What Fargo Teaches About Truth and the Church

I recently finished rewatching Fargo Season 3 for the second time since it aired last year, and I have to say, it's still the most poignant and clear commentary I've seen in a long time on the state of our current culture. It's a crime drama told in an eccentric way, full of colorfully caricaturized heroes and villains. To some, it can come off as overstylized, in that, at times it's just flat out surreal. But here's why I bring it up: it constantly exemplifies the heinous effects of forcing our own personal worldviews onto someone who's notably different... much like a round peg in the square hole of "social dynamics." Why is this important? Because, as a Church, we've proven ourselves to be the recluse child in the sandbox who shouts at others for using our sand, when all they’re wanting is just to play a different game on the other end of the box.

A piece I did of Billy Bob Thorton’s character Lorne Malvo from Fargo Season 1

A piece I did of Billy Bob Thorton’s character Lorne Malvo from Fargo Season 1

Fargo is a tv series that is pretty abnormal by today's standards, which is why I think it's been invaluable. I think the main reason for this impact is it's authenticity. It’s not trying to be like any other show, move at another’s tempo, appear like another’s style. It goes against the grain by both articulating and personifying truths that we keep hidden deep in our souls. Rarely is anyone one dimensional or flat. Ever since the first episode aired a few yers ago, the series has maintained a visceral honesty to what the condition of man is: broken, limited, and deceitful, to name a few. So, maybe the question stands: Why would anyone want to watch this when we've already endured such raw desolate depravity like Breaking Bad, or the sad emptiness of others like Made Men? Well, because in Fargo's authenticity, it not only looks at one issue like deceit or selfishness (e.g. Breaking Bad), nor singularly observes just one social perspective on something like adultery or capitalism (e.g. Mad Men), but examines the whole of a certain social dynamic, with all of its intricacies and complexities. (SIDENOTE:  Those other shows are actually quite deep, but still lack both the engagement with the spiritual, as well as the event of seeing polar opposite worldviews clash into one another.) It’s in this that the commentary I mentioned a moment ago is yelling to the viewer. So let me just get to its message for the Church.

In short, Fargo masterfully paints a picture of what's actually happening directly under our noses in our neighborhoods, jobs, and—you guessed it—churches right now: the collision of modernism with postmodernism. I get that some of you might not know what that means, nor probably even really care. But this is something happening all around us. For example, a manager is fired for being too money driven in his job, and is replaced by a more "down to earth" boss. A school quits the race for better state testing scores, and transitions their classroom into a more ethically mindful and socially integrated one. A company like Apple stops focusing on the tech and specs in their ads, turning more to fun and relationships. But who of us are actually thinking through terms like Modernism v. Postmodernism during this??? And aren't those examples... good? Let me take it one step further.

The modern era prizes things like proficiency, progress, and pragmatism, whereas the subsequent postmodern one values nuance, change, and uniqueness. The former appraised efficiency as anything that fosters numerically strong results; the latter, whatever fosters individuality. Again, just like my comments about Breaking Bad and Mad Men, these are crude, one-dimensional descriptions, but they get the point across. So how does Fargo offer us a glimpse into the bigger paradigm shift happening today in our culture, and more specifically, our churches? It brings to life the fights we are constantly having on social media, the employee break room, and the water cooler. It displays the private moments of gossip and judgement that we think we are hiding from others. It shows the slander and animosity that we incidentally embrace in having a staunched monologic presence about us, instead of an open, dialogical one.

Most people I talk to haven't even seen the series. And that makes sense for a few reasons. One, it aired on FX. I mean, who watches stuff on FX?! Anyways, the other is that it plays off of the dark, yet lighthearted, crime movie from the 90s, which itself was fan-splitting. I mean, it was weird. It was a movie that centered around a series of grisly crimes that all took place in the context of a happily quaint suburb in Fargo, Minnesota, where everyone was the exact type of jovial neighbor we all hope for. It's here where the commentary's found: an outside, foreign view comes barreling into a world that was previously satisfied with its singular outlook toward life. And then the dominoes start falling.

