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LOST: In Translation

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - Ben:  Do you believe in God, Jack?

Jack: Do you?

Ben: Two days after I found out I had a fatal tumor on my spine, a spinal surgeon fell out of the sky.  If that’s not proof of God, I don’t know what is.

-- From “The Cost of Living” episode.

Very few television programs ever reach phenomenon status – Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, and Friends come to mind.  You can now add Lost to that list.  Filled with adrenaline-laced suspense, Lost has captured the imagination of viewers far and wide making it one of the most talked about shows in a decade.

Every week, viewers sift through the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle of intrigue, trying to figure out exactly what happened to a group of plane crash survivors on a mysterious island.  Why did the plane crash?  What secrets does the island hold? Have the survivors all been stranded together on the island for a reason?

While Lost is not a Christian show, it addresses many deep spiritual issues that people face today.  So many, that authors John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs have a crafted a new book called “What Can be Found in Lost” (Harvest House.  The co-authors take a fascinating look at many of the spiritual issues that confront the castaways on a regular basis. Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Burroughs to discuss some of the major spiritual themes of Lost, how Christianity is portrayed in the show, and how this entertainment phenomenon affects the attitude of our culture.

You have a new book called “What Can be Found in Lost”.  This is a show that has sat atop the television ratings for four years.  It has become a phenomenon.  Why are people so fascinated by a program about a plane crash on a remote island?

I think the fascination in a lot of ways, the reason it is one of America’s most popular television programs today is because it is one of the most spiritual.  It is fascinating to see that much spiritual content in a drama television series.  In addition to that, there is the entire facet of the mystery that is involved in the Lost series where you are always guessing what is going to happen next and the connections between the survivors on the island, whether it’s there during that time or the flashbacks from the past. 

To be honest, I was not a viewer of Lost from the beginning but some office mates got me interested.  I watched the series DVDs and now I am hooked.  What are some of the major spiritual themes of Lost?

There are lots of them but some of the ones we focus on in the book are what Lost says about God in particular because they do mention Him frequently.  What do they say about Him and going through some of those quotations and what they mean.  They specifically cite and reference the Bible at least 23 times in the first three seasons.  That is about once every three episodes if you average it out.  So, we went through each of the references, made the connection, how did they use it, how accurately did they use it.  There is a huge focus on prayer by different characters.  Early on, there are lots of funeral scenes and people are trying to deal with this idea of what happens after we die?  Are people reincarnated?  Do they just die and that is it?  Or is there a heaven to be prepared for, or a hell to be concerned about?

There are many different religions represented on Lost.  Islam plays prominent role as does Catholicism.  How is Jesus and Christianity portrayed on the show?

Surprisingly, it is portrayed very positively.  In most situations, they at least cite biblical references accurately and within their context.  It is a very moving experience when you listen to it.  At the same time, there are a couple of places where there is clearly some bad theology.  You have occasional times where they are way off or they have a pluralistic world view that is inclusive of not only Jesus but other ways to God.  For the most part and the majority of situations they are quoting Christian references with integrity and accuracy.

As I have already mentioned there are a lot of different religious beliefs floating around on the show.  In your opinion, what religion seems to get the most attention?

It is interesting because different viewers will arrive at different conclusions on that.  And a lot of it is based on what they know about religion.  But the ones that are communicated most frequently are Christianity in its various forms including Catholicism.  You have a lot of references toward Muslim and Islamic backgrounds.  You also have several references in different ways to Buddhism. And there is also a lot of talk about numbers and their meaning.  In our book we talk about at least 12 faith systems that are mentioned because you have different references to New Age practices like tarot card reading or psychics, dream interpretation and analysis, those types of activities that don’t fall into one particular religion but are certainly spiritual practices.

That brings up a good question.  You mentioned that there are 12 different belief systems represented in your book.  Why is it important for a Christian to study what other religions believe?

One of the primary reasons that I think is important is because when you want to communicate your faith with someone of another religious background you have to have some kind of understanding of where the other person is coming from in order to be effective.  You have to talk to people about their faith but in the process of studying another person’s faith you also refine your understanding of your own faith.  It helps strengthen what you believe and what you don’t believe in the process.

This is a question that is discussed frequently by people who watch the show -- where are they?  Are they on an island?  Is this someone’s dream?  Or, are they somewhere else?

Some of the theories that have been promoted early on have been shown to be untrue.  I think the creators of the show are communicating that these are real people stranded on a real island dealing with real issues.  So, the very fact they are showing them get off the island and returning back to their previous lives I think communicates the fact that this is that we are dealing with reality not some sort of illusion or made up situation.

In what ways do you think Lost reflects the attitude of our culture?

Culture is very open to spiritual things as long as you are not told there is only one way when it comes to spirituality.  That is where Lost is both a great form of art but it also something we need to speak out on as Christians because we can say look at all of these spiritual concepts.  Out of all of these spiritual concepts, just like Paul did with the people in Athens, we have to say, ‘Out of these traditions there is one God who is true.  There is one God who has provided a way through His son Jesus Christ, who says, I am the way, the truth, and the life.’  Most Christians aren’t prepared to do that.  They see all of these spiritual ideas and they just exist among them without saying about their faith specific to Christ.

After people have read this “What Can be Found in Lost”, what do you want them to take away from their reading experience?

We specifically wrote this for fans of Lost knowing that it would primarily be Christians.  We wanted them to be able to watch the show, pick up on some of the spiritual references that are being made, and filter those through a Christian worldview and use those to talk about issues of faith.  I think we have tried really hard to highlight the different points where our Christianity connects with the show and also build bridges between those references to different ways you can talk about it.  One thing we have discovered is that people don’t mind talking about Jesus if they know where to start.

To purchase "What Can be Found in Lost?"

*Some material used in this article appears courtesy of Harvest House Publishers.

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