The Simple Answer to Lost’s Biggest Question

So many posters on this site have such a problem with the religious aspects of Lost, especially the theme of good versus evil. I just read a post where the writer said that Lost is concerned with religious themes, and very rightly described the story of Jacob and Esau, and even said that he or she very much enjoyed the seasons/episodes where religious symbolism was introduced, but then went on to express dismay that the series will end with a simplistic triumph of good over evil. Now this good vs. evil theme is at the heart of Lost as it is in every major religion in man’s history. I agree that lots of situations are shades of gray, and that most people aren’t all good or all evil. BUT to say that evil doesn’t exist is ignoring all of history. I can’t speak for all religions, but as a Christian I believe that God didn’t create evil—he gave man FREE WILL to choose to do good or evil, and when man chooses evil (like flying planes into buildings and killing innocent people, or committing child abuse or mass murder a la Hitler or Pol Pot) it’s not God’s doing. It’s God giving man the choice to do what he wants that creates the evil. That’s how I see Jacob, he’s allowing people to look at their lives, and their situations, and to choose the right way, without having Jacob spell out for them exactly what to do. The Man in Black isn’t really a person at all—he’s the personification of all the evil that can exist in man’s heart that, if left unchecked, would doom mankind.
Okay, you say, what about someone who’s been wronged their whole life–bad childhood, bad marriage, etc.–and they go out and commit a crime like murder or theft, aren’t they not really evil but just reacting to their bad situation? Aren’t they justified in their bad choices because of their misfortune? I say no–I say they can be redeemed, they can turn away from their past and start anew. (Sound familiar?) How many times have you heard a story about someone from very unfortunate circumstances pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make good? About adults who have been abused as children NOT repeat the past and become model parents? There has to be some sort of moral compass that we as human beings and society at large subscribe to in order for us all to live in peace, whether on a magical tropical island or in the mundane place we call planet earth.
This whole series is a wonderful allegory for mankind’s condition, and if we understand the underlying message, then all the details about time travel, whispers, dead/undead?, are irrelevant. Certainly they add to the reason we keep coming back week after week to watch, but the big picture really is very simple.

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Hi everyone! We are a mother/daughter team who love LOST! Our comments are sometimes only one of us and sometimes a joint effort, so forgive us for any inconsistencies!

37 thoughts on “The Simple Answer to Lost’s Biggest Question

  1. nice, well said.

    The problem is increased Atheism in modern society, so many viewers find it too antiquated a reasoning for such a tv show. And that is fair enough. But your argument (about evil’s frequency in our own/mankind’s history overcomes this). As another user suggested, religion (christianity) is merely a part of the stories background. Egyptian mythology, buddhism etc also express this balance between right and wrong, good and evil.

    I think it works really well on the show.

  2. Personally, I’m directly anti-religious, but this is not the place to have religious debates I guess.

    Anyhow, I want to point out that Jacob is directly responsible for the misfortune of all the people he brings to the Island. He is using his mysterious powers for his own reasons. There is no free will involved from most of the participants in his little game. Who is this Jacob guy to decide that these people need to have their morals tested and judged by unknown critera that typically result in disaster for everyone involved.

    I’m also in general very skeptical to the of “evilness” as an explanation of things. I seriously doubt that when someone steers a plane into a building, their last thought is “Victory for Evilness!”.

  3. I totally agree with you. A lot of people will be very disappointed in the outcome of the show because it will turn out to simply be a good vs. evil theme.

    I can see what you are saying about choices being up to the individual. I didn’t have an ideal childhood or ideal parents, but turned out (i believe) pretty well adjusted. I give all the credit to the choices I have made. Just like sawyer says, you have that moment when you have a choice to be either a criminal or a cop.

  4. Of course you are right. I believe in god, but more in a spiritual way.

    The problem is the same as that which you mention. How can God allow sooo much suffering and sacrifice in this world when he is all powerful and can change it with a click of his fingers.

    Not a place for religious debate agreed!! 😉

    But in Lost, we dont know Jacobs story yet, so he may not be some godlike figure – although everything points to that. He may be a time traveller (which people have not liked in other theories) and merely a human. If his decisions and maniuplations are for his own purpose (locking smokie on the island) then it is incredibly selfish.

