The Gospel (is pointless and confusing) According to The Flash

So I was catching up with the half-season finale of Season Two of The Flash this week (the modern hit on the CW network, not the 90s version), which was also the Christmas episode, and what to my wondering ears should appear but a character (Caitlin) tries to explain Christmas to someone (Jay) she thinks has never heard of it.

"Oh! -- uh, well, it's this holiday we have where we cut down trees and sing songs to celebrate the birth of a baby two thousand years ago, but then the Romans killed him, so we give each other gifts..."

Admittedly, a third character in the scene (Cisco) is making a face during this and as she runs out of any idea for Christmas he snarks, "That's your explanation?" But he leaves soon afterward, and Jay reveals he was joking, he knows what Christmas is, and let's just move on to the important thing which is Caitlin and Jay making googly eyes at one another.

This is just the kind of reply we could expect from writers who, when coming up with heroes for the main character (Barry), think of Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson. They think Christmas, as "Christmas", is confusing and pointless at best: it's just about this guy who was born and died a long time ago and yet we somehow still bother to give gifts to each other on a day long set aside to celebrate his birth. Anything more or better than that isn't about that guy, or might as well be about stories we made up about a jolly fat guy in a red suit giving presents to good children (who never has anything to do with that guy whoever he was, maybe someone named Chris?)

Now, maybe this is only because I'm a blazing genius, but I could have come up with a thematically better and historically accurate (as far as it goes) and still totally naturalistic explanation of why more than one third of all people on the planet still think Christmas means something important enough to celebrate, even if they don't agree with the religious ideas of Christmas.

"Oh! -- uh, well, it's a holiday we have where we celebrate the birth of a guy two thousand years ago who taught that we ought to love even our enemies enough to die for them, and he let the Romans kill him to show how serious he was about that, so we give each other gifts..."

If Caitlin as a character might not have been up to speed enough (see what I did there) on the meaning of Christmas to come up with that, there were two characters right there on the scene who could have done so: Cisco, who as already written thinks her stumbling explanation is lame; and Jay who as already written is a highly honorable and moral old-fashioned guy who (having been clearly patterned after the Marvel Cinematic Universe's portrayal of Steve Rogers, Captain America) often brings that perspective to scenes. He could even, being from an alternate Earth, have offered it as a comparison. The writers could have even aimed a sting at Christians who (they think) are missing even this basic point about that Chris guy.

But why bother sticking even that much meaning of Christmas into the episode? Because it would have been entirely appropriate to an ongoing theme of the show -- including especially in this episode (as in the climactic scene, among some other places) -- whether or not good people should try to be merciful even to their enemies. The writers have tried to be realistically messy about that theme, which I think is admirable; and one might argue they've been so messy as to be incoherent about it, which I think is sloppy; but that theme is definitely there.

Ah, but what does Christmas as "Christmas" have to do with any of that? Or maybe we don't want to give even that much credit to the reason people all over the world have celebrated Christmas as "Christmas".

And besides, that idea must also look pointless and confusing, or foolishly silly at best, if ethics are only the equivalent of passing genetic gas; or if morality is only something we invent for some people to have power over other people (especially by those who know better, manipulating the system from outside it). Being willing to die to save your own enemies? That's some screwed up genetic impulses right there! -- it sure doesn't help spread those genetics, and their impulses, farther into the gene pool! And sure, maybe that's an idea worth a few people propagating so that they can find a way to exploit it if other people come to believe it, but it sure didn't help that Chris guy when he was dumb enough to go ahead and die for it on that big plus sign! Someone else probably came up with that idea and suckered Chris and a lot of his subsequent followers into agreeing with it, maybe some Roman Imperials, eh, doesn't really matter unless we can find a way to exploit people who still believe it for our benefit today.

Not that the show's writers denigrate the idea of loving your enemy enough to sacrifice yourself for them, even when that's painfully hard to do. But they, or maybe the show's producers, or maybe the network execs, didn't think that that was an idea worth connecting to the reason they have a "Christmas" episode per se.

And after all, the meaning of the story, the meaning of Christmas as such, as generally practiced throughout Christian history, is stronger even than that: as much stronger as the Most High can be.

Because even if the story is only regarded as a fiction, the idea of the fable is this: that the one and only foundational ground of all reality not only truly loves personal creatures, and not only loves them enough to voluntarily suffer with them, and not only loves them enough to show this by living a human life from birth to death in suffering with them, and not only loves them so much as to die for their sake, but loves even His worst enemies enough to sacrifice Himself for their sake so that He and they can live happily ever after together someday.

