Hellava lot of heaven on ‘Lost’

Warning: If you haven’t seen the final episode of ABC’s Lost, then you might not want to read this commentary. … Continued

Warning: If you haven’t seen the final episode of ABC’s Lost, then you might not want to read this commentary.

The final episode of ABC’s six-year series “Lost” reflects quite a bit of theologizing about heaven, much of it with Catholic resonance. It’s interesting to me that popular culture has elevated Catholicism as the most religious of religions.

The closing episode takes place in a church with a prominent statue of the Sacred Heart in the parking lot. There is a hint in the stained glass windows of the sacristy of the church that this Heaven is trans-denominational. Statues of the Buddha are next to ones of the Blessed Mother. But those symbols of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism all “fit” in the Catholic Church because our theology sees Catholicism as the fulfillment of different religions. When the protagonist, Jack Shepherd — son of Christian Shepherd — finally realizes he is dead and that this is Heaven, he follows his father into a church with a recognizably Catholic main altar. Keeping with the Catholic theme, there is one character, Benjamin Linus, who stays outside the church because he is “not ready” to join the others. Only denominations like Catholicism that believe in purgatory can comprehend this “saved-but-not-quite-yet” category.

The gist of the finale is that good people will be reunited in Heaven with those they loved in life. The last few installments with the sideways jump into a parallel universe had each of the characters re-encountering each other in different social circumstances that were considerably happier than the plane crash that was the setting for the show. Yet, despite enjoying relative happiness in these parallel situations, they once again met each other in even greater joy. Ironically, the less spectacular human situations are found in Heaven, while the mysterious and even mystical events on the island were cast as “real life.” Ricardus even called the island in real life to be Hell.

It is rewarding to see Heaven as a place where we can be reunited with family and friends at a maximum moment of full health and youth. It reminds me of what I was told by the Sisters of St. Joseph in my parochial school. For eight- and nine-year-olds, Heaven was a place of perpetual amusement parks, ice cream cones and no school. Think of the disappointment I suffered to learn later at the Jesuits’ St. Joe’s Prep that the “real” Heaven was quite different. In those pre-Conciliar days, we were guided by St. Thomas Aquinas, who had written that Heaven consisted of the Beatific Vision. That vision alone was enough to keep us eternally happy according to the Angelic Doctor because each of our appetites for the one, the true, the good and the beautiful would be satisfied by face-to-face vision of God. This was a true let down from the notion of appetite that included ice-cream.

The finale of “Lost” provided an adult twist on the amusement park and ice-cream notions of grammar school. Heaven consists of a relaxed encounter with all the significant people who helped us in life and who allowed us to help them. That is not incompatible with the Beatific Vision – in fact, in the final scene of the final episode the church’s doors are opened to an extremely bright light that floods the TV tube into absolute whiteness. This is about as good a symbol one can invent for the bloodlessly blinding Beatific Vision.

I found the departing message of “Lost” to be consonant to Catholic teaching wherein Heaven is about enjoying our human fellowship. It is relatively dissimilar from the image of Heaven found in the “Left Behind” series so popular among our Evangelical brothers and sisters where the joy of Heaven seems to consist of watching the suffering of liberal Democrats.

This finale of “Lost” recalls that for Catholics Heaven begins with the final Resurrection of the Body. The characters of the show had quite bodily experiences of hugging and kissing, of pain and physical discomfort. These elements are compatible only when the body is joined to the soul. It is an echo of how the resurrected Jesus asked his disciples if they had anything to eat (Luke: 24:41). So kudos to “Lost” for reminding us that Heaven is place where we should want to go.

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • PSolus

    One thing that Lost and catholicism have in common is that they are both fictional.Lost is just much better imagined and written.

  • megman

    @Psolus: That comment was not even remotely funny, interesting or worthwhile.

  • thmas

    Yeah, I did think that whole church thing was creepy.

  • jeffmoger

    The “adult twist” that distinguishes the finale of Lost from the “amusement park and ice-cream notions” of heaven taught to you as a child, is that they are inhabiting adult bodies that prefer hugging and kissing over eating ice cream.Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that the writers couldn’t come up with a more original ending and chose instead to crib from that somewhat tired and overused children’s tale. Perhaps the focus groups told them that’s what the American television audience wanted.