    But if it is in the best interest of the Losties and the rest of the society (because it saves their real lives off-island in the “real” world) then perhaps it is a sacrifice worth making right?

    For example, the sacrifice made by millions of British, American, Polish etc allies during the 2nd world war had to be done because of the severe threat Nazism brought to all humans and their children around the world.

    Nobody wanted to die and fight and get shot, but they did it to protect their children and their future children.

    From this perspective jacobs manipulations are necessary.

    But we havent seen enough yet to prove that!! more episodes needed!

  5. Good post Imisscharlie. I just did a similar post about the struggle between Jacob and Smokey being the struggle between Good and Evil within everyone and I found in the responses that people do not want the meaning of Lost to be that simple. Like it or not, Good vs. Evil is at the core of human existence. And what makes us unique from the animals is that we can choose between the two.

    I like your example of a person who has a bad upbringing and ends up commiting murder and other crimes. Although it is true that they had a bad circumstance while growing up but there still is nothing that makes them commit the crime except for there choice to do so. In Lost we see Sayid deal with a similar struggle throughout the show. And he has made a decision to through in with evil in the form of Smokey. He can still make a choice to say NO to the temptaion Smokey has given him and choose good in the end. When he admits and takes responsibility for his previouse actions that is when he will be redeemed.

    Really good post Imisscharlie

  6. If Jacob’s task is to keep Smokey on the Island because otherwise the world will end or something like that, then I agree that the goal may justify the means.

    But we know that Jacob is not only guarding Smokey. Jacob is also trying to prove Smokey wrong by bringing people to the Island and put the people through some sort of moral test.

    It doesn’t make sense at all. If you want to continue the comparison between Team Jacob and the WW2 Allies, it would be like the Allied leaders had sent their soldiers (and why not the rest of the people as well) towards the Nazis without any sort of training or guidance, just to see how they would do on their own.

    Jacob is beginning to seem very unhuman to me.

  7. A powerful and brilliant film is Capote and my favourite line is when Truman Capote himself says:

    “It’s as if we grew up in the same house together and I walked out the front door and he walked out the back,”

    He is speaking about the murderer, Smith, a central character he writes about in his book In Cold Blood.

    He (Truman) had a tough childhood as did Smith. But they took different routes (different doors out of the house of life) after this traumatic childhoods. One became a world famous writer and the other ended up leading a degenerate, sinful life and imprisoned.

    Sounds so much like Lost, and about the choices human beings take.

  8. I find it highly immortal to push people into situations where they may have to make sacrifices.

    When a leader sends his (unwilling) troops into a war to die and then thanks their families for their sacrifice afterwards, it’s largely hypocracy in my view. The leader might as well say “It was really worth it. Rather them than me.”

  9. ilieintheshadow- well said!
    i dont think reducing the show to a religious preaching is doing enough of a justice to it. i think there is more to jacob and smoky than simply good or evil. i dont think we have been given any evidence to show us that jacob is perticularly good or that smoky is perticularly evil. if anything, as ilieintheshadow said, jacob is the one that influenced all the “evil” decisions made by the losties. if as you say god gives free will, then jacob is the “anti-god” since he controls their fate by influencing it.
    i think a lot of things have influenced the show, including a lot from christianity, but i dont think it’s fully based on any one religion in particular.

  10. Nachochris, even twins do not have exactly the same experiences, health status, etc, and I assume that Truman and Smith didn’t either.

    I guess I don’t have to say that I’m a bit skeptical to the concept of free will as an explanation for anything at all as well. 😉

  11. wow in the time it took me to type up my comment this conversation had taken a completely different turn. what you all keep calling good and evil, you are actually talking about nature vs nurture, it has nothing to do with a person being “good” or being “evil”. what you are all talking about is whether the type of person someone is based on who they are genetically or if they way they have been brought up affects their personality and future decisions.
    and really what the heck constitutes a “good person” and an “evil person” anyway

  12. ObsessedWlost, I think that “good/evil” is just a variant of “good/bad”. All people and animals have these ideas of good and bad things – partly inherited genetically and partly learnt through experiences. That’s it.