If any credit was given to even a naturalistic explanation of the meaning of Christmas, someone might go on to discover that a naturalistic meaning of Christmas isn't important enough, and hasn't been important enough historically for most of those who believe in any good meaning for Christmas, for centuries and millennia -- even far back beyond the time when December 25th was chosen to celebrate the birthday of that man. The fullest value of full humanity and even of all of Nature, isn't an idea of one more male baby being born somewhere who died as a man for some obscure reason that probably doesn't make sense, but by the Greatest Beyond Nature loving Nature enough to voluntarily sacrifice Himself for everything in Nature including for His own enemies.

And not so that Nature and personal creatures will cease to exist someday as such; and not so that Nature and personal creatures will never come someday to fully cooperate with each other as such; but so that someday, sooner or later, there will most assuredly be a happily ever after for all together, however much suffering in childbirth must come first -- which Justice Himself voluntarily suffers together with us, even when we are currently insisting on being unjust.

Now, admittedly, most of us Christians throughout history have thought, for various reasons, that not all personal creatures will in fact be brought by God to do love and justice someday for happily ever after. Some of us agree and teach that God intends and acts toward bringing this about; and some of us agree that God will surely succeed in bringing this about for whomever He intends and acts to do so; and only a relative few of us think both assurances of the good news of God's salvation are true. Why we think only one and not the other, or why we think both, of those assurances are true, is a whole other debate, and one we've debated for all our history -- sometimes hotly and insultingly so. And we've also debated among each other for all our history on how and why exactly God intends and acts toward one or the other or both assurances.

But both assurances have been passed down, to one extent or another, through all our history, as the meaning for why a particular Jewish baby was born to a Jewish mother to be handed over by Jewish leaders to be slain by Roman leaders one day, long ago in a small little knife of a country far away from where most of my readers will be reading this.

Even if it was only a story, it's still the greatest story ever told for a reason.

And maximally more great than only the greatest story ever told, if it's true.


Great post man. Thanks for posting. Is Barry Alan the Flash on that show? After 30 years of Wall West the go back to Barry Alan? Was that Jay Jay Garrick? The original Flash.

Sounds like they were just doing characterization, badly.
Jason Pratt said…
Yep, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick! And that particular episode introduced Wally West, too (although they had mentioned him for an ep or two already).

Jason Pratt said…
Note: the comics went back to Barry Allen (keeping Wally and Jay both around) ten or fifteen years ago, undoing his death which to be fair had happened in a timeline that no longer existed anyway.

wow I did not know that. That's when I quite keeping current. Too many reboots. So was the girl Iris West? Because Iris was not such an idiot.
Jason Pratt said…
No, Iris is around (and in that episode), but in this show she's Barry's adoptive sister (her dad adopted him when Barry's dad went to jail for a murder he didn't commit) and currently not a romantic interest (anymore. It's complicated.)

No, "Caitlin" is Caitlin Snow, who in this show is a very good person who was engaged to marry the guy who became Firestorm, and married him in the last season finale right before he apparently died (but probably didn't) saving Central City from a black hole. (It's complicated.) In comics canon, she becomes the mass murdering super-villain Killer Frost, a Firestorm villain; and the show has teased at least once (when Barry saw alternate realities in the season finale trying to help stop the black hole) that KF is still on the way. (Probably from the alternate reality Jay Garrick's Flash comes from, is my guess.)

Jason Pratt said…
(Note that previous live-action Flash actor John Wesley Shipp has an extended role as Barry's father Henry; his costar Amanda Pays, whose character was the love interest instead of Iris in the 90s show, shows up occasionally as a leading research scientist. Mark Hamill played Flash villain the Trickster for a couple of eps in the previous series, and by that role got the job playing the Joker for over 20 years in animated series, movies, and video games -- he's widely regarded by fans, myself included, as the definitive Joker -- and for this series the producers brought him back to reprise the Trickster as, basically, the Joker. Including in the half-season finale mentioned in the OP. He's great. {g})

this that the way the new 52 has it?
Jason Pratt said…
I think Barry is in the New52 (heck, Barry fighting with Thawne was the reason for the New52 -- a point sort-of imported into the storyline behind Season 1, except without the New52 per se), but I'm not sure the New52 even still exists as a continuity anymore. DC had another continuity-shaking crossover event this year. (To be fair they've really only had three, though many others have pretended to be a "Crisis" event for marketing sake. I gather the current plan involved writers hashing out which version of several continuities they'd work with going forward again.)

Anyway, no, the current Flash is a spin-off of CW's Green Arrow show (just called Arrow), both of which are spinning off a minor Justice Society mini-series next January, and their continuities are independent of current comics.

(The same crew is also behind the new Supergirl series on CBS, which is in its own new continuity. Supergirl and Flash shows are pretty good; Arrow is very variable.)

I mention all this in case I need to clarify that I'm not hating on the show in the OP; I'm quite a fan. It's just an example of a current cultural ripple. A "meme" you might say. {wry g}

we should start a comic book blog

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