  • JoStalin

    Wow. I’ll bet Locke probably wouldn’t think that mowed down by Desmond in a BMW was probably consistent with a Christian ideal of Heaven or Purgatory, although it might be marginally better than being choked to death by Benjamin Linus.So, I haven’t decided yet. Is Re-Runs Heaven or Purgatory?(Megman, I though Psolus comment was relevant and funny. Christianity, like most religions, will just turn out as yet another of man’s mythology. Lost is a mythos onto itself. And definitely better written too.)

  • mojo975

    Fail to notice that window behind christian shepard with the symbols of six different faiths behind him?

  • brickerd

    Not that the meaning of this TV show is important, but Stevens-Arroyo seems to selectively ignore the non-sectarian (and possibly non-religious) nature of Lost’s “afterlife.” Many faiths are represented as influential in the show, and in case you missed the presence of Hinduism, Buddhism, and others, the “church” that appears in the final episode proffers symbols of several faiths, not just Christian Catholicism. It stands to reason that since the church was created by Lost characters, those symbols were present not because of some god but because the characters themselves put the symbols there.I’d also point out that the show presents all sorts of naturalistic (albeit science fiction-y) explanations for what the island is, and without resorting to religion, one can piece together the events of the show by considering time and space travel, and the island’s position as a nexus of time and space.Rather than suggest Lost’s afterlife is “heaven” or thoroughly infused with *his* faith as Stevens-Arroyo does, perhaps he should have considered all the evidence, not just those few details that happen to support his credo-centric and arrogant point of view.

  • bigbrother1

    “Lost” is not about anything at all. It is a poorly written show full of half-baked semi-ideas. Far more attention is payed to grooming, wardrobe and “feel” than to characters or plot.For a little while in the first season or two, it seemed like the show might be actually about something, that it might have some kind of story to tell, perhaps one with a spiritual angle. But after a while it became clear that the creators were only pretending that they had something to say.

  • CaitRCDC

    I think the author would be wiser to state that the Catholic lens though which he interprets the finale is only his own view, rather than indicating that through this show, “popular culture has elevated Catholicism as the most religious of religions,” or that “only denominations like Catholicism that believe in purgatory can comprehend this “saved-but-not-quite-yet” category.” It’s worth noting that not once were the words “heaven,” “saved” or”purgatory” uttered, and the show has, from start to finish, balanced out (or at least attempted to) the nods to Christianity with those of other religions, philosophies and worldviews. To interpret that the window with symbols from the world’s major religions was some clever nod to the Catholic theology which “sees Catholicism as the fulfillment of different religions” seems to miss the point. In fact, many world religions (not just Catholicism) encompass beliefs about an ‘afterlife’ that are completely compatible with the main elements of the “Lost” ending. Clearly, people will interpret it through whichever framework they find most salient, but I get annoyed when people don’t acknowledge that other valid interpretations exist, too.

  • insider9909

    Why is it so hard for humans to accept the fact that we are cognizant animals. When we die, WE DIE. I used to fear that, but now that I am older, I actually yearn for the big nothing. No Heaven, No Hell, just nothing. When you finally recognize the single fact of your own insignificance, you will finally be able to peacefully accept death.

  • leafgreen

    Interesting take on it, INSIDER, but I have less to lose by believing in heaven than you do by not believing in it: If I’m wrong, the worst that will happen is the “big nothing” you mentioned, but if YOU’RE wrong, oblivion will look pretty good compared to your worst case scenario. In other words, belief costs you nothing except about two minutes of prayer a day, while non-belief could cost you EVERYTHING. You’re lowering your own bar in that my worst case scenario (I’m wrong and there is nothing afterword) is exactly the same as your “best” case, with your worst being joining the ultimate BBQ as the meat.

  • flatland57

    Contrary to some of the posts believing the Lost to be a pointless endeavor, I think that our responses show just how engaging the show was. Deeper meanings should always be left to the individual to grapple with. The show gave us all something to ponder.

  • steve-2304

    “Interesting take on it, INSIDER, but I have less to lose by believing in heaven than you do by not believing in it: If I’m wrong, the worst that will happen is the “big nothing” you mentioned, but if YOU’RE wrong, oblivion will look pretty good compared to your worst case scenario. In other words, belief costs you nothing except about two minutes of prayer a day, while non-belief could cost you EVERYTHING.”That’s all you got? A hedge bet? I’ll take my chances living in the real world thanks. If you think your God will be satisfied with 2 minutes of prayer a day to the point of accepting you into “His Glorious Kingdom”, well then you’re simply a bad Christian.