  13. ok one more thing and i’ll stop. what we see as good and evil arent necessarily what other people see as good and evil. imisscharlie, as you say people who crash planes into buildings are evil, well the only reason those people crashed the planes into the buildings is because they thought americans were evil. so in real life, just as in Lost, the interpretation of who’s good and who’s evil is based on the person’s perspective. so for the show to be this one huge morality tail would be pretty dumb. (obvi i am not condoning any acts of terrorism, it’s just an example)

  14. Of course the almightly Jacob (or whoever is in charge) can decide for himself what he thinks is Good(tm) and Evil(tm).

    But I don’t see how the writers will be able to pull this off without making fools of themselves in the eyes of… well, me. 😉

  15. This is a well written post, and it was an enjoyable read but….

    obsessedWLost and Ilie….

    Well said on both comments. I pray that these writers don’t try and define good and evil for all of LOST’s viewers, and make it the crux of the show.

  16. Agreed, this is a well-written and well-thought out post. I am also hoping for something a little more complex in terms of the show’s definition of good and evil – it isn’t always black and white.
    However, Ilie, Chief, and Obseessed, I strongly believe that our writers and directors have the talent, and the guts, to go against the current cultural grain which says that morality, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are relative terms. To say that they shouldn’t takes away their God-given right to create something/write a show that makes you question why you believe what you believe about these ideas.
    What Abrams, Lindelof and Cuse have created in LOST is successful because it is different from most other television shows we’ve seen – they’ve had the balls from the beginning to do something different and say something different. So.. let’s let them tell it they way they’ve envisioned it.

  17. Wow, thank you all for such a spirited debate! Nachochris, chuckfan and Achalli, I thank you for your compliments on my post.

    Ilie–I have lots of answers to your comments:
    1. This site is EXACTLY the place for a religious debate! It’s one of the themes of the show! I think we can debate, and agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable, no?

    2. You say that Jacob is inhuman–well maybe you’re right. Just as the MIB isn’t a real person, but the personification of evil and temptation, then maybe Jacob isn’t a real person either. He represents all your life experiences, events that “test” your morals each and every day, that ask you to make all the choices that make you who you are. If that’s unfair, then you’re right, life is unfair.

    3. Your 3rd comment regarding “anger, fear, hate, rage” is really interesting. All of those are negative emotions that destroy us and others when we let them take us over and we can’t get past them. They gnaw at us from the inside, destroying our souls and our spirits and as such are the very definition of evil.

    4. Regarding leaders who send troops into war for specious reason, you are right, they are hypocrites and evil. War is horrible, and the only reason for it is in abject self defense.

    5. Animals live totally on instinct–they are not capable of good or evil as we know it. That’s what separates us from them.

    6. Your last comment about Lost appealing to some and not others is purely a matter of taste–that type of choice isn’t really relevant to the discussion.

    ObsessedwithLost–I certainly didn’t mean to reduce the story to “religious preaching” or to any one religion. Let’s say you are anti-religion, an atheist, or an agnostic, you can still choose to live your life on the side of the “good.” (Plenty of religions, and religious people commit sins and crimes–they’re not perfect by any means.) However, you, the people around you and the world at large will all benefit from those who choose good over evil.

  18. Obsessed, I understand what you’re saying about the terrorists and the 9/11 attacks on America–my question is, IF they believe Americans are evil, is that really the way to deal with it? Killing innocent Americans, as well as many other citizens of many other countries? AND doing it in the name of God? That’s very twisted and sick in my mind. And it goes to the question asked many times here–do the ends justify the means?

  19. imissedcharlie, I really enjoyed your post. I especially like what you pointed out in your comment #20 which seems to sum things up quite nicely.

    Acts of overt evil or acts of heroism or ‘saintly’ behaviour are much easier to define. It is the every day acts of good and evil that are much more subtle that make it difficult to define a human being in totality and/or pass judgment upon them.

    When we first meet ‘the losties’ we learn that they have committed some pretty questionable acts. As we learn more about them as people and what truly ‘lies in their hearts’, it is easier to understand the acts they have committed and know if they are genuinely seeking redemption.

    I am viewing Jacob and Nemesis’ actions in a similar manner. Until we learn what their motivations are, I don’t think we can say with certainty who will finally rest on the side of good or evil. Knowing ‘the intent’ is essential to making that determination. I think Dogen’s remarks to Sayid summed that up best.

