This clip from a recent episode of ER has made the rounds among the blogs, and deservedly so — it's very powerful.
The episode, titled "Atonement," was broadcast on January 17, 2008. Here's the clip:
The following scene is also telling, but has attracted less comment. The good doctor finds the distraught chaplain outside, sitting by herself, reeling over the exchange. She's played by the wonderful Reiko Aylesworth (who fared better as Michelle Dessler on 24) , and here's how it goes:
Chaplain: You know... doubt... it's uncomfortable. But certainty -- I don't think it's real. I -- I, I I went to seminary, I studied Buddhism, I spent time in an ashram... who really knows anything with absolute certainty.Count the ironies, intended and otherwise.
Doctor: Not me. That's for sure.
Chaplain: That's why I thought an inclusive approach to spirituality would work well in a place like this.
Doctor: It does! It does. The patients, they appreciate what you do.
Chaplain: No, people in crisis want rules. They want structure, something to lean on. I get that. But it's not me.
[See it here, starting at about three minutes]
After this exchange, the doctor then encourages Chaplain Reiko to get back in there and help the patient. He'll be there with her. But she won't do it. He persists, and so does she. So he leaves her. The liberal, "inclusive" female chaplain has failed.
So later the doctor has to do it himself, has to try to help the guilty, haunted man.
What does he offer him? Not much. Insistence that the retired doctor's good deed counts for something. The suggestion is that his rescuing the boy from drowning outweighs his "bad" deeds (administering lethal injection to the boy's father, who later turned out to have been framed).
For some reason the man, though having just shredded young Chaplain PoMo, accepts this equally Godless, equally trackless, equally baseless, equally shapeless pablum, from the doctor.
And that's the resolution. (Watch it here.)
What the doctor offers is in no way better than what the chaplain offered. It's sheer human-viewpoint gobbledy-gook, double-talk, and equivocation. The rest of the episode wallows in such moral relativism. Ultimately, there is no "there" there. Absolutely wonderful windup; absolutely no pitch, whatever.
Still, it is refreshing to see Hollywood frame the question and the issue fairly vividly, isn't it? Yet even in that framing, the picture is blurred. The "cause" being championed is yet another Hollywood favorite: opposition to the death penalty. Did the doctor actually do anything immoral? He had come to think so, and his grief is turned as a comment against capital punishment.
Now, had the writers really wanted to stretch themselves and defy convention, they could have made the doctor an abortionist. For instance, he could have been one of the sorts of doctors who recently advised a British couple to abort their baby because the unborn child was diagnosed with rhomboencephalosynapsis, would be born deaf and blind, and would only live an hour or two.
In the actual case, the parents rejected the counsel, and the child was born perfectly healthy, in spite of the assured diagnosis his parents had received. But how many such children have been actually aborted, on the basis of equally flawed diagnoses? I know of another similar case myself.
The fictional doctor could have actually succeeded in convincing the couple to kill the child, and then discovered his error. That, or countless other of the living nightmares by which abortionists could rightly find themselves gripped when they paint a bull's-eye on a baby. Then we would have had a case of real guilt over a real moral wrong.
Ah, but the Hollywood that is wrought up over the fate of condemned killers, as a rule is not so concerned about the innocent unborn.
Even if they could have pulled this off — and the writers for House, M.D. and other dramas have indeed done some remarkable stretching — I still can't picture them being able to deliver on a credible Christian preacher.
As I've often observed and remarked: the most gifted screenwriters can concoct believable monsters, deviants, heroes, regular-joes, atheists, agnostics, all sorts of characters. But the believable depiction of a full-orbed Christian character is simply beyond them. Evidently they have never known (much less understood nor liked) even one credible, practicing, Biblically-faithful Christian. It's the one color missing from their palate — as starved for ideas as they are.
Otherwise, ER might have given us a real chaplain with a real God, a real Hell — and a real Gospel.
Rather than rehashes of the world's dyspel of tallied-works, judged by shifting, human, strictly-horizontal standards and laid in a balance, he might have preached the Gospel of Christ. He might have told them man of a just and holy God before whom indeed he stood guilty, condemned, and (in himself) hopeless (Romans 3:10-20). He could have shown sin to be a matter of real guilt, due to an offended Law that is without, above, and against us. He might have told him of the wrath of God against human sin, played out in the recurring cycles of our racial and individual rebellion (Romans 1:18-32).
And then he might have told of the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel on the basis of faith alone — God's powerfully saving good news (Romans 1:16-17). He might have told of the Savior who came to meet the law's full demands, to absorb the full brunt of God's holy and righteous wrath, to pour out His blood in payment of man's incalculable debt (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Romans 3:21-25). He could have told him of Jesus' Christ's death, His burial, and His bodily resurrection — which was God's "all-clear," signaling that He had paid the price of His people's sin in full (John 19:30; Romans 4:25).
In this way, the pastor could have assured the man, God can be perfectly righteous, and impute perfect righteousness to the one trusts savingly in Jesus (Romans 4:25). "This," he could say, "is how you can know God."
But Hollywood, for all that does captivate it, is not captivated by the beauty of the Gospel.
Nor, probably, can it be (1 Corinthians 1:18 — 2:14).