  • probashi

    I am with Insider9909 (May 28th 9:33 AM).

  • dnickol

    Those asserting “Catholic resonance” will have to explain why in the “flash sideways” world, one of Sayid’s last acts is to murder Martin Keamy. They will also have to explain why Sun seduces Jin. (They are not married.) These aren’t very “Catholic” things to do while awaiting entrance to heaven. Also, the final scene was filmed in St. Clement’s Church in Honolulu, which is an Episcopal church, not a Catholic church.

  • Athena4

    “I’ll bet Locke probably wouldn’t think that mowed down by Desmond in a BMW was probably consistent with a Christian ideal of Heaven or Purgatory, although it might be marginally better than being choked to death by Benjamin Linus.”Actually, the side-verse Locke forgave Desmond for running him down, and forgave Ben for killing him. Ben did not enter the church because he “had more work to do”. He had to atone for the many murders that he committed.

  • talontbo

    The concept of heaven or for lack of a better term, the afterlife, is almost universal among all religions.That this scene was depicted in a church was not at all unusual.What most people missed throughout the final season and especially the final scenes, was what the SidewaysFlashes/Alt Reality really was.It WAS NOT PURGATORY, is was simply a Spiritual Waiting Room.Listening to Christian Shepard talk to his son Jack, it became obvious.”Some died before you, some long after.”It wasn’t until all them them were ready to “move on” that any of them were going to.

  • leafgreen

    “Catholic countries not only over populate, they produce extortionist rebels too.”First of all look at the birth rates of France and Italy: They have such low birthrates they expect it to become a problem financially over the next few decades.Also, as to the “extortionist rebels” comment….. secular communist rebels in Europe ring any bells? In Germany the number of left wing related deaths exceeded the number of neo-nazi ones last year.

  • Krazijoe

    Was the doorman named Charon?

  • hlabadie

    We never saw Heaven in “Lost,” only a mutually-agreed construct in which the dead could find on another. Now, if you want to discuss a TV show that did present Heaven during the resent season, talk about “Supernatural.” In that show, Heaven is each person’s idea of the perfect existence, whatever it might be. And God is a writer.

  • joncsmith3

    What a tangled web we weave when we practice to believe.

  • bether1

    As previous posters have mentioned, the final meeting place of the Lost characters was of their own creation. It wasn’t hell and it wasn’t Earth. Call it purgatory if you want to, but it was a place they created in order to find one another. If the Lost characters created this place it makes sense that it would resemble a place of worship. In our society we generally identify churches, synagogues, mosque, etc. as being places of worship. There was a statue of Mary next to one of Buddha, which was beside the Star of David. The location closely resembles a variety of places of worship. For you, Newsweek, to assume it is a church, you are actually saying more about your preconceptions then you are of the show’s intent. On a side note, as a Lost viewer I can confidently say that I do not have all of the answers; however, I can say pretty confidently that I understood more about the show then you did.While the Island was ‘real life,’ the show is not suggesting that it was the ‘real world.’ It’s not like the island is New York City. The island is in its own category, much like the (for lack of a better word) purgatory you see in the final season. In being in its own category you will see a lot of symbols that would tie the island to Egyptian & Greek religious philosophy, as well as to more western religious methodologies. To singularly focus attention on the final scene of the 6 year show is narrow minded and is not giving enough credit to the show’s creators.

  • Athena4

    “…talk about “Supernatural.” In that show, Heaven is each person’s idea of the perfect existence, whatever it might be. And God is a writer.”And hell is where they play elevator music all day. Or Barry Manilow. :D And the same guy who played Jacob on “Lost” plays Lucifer on “Supernatural”, leading to a lot of in-jokes among those of us that watch both of them. As for Jacob and the Man-in-Black/Smokey, the idea of duelling twin brothers is a specific human meme across cultures. Getting back to my previous post about Eastern religions, you could say that Jacob and Smokey were yin and yang.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    . But those symbols of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism all “fit” in the Catholic Church because our theology sees Catholicism as the fulfillment of different religions.Catholicism fulfills nothing. It twists and undermines the thinking and scholarship of another religion, emptying it of its history.For a freshman read on this, Dr. Arroyo, see Levinas, “Difficult Freedom.”

