One of TV’s most acclaimed and best-ranked series is Breaking Bad. Released in 2008, the show details Walter White, an intelligent and college-educated chemist, that teaches high school chemistry. When he is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, Walter becomes desperate for cash to leave his family if he dies.
As a result, Walter and his incompetent partner, Jesse Pinkman, cook methamphetamine and eventually become bigtime producers, but not without their share of hurdles along the way!
Throughout the shows 5 season duration, Walter and Jesse start from novice level dealers to working with a major distributor in the meth business.
All the while, Walter conceals his double life (until he is caught by his wife), and gets his family into the consequences of drug trafficking such as death threats, attacks on his family, and even death!
I couldn’t help but watch the show and come across an area where I think Catholicism had much to uncover which was the morality of Walter White selling meth.
As stated, Walter entered the drug business to make sure his family had financial security if he died during his cancer treatment. Over and over again, he always rationalized his illegal and dangerous activity by using his family as an excuse.
Later on, when his wife, Skylar White, discovered the truth about his double life, again and again, he justified his dealings and decisions as “I did it for the family.”
Yes, the family is a good and noble thing. In fact, The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the family is, “The original cell of social life (2207).” With this definition and understanding, the family is a vital essential!
It’s good to hold the family in high ranking, but where Walter goes astray into sin is the morality of the act.
Examining Our Choices
We all have free will, freedom to choose. With this free choice, comes the morality of our actions.
The morality of an act depends on three criteria the object is chosen (the thing being done); the intention; the circumstances of the action. (CCC, 1750). In order for an act to be deemed moral, all three points must be present (CCC, 1755).
Let’s examine Walt’s behavior using the three criteria:
Object: produced methamphetamine (illegal in the USA)=bad
Intention: providing for his family if he died= good
Circumstances: murdered many people, sold drugs, lied to his family, got his brother in law murdered =bad
A Deeper Law
As we can see, Walt’s actions weren’t morally good. In fact, at the beginning of the series, he has a moral dilemma to murder a drug dealer named Krazy-8.
Walter drew a T-chart with “let him live” and “kill him.” His “let him live” reasons outweighed the “kill him” pretty substantially. One reason listed was “against Judeo-Christian principles” which indicates that Walter had some degree of knowledge of the moral law.
He has some inclination of acts he knows to be wrong and right. This wouldn’t amaze us Catholics because we know that the moral law is written in our conscience that we must obey (CCC, 1776).
One could’ve only hoped Walter applied the same moral conscience to meth production. Strangely enough, once he started down this slope of immoral actions, Walt became vehemently evil.
For instance, he purposely watched Jesse’s girlfriend overdose when he could’ve saved her (season 2) and nearly fatally poisoned an innocent child (season 4).
The list goes on and on the horrors, he committed! If the Church teaches that the more good, the freer you become (CCC, 1733), does it stand to reason then that doing immorality leads to more evil?
The application of Walter White from Breaking Bad for us Catholics is that we should strive to responsibly use our freedom to make moral choices that enable grace to flow in our lives.
When we cooperate with grace, our lives become illuminated by Christ!
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