Scoundrels Desiring Goodness

A few nights ago, I watched The O.J. Simpson Story, a 1995 made-for-TV movie about O.J. Simpson.  Last night, I watched the Emmy-nominated episode “Five-O” of the series Better Call Saul, which is a spin-off of the popular Breaking Bad series.  Both stories made me think about people’s propensity towards evil, and the desire to be good.

A.  The O.J. Simpson Story was made in 1995.  It goes up to O.J.’s arrest for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.  The movie is a bit ambiguous about whether or not he committed the murders.  On the one hand, Simpson appears rather surprised and distraught about the death of Nicole.  On the other hand, the movie certainly portrays him as the type of person who could have committed the murders: Simpson in the movie physically abused his wife, had an out-of-control temper, wanted everything to be “perfect” by his standards, and was insanely jealous about Nicole seeing other men, especially on his property.

But he did desire to be a good person.  In the movie, Simpson as a high school student stole wine from a local grocery store and got in trouble with the law, but a visit from the famous baseball star Willie Mays changed his attitude.  Willie Mays realized that Simpson was a good high school football player, and he wanted Simpson to live up to his potential rather than ending up in jail.  Mays told Simpson that he (Simpson) had the potential to become a famous athlete and to live a prosperous life, but that he needed to stay out of jail.  At the same time, Mays took the opportunity to pass on some wisdom to Simpson about what was truly important.  Mays told Simpson that fame is accidental and money is fleeting, but the only thing that truly lasts is character.  Simpson took Mays’ advice seriously, and it stayed with him for years to come.

Simpson was famous and admired, and he wanted to see himself as other people saw him.  Simpson in the movie passed the football with a disabled kid.  He tried to be a good father.  When he was riding in the back seat of his Ford Bronco, fleeing the law, he showed his best friend, A.C., a picture of himself with his wife and kids and said that this picture showed who he truly was. He desired goodness, but he had serious character flaws that got in his way.

B.  On the episode, “Five-O,” of Better Call Saul, we see some of the back-story of Mike Ehrmantraut.  Mike was also in Breaking Bad, and he was the savvy henchman of Saul Goodman and key players in the drug cartel.  Mike used to be a Philadelphia cop, and his son, Matt, was a cop, too.  A gang was paying off some cops to get protection from the law, and Matt was invited by his partner to get in on this.  Mike, who himself was corrupt, encouraged his son not to make waves, to take the money, since the other cops would kill Matt if they suspected that Matt would report them to the authorities.  Matt wanted to stick with his integrity, but he eventually followed his father’s advice and took the money.  Two cops still killed Matt, because they thought that Matt may still inform on them.  Later, Mike killed those two cops.

Reflecting to Matt’s widow later on, Mike talks about how Matt’s compromise of his principles was without purpose, for Matt died.  Mike also regrets that he brought his son down to his own level.  Does Mike desire goodness?  He does good things, for he is a decent grandfather.  Any desire for goodness that he has, however, does not permeate his life, or motivate him to make life-changing transformations for the better.  Essentially, he knows that he is a scoundrel.  He does not entirely like that he is a scoundrel, and he realizes that there is a better way.  But he believes that being a scoundrel is the way that he is, the way that he has coped with life, and he has resigned himself to that.

C.  What application do I take from this?  Speaking for myself personally, I am not as good as some people think that I am, and I also am not as bad as some people think that I am.  I am a person who desires goodness, but I have character flaws that get in my way.  That is one reason that I am a Christian: I need God’s help each day to be good, or, at the very least, not to be bad.  Learning practical ways to work on one’s character flaws—-through therapy, books, or advice from others—-is also important.

I do not think that Mike’s character flaws are things that one should resign oneself to, since, well, they manifest themselves in illegal activity!  I have, however, resigned myself to some of my own “flaws,” or things that some people might consider flaws.  I do not beat myself up anymore (or at least not as much) for being shy, or for being an introvert.  I try not to beat myself up because there are people who don’t like me, or whom I do not like.  Christianity—-or the way that some Christians have conceptualized Christian living—-has laid a guilt trip on me over the years on these issues.  No more!

I guess that where I land is here: there are character flaws that I try to work on because, for my own sake and that of others, I believe that doing so is important.  I can see the value of doing so.  In other areas, however, I try to accept myself.  Some Christians may say that, in my approach, I am making myself and my standards the lord of my life rather than Jesus.  Maybe.  I can no longer bear the heavy burden of trying to be perfect, and of beating myself up because I am not.  Plus, is it seriously a bad thing for me to want to do right because that is my desire?  Perhaps God can use that to make me a better person.  Perhaps my desire to be good is from God’s influence on me.


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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