  • etpietro

    It’s a good thing that Lost presented Catholic themes and not themes of Islam.If that were the case, none of you people who love to rail at Catholicism for no good reason would be able to say anything at all.

  • spidermean2

    Mary-worship evolved from the story of water turned into wine miracle of Jesus, where the slaves or servants came to Mary for her to “intercede”. They have made a doctrine out of the minds of slaves. Catholicism is a SLAVE MAKER. Poverty will surely come to them even without their “vow to poverty”.”.

  • Matthew_DC

    It’s Friday night. The anti-Catholic malcontents and monomaniacs assemble for the ranting hour. Hollywood frequently latches on to some aspect of Catholicism, often with gross inaccuracies. It’s convenient for their writing. I wouldn’t interpret Lost’s finale as anything more than that. I seem to recall Lost dabbled in a mishmash of eastern stuff at times. It creates a certain ambiance, that’s all.

  • spidermean2

    Europe is a doomed continent and thanks to atheism. Atheism is on the rise due to Darwin’s Monkey theory and guess what? Catholicism officially supports Darwin’s Monkey theory. The theory believes that a bacteria thru millions of years will form into a brain.This is more fictional than Batman or Spiderman and yet who do you think would support such scientific stupidity? The devil’s religion of course.

  • lufrank1

    Most ignorant comment of all:Also, megman . . . Psolus’ comment is accurate!The LAST thing that needs publicity or TV based credence in the world is Dark Ages Vatican mythology and superstition.

  • spidermean2

    There are THREE valid reasons why evolution is false. I hope all evolutionists read this so I don’t keep on repeating myself.Reason no. 1 — it is impossible that a single-celled bacteria can become or transform into a two-celled bacteria or into a multiple-celled organism. There is no available science to explain such a fairy tale. This is the myth of evolution.Reason no. 2 – soil and water existed before any living thing existed. It is impossible that those brainless substances (soil and water) can form by themselves a very complex matter called plants and animals. There is no available science to explain that such a transformation is possible. This is the myth of evolution.Reason no. 3 — Science is the study of nature. Engineering is part of that kind of science. Engineers took many years to extract energy from sunlight and even at this moment they are still scratching their heads how plant leaves has been doing it for eons already. The level of intelligence nature demonstrates is just beyond human intelligence. The only probable explanation is the existence of a Supremely Intelligent Creator. With these THREE valid reasons, I don’t think I mentioned faith or religion. EVOLUTION IS A MYTH BASED ON REASON.

  • djmolter

    Surely, “Lost” took place in Hell.

  • singe1

    Wow of all the dumb comment boards on the intertubes this is one of the dumbest. I love the kick off comment “proving” that evolution is a lie. How was that related to the content of the article about the last episode of “Lost”? Or was it just some member of the Texas Board of Ed with extra time on his hands now that he succeeded in guaranteeing Texas a place in the “Stupid Hall of Fame”?

  • Fate1

    This is the type of analysis you get when the author is brought up learning only one religion and is told all things are related to that one religion. If Steve had watched Lost he would have known “Namaste” was how one greeted others on the island, not “may God be with you”. He would have seen ancient egyptian religious symbols. And if he only looked harder at the ending it was clear there was no meshing of religions with an ultimately Catholic view, but instead an afterlife that many religions have tried to explain in their own way. Just consider that sex was not taboo outside marriage as Sawyer/Kate, Jack/Kate, Sawyer/Juliet and many others showed. In Lost sex was not judged on whether those having it were married. In fact, had an arch bishop been on the island, he would have said all were going to hell, Kate, Jack, Locke, Ben, Sawyer, all committed mortal and grave sins. If Steve thinks the Catholic God would accept these people into heaven, people who had killed, stolen, kidnapped, destroyed, then Steve needs to re-examine his religion, what it stands for, how it judges others. Maybe Steve’s religion should learn from Lost, that God is about love, not obeying the shifting rules of men. And spidey, wrap up your web of self deception and go to bed. You ain’t catching anyone with it tonight.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Greetings to the Vatican Apologists:I was wondering when you would show up. And I knew you would since there ain’t no shame in your game.Oregon Catholics just lost the right to sue Vatican Nation for protecting pederasts. The reason? The Vatican is a “sovereign nation.” Why shouldn’t you cheer?But, consider this. The plaintiffs against Vatican Bank, or one set of plaintiffs, the survivors and heirs (SErbian Orthodox, Jewish, and Roma) of 200 Nazi priests are appealing again. The 200 Nazi priests killed their victims with their own hands, owned and managed concentration camps, led their co-Catholics to murder more than 700,000 people. They stole what they had and deposited the loot in Vatican Bank. The plaintiff’s lawyers have vowed to take the matter to the Supreme Court.If they win, the ORegon plaintiffs will have grounds; moreover, the Oregon victims have not ruled out appeal.In addition to being a Sovereign Nation, the Vatican is also a tax exempt religion and hires unregistered foreign lobbyists. It manipulates our legislators and legislation. It shields criminals and its cardinals, eg., William Cardinal Levada (an American, now head of the CDF) lie under oath with impunity and obstruct justice. That would be William Levada, shielder of the largest pedophile ring then in America, the Salesians (aka by law enforcement as “Levada’s boys.”)It takes our tax dollars and violates our laws with impunity. You’ve still got the power, I grant you. But things may change. Both in the law suits here and in those that are proceeding in Europe, your pope’s memo to cardinals on pederasts, has been entered by the plaintiffs into evidence as obstruction of justice.In the British Isles, the petitions against the pope’s visit, the protests against paying 22,000,000 for it grow daily.And Italy, which is again investigating the Vatican for laundering mafia money–this time–200,000,000–is up in arms. It does not want the world’s third largest money launderer (even if it is a Sovereign Nation) on its soil.