    I believe that the writers are challenging viewers and our understanding of what good and evil means to us as individuals and to see beyond mere appearances.

    Whether we are left to our own devices to make that final assessment is unknown. The very fact that they have us thinking and talking about this subject is likely something they wanted us to take from the show.

    Thanks for your thoughts and for posting this. Great discussion and points.

  20. I’m coming in here a bit late and after reading the original theory, think that a comment of mine in another post sparked it. Pure evil and pure goodness don’t exist. It is all about perspective – on the 9-11 stuff, imisscharlie, aren’t the people in the middle east who have been repeatedly bombed (terrorised) by the US, where innocent muslim civilians have been killed – before 9-11 happened – just as justified in wanting to take revenge, and isn’t that exactly what the US did after 9-11? So is the US pure evil? I don’t think so, I don’t agree with any of those actions, but pure evil? ilie, it’s been like hearing myself reading your comments :).
    I’m going to say something quite controversial here and before I start I want to make it clear that this is NOT my perspective but a way to show how different perspectives change ideas of good and bad. Hitler was a great man, he determined that the Jewish and gypsy races would overrun the world and infect us all with their dirty blood. To stop this and save the world, we need to eliminate them, keep them contained and trapped in concentration camps for the betterment of the world.
    If we just take Hitler’s word on this, then he is good and the Jewish people are evil. I don’t think any of us would agree to that at all, but many people did in the 30s. Story sounds a lot like Jacob (Hitler) and MIB doesn’t it? Not saying this is the case but wanting to demonstrate how we can’t just allocate two dimensional labels to people – especially when we don’t even have all of one side of a story let alone both sides.
    On a religious front, even Christian’s ‘evil’ isn’t really pure evil either, an angel of god, sent to test and tempt. The way we swing ourselves is down to a whole pile of things, genetics, environment, socialisation, location… and how that temptation is taken is different in all of us, the grey, but someone who is white or black (with no good at all in them) I haven’t seen that at all through history, dark grey yes, very dark grey at times but not black.

  21. imisscharlie, just to reiterate what most people have said, a very good and concise post. And like Dabs I like your reply to the comments. You’re right, it’s exactly because of shows like this that people are able to debate the taboo subjects of today. Whether religious or not, humanities moral values affect all of mankind. Unfortunately until modern times religion was the only forum for ‘discussion’ of the themes of right and wrong. And for so long there’s been a growing disillusionment with the answers that religions gave. Instead now people all over the world from different backgrounds are able to come together on sites like this and networking sites, to discuss their values and views on life and its meanings. I’ve loved reading the passionate postings on this site (the more incoherent the bette), because I’ve been able to see the beautiful ‘tapestry’ of views that make up our wonderful world. Mmmm ‘tapestry’ I wonder…..Jacob, tapestry, interesting.

    Also, lots of books have been referenced in the show as well as all the myths and religions, and I think that’s the writers telling us that the answers we don’t get from the show are out there, if we make the effort to go and find them.

  22. I think the writers (partially) in having all the religious symbolism in Lost show that all religions have beliefs in common. Also that alot of really cool stories and ideas have come out of humanties many belief systems and can help tell what has been a pretty damn good story so far.

    Good and evil are always a persons perception. Tas brought up Hitler as an example of EVIL. Yet, there are people today who still believe him to be the greatest man who ever lived. I doubt very much that we could pick one thing that everyone (in the world not on this site) would agree is an example of pure evil.

    I want to say what I write next is not trying to pick a fight or belittle christianity. Just trying to make a point.

    Imisscharlie you bring up the fact that being a christian makes you believe that God gave you freewill to choose good and evil. What christian background is that? Many christian belief systems don’t even care what type of life you lived as long as you accept Jesus as your savior before you die it’s ok, your going to heaven! The other way EVERY christian belief system works is that if you don’t accept Jesus then your going to hell no matter what. I see no freewill in a believe this or else proposition. All I see are scare tactics. Individuals within the churches might not believe these things but their religions do.
    So if you believe in freewill it’s not because of your christian beliefs.

