatism in extreme circumstances (among laboratory-maze rats, for instance, which is where our heroes currently are, metaphorically), but on that subject the show has presented nothing so complex as, say, Mal's decision to kill the Fed in the Firefly pilot (and Shepherd Book's role in letting it happen).
More generally: I think the subject of 'faith' in the abstract is far more interesting when decoupled from questions of the truth-value of religious dogma. Again, Firefly handled this well: social contract, community bonds, as manifestations of an abiding faith that doesn't require a Prime Mover. The Serenity film - in which atheists are willing to die to change the universe in the name of a shared notion of cosmic justice, even transcendental justice - was shocking for just that reason: it let faith justify itself, but without the wishy-washy agnosticism of so many Hollywood properties. (The militant atheism of The Matrix and its sequels got buried under a torrential downpour of messianic imagery and vocab, but remember that the final words of the original Matrix script evoked the first Nietzschean comic book hero, Superman himself - the definer of his own morality, jingoistic tendencies of that series notwithstanding. Those films aren't given the credit they deserve, as a whole - they're fiercely anti-religious films, to me, and it's Morpheus who ends up looking by the end like a bit of a fool, puffed-up with evangelical fire while an all-but-nihilist computer hacker saves the world in a fistfight with the archetypal Company Man gone wrong.)
Maybe I'm getting a bit tied up here. My point is more or less this: I think Lost isn't worth vilifying for the lazy 'faith-based' outlook it sometimes appears to promulgate; honestly, I think that's a function of the writers' inability to go whole-hog with their skepticism, combined with people's natural love of a good mystery (and what's more mysterious than God? He raises as many questions as He answers; he's a narrative machine, which is why after millennia we're still telling stories about Him, even if they're old stories). If the allegory slips into 'maybe there's an Almighty and wouldn't it be nice if there were?' mode every so often, I think we shouldn't begrudge the writers that; they're only human, and their craft is insufficiently rich to bring that across in a way that fulfills the promise of the show's schemata. (I'm spoiled; my intro to today's genre TV was Buffy, a spiritual show, a values-based (ha!) show, but one that reveled in its skepticism and casualness about the Beyond. And written like gold, to boot.
Lost will probably get frustrating when it starts answering the many questions it's raised; I think the writers' talents lie in the act of schema-making and narrative-field-crafting (which is why they can get away with telling the same story-fragment three times over three weeks). But I don't think they're trying to push an agenda of any kind (except perhaps a loose-goose Robert Anton Wilson coincidence-can-be-meaning vibe, maybe, and other equally hand-wavey Lord of the Flies-inspired stuff along with it, which they keep shying away from out of a desire to be as original as they can with a hoary old set of plot points and setups).
[Actually let's take a beat here to make clear: kvetching about how the final Matrix film was 'nothing more than another Jesus story' is just sour grapes and anti-Christian resentment. Consider: Matrix Revolutions is an ironic title, since in the Matrix revolution is impossible, never more than a stopgap measure to buy humanity a little more time. Morpheus is wrong - they can't change things, they can't break free, they can't get to the desert of the Real. Neo's transcendence costs him his life, and he gets a hero's burial by the oppressors, then everyone goes back to the status quo, i.e. slavery for humanity. The benevolent fortune teller gets what she wants, and it's revealed to be a half-measure just like everything else. And true knowledge and happiness is nothing more, for Trinity, than seeing the sun for the first and last time.
And by the way all that cool racial-equality and empowerment subtext, the badass women and eutopian Endor jam in the hidden city of Zion? Meaningless. An epiphenomenon of the experiment that birthed the consensual hallucination of the Matrix.
This is your boilerplate goddamn Christian morality play? Look past the heroic self-sacrifice, air of foreordained melancholy, crucifixion imagery, and healing power of faith, and what you have is a withering, cynical vision of a godless universe (remember that the world of the Matrix is literally godless as well - the enslaved just lack the power to see their bonds, but they're merely machinic). The third film in the series has its own problems as cinematic storytelling, sure, but the moral underpinnings of the series remained serious and skeptical up to the end. The American filmgoing audience is hereby charged with a reflexive (i.e. unreflective) literalism that would be maddening if we weren't talking about a nation of perpetual adolescents watching, um, a kung-fu movie.]
We should be unsparing and demanding in criticizing craft or its unfortunate lack; for better or worse, I think I default to generosity in the matter of moral rigour when talking about stories I like. I think I want artists to be good people, even when it's easy for me to rip on them as artists. All of which may well be, in this humble blog's solipsistic sign-system, a roundabout way of saying that hopefully I can improve my own deficient person by making better art, that I can grow by proxy, that stories read in solitude or watched in darkness can be guiding stars even when they're about science-fiction superheroes and ridiculous mystical South pacific islands.