  • dleder

    I thought the last episode was rather clear that this was not “heaven” — the characters are in a kind of “Bardo” bride-realm (ala Tibetan Buddhism), working out unresolved karma (as per Hinduism/Buddhism), so that they may become ready to let go and move on to the next stage (represented by the Light).So how can this parallel reality be equated with Heaven?

  • jrovari

    Can I Post now?

  • jrovari

    One story many interpretations all of them are right. Yours mine and everyone else’s. How anyone interprets the lost ending depends on their already existent beliefs, perceptions, and philosophies. This is the show that I saw. For me, everything all hinged on the statement made by Jacob in response to the man in black’s complaining that all people do is argue, fight, and kill, until none are left. Jacob said that everything up to that point is progress. The very nature of life and existence is continuously pushing us towards progress, towards a higher consciousness. It’s inescapable. It makes everything else forgivable. (Not a very catholic or Christian idea)When Ben wanted to go with the man in black because no one else would have him, he was in the darkness. When Ilana said “I’ll have you”(or something like that), even after he killed Jacob, she said “I’ll have you”, she brought him into the light probably for the first time in his life by the simple act of forgiving the unforgivable, and she changed everything. How many times did Ben hear the words “I forgive you”? And each time he became more difficult to hate. Three words, changed him, changed me. I stopped hating him. Anyone can be forgiven, and forgiven with love. Everyone deserves compassion, even Ben. Jacob wanted them to battle the darkness within so they could experience the light. As Jack had to learn, not everyone does it alone. In the end Ben did not join them in the “church” like building, even though he was welcomed. He could have but he CHOSE not to. I think he was still grieving for his daughter and needed to forgive himself. Ben needs more help to believe in himself, in his own light. This is what I took away from the show. Anything can be forgiven – Everyone is deserving of compassion – No one does it alone – Everyone is welcome – you chose. If you believe in nothing after death, you get nothing from the ending. As for the logistics. I don’t think it was heaven; it was just existence without a body. I also think they could be moving on to their next lives, they’ve probably taken this trip together before, but that’s just me.

  • jrovari

    insider9909 You can have the nothing you crave so much right now just by meditating. It’s not a religous thing, it’s just a brain/focus exercise. All the neurologists are studying monks who meditate. When you get past the “i can’t take this a minute longer” phase, it can be blissfuly neutral.

  • areyousaying

    Meanwhile, Ratzinger appoints apologist Timothy Dolin to investigate child abuse in Ireland.The proverbial fox in the hen house.

  • PSolus

    “@Psolus: That comment was not even remotely funny, interesting or worthwhile.”Ouch.

  • twmatthews

    Leafgreen said, “Interesting take on it, INSIDER, but I have less to lose by believing in heaven than you do by not believing in it: If I’m wrong, the worst that will happen is the “big nothing” you mentioned, but if YOU’RE wrong, oblivion will look pretty good compared to your worst case scenario.”————————————-How sincere does your belief sound?

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