    The big quetions of Lost are not going to be answered on the show. Freewill vs. predestination, good vs. evil. If this site is still going next year, people will still be arguing about it.

  23. I don’t think that even Hitler is pure evil. On a similar point to Roland, someone talked about Richard spreading the word of Jacob in another post and it rang massive dogmatic alarm bells for me. The similarities between Jacob and god are interesting and from my perspective not in a good way. They have the power to interviene but don’t, they put people in situations that cause pain and suffering, well spread the word. Ut if you don’t live up to their expectations punishment ensues. How is that good? As you may tell I’m not Christian partly because some of the most horrific things I’ve seen done inthe world have been done in the name of Christ. Just because you believe yu are more right or good than another group, does that justify war, hate and discrimination? There is no common understanding of what even constitues good or evil so how can there be a simple answer to the most complicated issue of humanity?

  24. Hmmm..these comments are so long, to be honest I skimmed them (sorry, guys). Just wanted to ad my 2 cents..

    I don’t think people mind that good v. evil is taken from religious ideology/texts’s just that it is TOO expected and simple of a theme overall. Although, Lost does a great job complicating them and making them more interesting.

    To whoever said that animals live purely on instinct..I would disagree. I would say, yes they LARGELY do, BUT there have been cases of animals committing suicide (google it if you don’t believe me). That’s not instinctual AT ALL… it goes against self preservation.

  25. I’m not the one who created the referenced post (Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, B&W, those are not such simple matters). I’m a “HE” by the way LOL :).

    Let me say that I won’t disagree with anything said, am I just glad that people are paying more attention to the matter of religion and that such great discussions have came up. I think I agree more with ilieintheshadowofthestatue’s idea, but all ideas are welcome and the important thing is to discuss.

    Very great comments have been posted here.

  26. Hi all! Can’t believe this discussion is still going on!
    Dabs–first of all I’m very flattered by your response–you are one of the legendary posters on this site!
    I agree that the extremes of good and evil are much easier to define than the more subtle decisions we are faced with daily. I also agree with you that until you know the whole story, you cannot fairly judge someone else’s actions. For example, Kate’s murder of her “stepfather”. Even after we discover the reason for her actions, the fact remains that she still did commit murder, something that I believe is always wrong. What we need to find out now, before the series ends, is if she can redeem herself by her actions. Is she truly sorry for what she did and is she willing to repent, maybe by a heroic action for someone else? We’ve already seen her charity to Claire in wanting to reunite Claire with Aaron, so maybe there is hope for her.

    Tas–I disagree with you–pure evil and pure good DO exist–think of Hitler and Mother Teresa–but there are SO many situations where it’s difficult to judge. Your comments about Hitler really disturb me. The premise that anyone (Jew, Muslim, Black, White) could have “dirty blood” that will contaminate the world is a frightening and fraudulent assumption. It has led to so much warfare and chaos that I couldn’t ever accept it. And the people who did accept it in Europe of the 1930s were just as complicit and misguided as was Hitler.
    As to your comment that God puts people in painful, suffering situations, I think that’s just random bad luck–being caught in the evil web of others who chose the wrong way. God isn’t a magician who can control every aspect of everyone’s life.

    Roland–I disagree with your point about Christianity and free will. When it says to accept Jesus Christ as your savior, I take it to mean to live your life as Jesus would, that is, to follow his teachings. Love each other, treat others how you want to be treated, turn the other cheek, sacrifice for the good of others, forgive those who have wronged you–don’t be vengeful, and ask for forgiveness for your transgressions. It doesn’t mean that you go around like a holy roller spouting scripture all day! There’s a hope that exists in Christianity that you can sin, but you can always be redeemed/saved if you choose to examine your conscience and become truly sorry for your sins. I ask you–what’s wrong with that?

