What We Believe & What We Can Prove


Whether it’s finding lost keys in the sofa or watching an episode of Cold Case, humans love a resolved mystery.  What’s a mystery to me isn’t why there are so many mystery shows on Television, it’s how they’ve changed over time.

For years, the only substantial difference between “Perry Mason”, “Murder She Wrote”, “Diagnosis Murder”, and “Matlock” was the starring actor.  Not only were each of the programs nearly perfect carbon copies of one another, they were also nearly perfect carbon copies of themselves on a weekly basis:

1.) Introduction (catchy theme song)
2.) Murder
3.) False accusation by inept young people
4.) Incompetent legal proceeding (more young people)
5.) Casual investigation by friendly elderly hero
6.) Acquittal of the wrongly accused
7.) Thorough, if brief, revelation of the true culprit (Song reprise)

When you sprinkle in commercials featuring funeral insurance, motorized scooters, and Wilford Brimley  you have the recipe for a typical Sunday evening installment… and a surprisingly handgun free murder mystery!

When it comes to investigative drama written for the elderly, the critical moments always revolve around the eyewitness testimony of an actual participant.  In fact the culprit usually breaks down under pressure and gives the viewer all the details, including motivation, behind the crime so that no one is left wondering about what actually happened.

Real life is very rarely like this since many crimes do not feature living witnesses and most criminals lack the self awareness to accurately describe their terrible motives.  Programming has since changed to reflect this by attempting to mimic postmodern “realism”.  In recent years audiences have become familiar with an updated take on criminal procedure:  The science of forensic investigation.

CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, and CSI: Extreme Makeover introduced us to a new television formula where “people may lie but science never does!”  In this format mysteries are rarely solved by interviewing people, they are solved by recreating the conditions present during the crime, and examining the materials produced during the event.  These programs are populated by beautiful young people with tattoos and piercings who solve crimes using the latest technology, fashionable eyewear, and handguns.

But these shows do have a striking similarity:

Whether you are watching CSI, Law & Order, or anything on ION television, the people who interpret the scientific findings rarely draw improper conclusions from their research in the same way that Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot rarely draw the wrong conclusions from their interactions with people.  With both eras of programing someone is able to clearly answer every question as they unravel the mystery to the satisfaction of the audience.  They can always prove what they believe.

Because life is just like this right?

No matter how much we thirst and strive for answers, our reality very rarely reveals them to us.  Last night’s broadcast of the Casey Anthony verdict was yet another painful reminder that even when we choose to document, display, and engage with real life like it’s televised entertainment, actuality very rarely cooperates with us… especially when we trivialize it.

The human condition is simultaneously fascinated by mystery and thirsting for justice.  Unfortunately it also revels in inconsequential drama.  The desire to engage in a tragedy that has very little to do with our own story often leads humans to overindulge in misfortune as entertainment.  When the “program” comes to an unsatisfying conclusion we are capable of reacting as if someone else’s tragedy is also our own.

The story of Caylee Anthony’s death was never going to have a satisfying ending because no verdict could resolve the mysteries involved. There was never going to be a mea culpa or an explanation of motive during the final 15 minutes of the proceedings because, while televised, tragedy is never supposed to be satisfying entertainment, regardless of how often we turn to it for that purpose.

Television programs come to satisfying resolutions because they’re written as a reflection of our deepest desires: We want to know the truth beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Court cases often do the opposite because  jurors aren’t asked whether or not they believe something is true, they’re asked whether or not they have doubts about a possible truth.

If a jury has reason to doubt the facts, they cannot return a guilty verdict in a case.  Successful television shows are generally written in such a way as to remove doubt about anything at all.  The only thing the Anthony Trial Jury knew without a doubt was that they were looking at a pathological liar and a sociopath.  They didn’t have the ironclad evidence to prove that Casey was an unaccompanied murderer.

What they believed and what they could prove were two different things.

The finite qualities of our existence preclude our ability to understand and comprehend everything we experience.  This means that we will always be surrounded by incomprehensible mysteries regardless of our efforts.  To be involved in a mystery is the place of mankind, to understand without a doubt is the place of God.

We write mystery stories because they intrigue us, but we resolve them because people can’t stand not knowing the answers.  Unfortunately we only have this power over fiction.  When I place my faith in mankind I place my soul in the hands of something that can never deliver the answer to any real mystery, just the ones it creates on its own.

The cry of the human heart for what it cannot actually give itself is actually the cry of the human heart for its creator.  The response to the verdict returned on Tuesday  is a sign that no matter how much we traffic in the artificial,  our actual need cannot be filled by mankind alone.  The ONLY hope for justice and truth in this world is Jesus.

It’s what I believe, regardless of how reasonable my doubts can be.

2 Responses to “What We Believe & What We Can Prove”

  1. Sharon O July 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    So many good thoughts, I am saddened that a child was murdered and no one will take the responsibility for her death. It is a tragedy plain and simple. A precious baby is lost forever and the family system who hides the secrets most likely will never tell what they know.

  2. Jon July 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    So true Sharon. I don’t think we want to know how sick this entire situation really was.

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