The next domino to fall is too often an inevitable consequence from that first encounter with foreign ideas: the native group refuses to see value in the newcomer's perspective. The next is that the two impose their ideals upon the other, refusing to listen to the other—and this goes on and on, ad infinitum. Fargo plays this out by constantly letting the characters argue their worldviews. This third season specifically did so by centering around what truth in fact is. The word metaphysics is one of those $10 words philosophers use that could be omitted by simply saying "what something is in reality" or even “perceived to be in reality.” Season 3 deals with the metaphysics—or reality—of truth. In metaphysics, one important note is that all metaphysical things thought about are being being thought about by a perceiver. So, this is arguably why loved ones argue about what they should eat for dinner, or why friends forget to include others in text threads, or why Cliff Clavin genuinely believed the answer to his Final Jeopardy question should have been "people who have never been in my kitchen."

Don't hear me wrong, objective truth is undeniably a factual reality. Yes, 2+2=4. It always will be. But here's the issue: in logic, there's not just sound and unsound claims. That is, if I have 2 cookies, and you give me 2 more, I don't somehow end up with 5 from that transaction. That would be unsound. Ok, we all know that, and we argue from that easily and often. But the main issue lies in the fact that there's also what's called valid and invalid points, which strictly look at the argument structure... and not necessarily it's "truthfulness." I know, riveting, right? What I mean is that if someone is setting up certain claims (or premises) to make a point, and then states that point (or conclusion) as necessary from those claims, and the final point makes sense according to those claims, it's a valid argument, no matter if it's "true" or not. If the conclusion doesn't follow, then it's invalid. So enough boring stuff, here's the cultural commentary...

We're currently parked in a crossroads in this culture—in a way, a juxtaposition of passing ideals. We live in a time where the old dogma of prohibitional idealism tells us to take the conviction of one person, and make it a law for all people. In a recent article from First Things, William Dailey makes an attempt to open up some dialogue about why some clergy drink alcohol. I found this line to be paramount: "Drinking is not for everyone; few things are." This isn't paramount for the allowance or culpability of drinking alcohol, but about the legalism we often hold over others. Phrases like “You can't watch that,” “You shouldn't listen to that,” or even “Don't be mad,” are proclaimed tirelessly by the Church to the Church. And when asked why, too often we hear the next common phrase, “Because I don't think you should.” When there's too few of Bible verses on an issue, the Holy Spirit beautifully meets our soul with either conviction or peace, however, we’re also often met with a temptation to take that conviction/peace and make a new law for others.

We have these arguments all the time on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. We bark our loud claims at one another, speaking at the person on the other end, rather than with them. The individual consciousness is not some mechanized geyser that merely retains facts, to only then unload them on someone whenever we've “had enough” in some faux attempt to uphold justice or rightness in the name of truth. The crossroads in this scenario is that everything around us right now is for the subjective, autonomous voice (eg. Yelp, Rotten Tomatoes, Amazon reviews, this blog!!!), yet we all have a seemingly valid logic to those opinions. It makes sense for us to give that Uber driver that rating because the experience was (fill in the blank). Have you ever followed a thread discussing whether or not a movie is "good"??? They're maddening! I actually think you go blind if you finish 100% of one.

My point is this: You have an opinion; you shouldn't have to hide it. But, you live in a society of others; you should seek to love them. These aren't mutually exclusive premises, and they’re marriage can be found in this: Love your neighbor as yourself; listen to their view, as you hope they would listen to yours. Smashing into someone else's worldview to run it off the road doesn't prove, solidify, or merit your stance or argument with any more credence than theirs. In other words, letting someone have the mic and asking them questions doesn't nerf or nullify your conviction, but honors them with room without having to give up your own stance.

Whether you've seen the series or not, or think about things like modernism or postmodernism or not, you are in the throes of it. What I mean by that is that you're in a world where there's either a palpable animosity toward subjectivity and/or rebellion against objectivity that's further divorcing the Church from having a relatable, colloquial presence with culture. And I know that some of you might be thinking that we need to die on the hill of objective truth. That's great! It's great in the sense that you have a conviction about objective truth that come from biblical warrant—assuming it does. But the Bible also warrants a friendly ear for those who want to dialogue about reality and truth. Being in conversation—true, humble, non-monologic dialogue—is a harmonious sound. Aid the Church in repairing this fissure with culture, not by being a crusader (I mean... that's actually a metaphor we sadly bolster ourselves by at times), but be a Mother Theresa. Don't be Saul approving Stephen's murder for not following things that he wanted; be like Paul who dialogued with the non-believers at Mars Hill before supplementing with where their beliefs were wrong.