  27. The comment about Hitler was my point exactly – now, with hindsight we wouldn’t even think that BUT many, many people did, not because they were complicit but because they believed what they were told by someone they trusted. Should they have trusted Hitler, no, but they did and went to war because of these beliefs. Aren’t the people who are taking Jacob’s word for it that MIB is evil incarnate just doing exactly that – prepared to believe with littel, even contradictory evidence? Organised religion has been the cause of most of the wars and horror in our world. Unbelievably awful things are done in the name of gods – thoses who are supposed to represent the good in a belief system. Nothing is nice and simple.
    On Hitler and Mother Theresa, I agree that they are pretty close to the edges of good and bad, but to say purely? With no, none, not any little bit of good or bad within them? That’s not reasonable, a guy on another post bought up Mother Theresa doubting her faith at times, that’s not considered good by her beliefs. Hitler made arrangements for the people close to him to take the cyanide pills with him. You may say that that isn’t good to help people kill themselves, but when you think about what they would have faced when the allies overran Berlin, that was pretty thoughtful, he could have just considered himself.

    Now please don’t get me wrong, i am not in any way shape or form a hitler advocate, his actions and beliefs are disgusting, I am using him as a way to show that even with him, there is good, that just because someone says something you don’t have to believe it. Sin is not universal so how can there be a simple understanding and representation of pure good and evil?

  28. Imisscharlie, thank you for your answers.

    I have my view on good/evil and you have yours. To me, there is no intergalactic struggle between Good/God and Evil/Devil. To me, it is obvious that people are just a form of apes. Therefore, I just look at animals when I want to understand people. Then I understand why some Jihad fighters and some U.S. presidents react in the same childish ways when they feel that someone stepped on their turf – they stamp the other one as “evil” and then it’s clear that the other one needs to be eliminated. (Come to think of it, the Losties’ name for The Others seems relevant here.) To me, it is clear that the concept of “evil” is just a simplification and personalization of everything that is a threat to the individual and his group. Our brain constantly seeks patterns in its environment, but assuming that we are just apes there is nothing to guarantee that we come up with the correct explanation – any explanation that will serve well to keep us alive will do from a biological perspective. Beliefs in gods and devils are examples of these personalizations. Based on this, I guess it is clear that I don’t see any absolute good or absolute evil, and I don’t think that Hitler is pure evil and Mother Teresa is pure good.

    In the end (of the show), it will matter more what view Jacob/MIB and the writers have on this topic, I guess. Apparently, personally I hope that they will go for a more intriguing story than just yet another good/evil epic.

  29. To both Tas and Ilie–you have some very good and compelling points for your views, and I appreciate hearing them in such a civilized and courteous manner. Wouldn’t it be great if all world leaders and countries and religions could be as calm and rational as we all are on this site in discussing our differences!

    I understand what you both say in regards to absolutism–however, maybe I’m just hoping against hope that goodness will eventually win out both in Lost and in Life. I guess we’ll see in a few short months how Lost will end, but as far as Life goes, time will tell over the very (I hope) long run!

  30. I’m quite optimistic about goodness winning out in Lost, if we by that mean e.g. that Smokey will not be able to start slaughtering/claiming everyone outside the Island.

    It will be quite interesting to see if Lost has something more to say about all the people who died on the Island because Jacob brought them there.

  31. I to want to see goodness ‘win’ I just don’t know that we are going to agree on which side is the good side. I’d like Jacob to stop screwing with people’s lives for his own game (got that now that he’s dead 😉 ) I guess using the WW2 analogy, the Allies thought that the good side won, the German’s didn’t.
    I do like the idea of Lost theorists solving the world’s problems on a forum. It does make you wonder why the leaders of the world can’t just say ‘let’s agree to disagree and leave each other alone.’

  32. I don’t think there is anything wrong with what you say imisscharlie. That is basically how I live my life, I just do it without saying it’s because I’m this or that religion. My point was religion doesn’t teach that. My son is studying to be a minister, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to argue this point with him, and he agrees with me that somewhere along the line christian hierarchy went wrong.

    Just to throw a wrench in the works though when Jesus said “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW” what the heck is that all about?

  33. Roland, you are referring to Matthew, Chapter 10, Verse 35 of the New Testament. After reading it in full context, I take it to mean that what Jesus was preaching was taken to be so revolutionary, so radical, that he said that Christians would be severely persecuted for their beliefs. And he was right–they were and are still to this day. So he told them to be prepared, that his teachings would be very divisive, even dividing families. He goes on to state that what goes on in this world is irrelevant to what will happen after death. So if you live your life solely for your pleasures and treasures on this earth, you will lose out in the next. He was not advocating dissent, he was merely predicting what would happen when people disagree.

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