Eli Stone: Turning a Motif On Its Head

I know it’s late, but I want to comment on the season finale of Eli Stone.

One of the subplots went like this: Toby from The West Wing (only, here, his name wasn’t “Toby”) came to Eli and wanted his representation. He had cancer, and he wanted to kill himself, or discontinue chemo–something that ended his life. And he claimed that God told him to do this. As a result, he felt a lot of peace. Every now and then, you could see the Toby we’ve all come to know and love. In one scene, he did one of his customary “Toby” tirades–you know, in which he starts off speaking softly, then gets louder and madder as he approaches the end of his statement. But, overall, he came across as a serene person, much like Eddie Murphy on Holy Man.

His wife was a rabbi, and she wanted him to fight for his life. She based her conviction on her love for him, of course, but she also appealed to the teachings of Judaism, particularly the value it places on life. The case concerned whether or not Toby was fit to make his own decision. Was he sane, or was he crazy for claiming that God spoke to him?

Well, Eli gave a speech about the importance of faith and how the judge should not condemn Toby as insane. After all, wouldn’t that declare all faith to be insane? And, in the end, the judge agreed with Eli. Toby died at the end of the episode. And, in the other room, Eli Stone was fighting for his life, for he was having an operation that would remove his vision-causing tumor (I think–I wasn’t following the show as well as I should!).

I felt the same way about this episode as I felt about the sex ed one. The show was trying to inspire me, and I wanted to be inspired, but it wasn’t doing it for me because I disagreed with its message. I’m sorry, I simply could not get inspired by condom-based sex education. I want abstinence taught in school sex ed, and abstinence alone! And, similarly, I have a hard time associating the legitimacy of faith with devaluing one’s own life.

What I like about Touched by an Angel and 7th Heaven is that they have inspiring speeches that agree with my beliefs. Touched by an Angel talks about God’s love, and Andrew once gave a good defense of Intelligent Design. I didn’t care much for the anti-Joe McCarthy episode, but that was the exception rather than the rule. And, although Eric Camden is a liberal Protestant and a Democrat, he still promotes God, country, family, and (this one’s important) abstinence before marriage.

But the episode of Eli Stone about Toby’s (direct or indirect) suicide was, well, twisted. Linking faith in God with suicide? I have problems with that.

We’ve seen the motif of the supernatural entering the courtroom before. Miracle on 34th Street was probably its inspiration. Touched by an Angel once had an episode in which Monica rested her testimony on her status as an angel. In both cases, the court had to rule on the legitimacy of the supernatural.

I like the motif, but I don’t like what Eli Stone did with it. It reminded me of the value of Scripture and centuries of tradition in communicating the will of God. Toby’s rabbi wife appealed to that. Toby, by contrast, appealed to a personal revelation. Ordinarily, in my view, the latter should be subservient to the former. Christianity at least claimed to be grounded in what came before. I guess that’s the Edmund Burke conservative in me talking.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Eli Stone: Turning a Motif On Its Head

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post, but I must demur.

    I’m am not so sure that the issue is restricted to faith, but also to personal freedom, and a sublte dig against the pervasivenss of anti-intellectualism within religion. I am reminded of the protagonist in that John Grisham missionary book, and wonder if there are several equivocal messages: 1) faith can be personal, 2) people should have personal choice, and 3) faith can be pretty stupid. But this is probably just a reflection of my views and sensibilities.

    I would also like to point out that refusing chemo isn’t the same as suicide. My grandma had liver cancer (it spread from her colon), and she chose not to undergo a final round of chemo. She was a strong person, but the pain and suffering was too much for her 80 year old body to bear. Please be sensitive to these issues. They are real, not mere academic trivia.

    There’s a broader issue, too. As much as apologists would like to forget, it is a truism that faith and rationalism are at tension. The line neither begins nor ends with choices to attempt to extend life; nor is extending life only restricted to red-phone hospital decisions. The little things whisper the same message.

    One final note: the girls I knew who got pregnant in high-school regularly went to (conservative) churches. Those who went to the local PC USA and Episcopal churches didn’t. I don’t know if this happens often, but you can guess where I’m going.



  2. Anonymous says:

    Like Jake, I also disagree with several points, for the following reasons:
    1. The right to die with dignity is not “suicide”. It is the choice to go with nature instead of painful, and oftentimes risky, medical treatments, which do not guarantee either quality nor quantity of life.
    2. Teenage hormones can not be controlled through “abstinence only” education. Some young people will choose to have sex, some will choose to abstain. By the time sex education is taught in the schools (middle school/high school), most kids already know as much (or more!) than the instructors. The basis for sex education, of course, should start in the home. However, even then, you can lead a horse to water…etc. etc. And, sometimes the decision “to do it” has as much to do with the normal “rebellion” stage as it does with anything else. I would say that about half the students in my 10th and 11th grade private (conservative) Catholic high school classes were sexually active, despite the “abstinence only” policy of the Church, the school, and their parents. From reports from other teachers, the same went for the Episcopalian high school down the street. Because “statistics” on out of wedlock sexual activity is a modern day invention, sometimes we tend to think of it as a “modern” problem–which it is not. It is as old as time (and sex), itself.
    However, your analysis of this particular episode was thought-provoking, as its storyline posed a painful dilemma which made it very difficult to take sides. A good season ender! Janice


  3. James Pate says:

    Hi Jake and Janice. Thanks for your comments! I’ve not totally resolved my beliefs on the right to discontinue chemo, since I’m sure that chemo is a long and grueling process. I know I’m against what Kevorkian did, since that strikes me as out-and-out murder. Come to think of it, I’m not too big either on taking away Terri Schiavo’s food and water.

    But I still have a problem with what Eli Stone did. Toby was far from being a senior citizen, wrapping up the last years of a long lifespan. He heard from God that his life wasn’t valuable and that he shouldn’t enjoy more of what life has to offer? I don’t think so. I know that people can’t live forever and that we all have to die sometime. But Toby was just too young to die.

    As far as abstinence goes, I’m sure that there were out-of-wedlock births before now. But I seriously doubt that they were as high as they are now. I mean, seriously, if I were to talk with the older generation, would they tell me of lots of people they knew who had out-of-wedlock births? I don’t think it was as much of a problem that as it is today. But society was not as sex-saturated back then, either.


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