|by Krissie Allen
In 1995, Pope John Paul II issued his widely acclaimed encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), warning Christians of an emerging “culture of death.” Pointing to various political, social, and cultural norms that offer a perverse idea of freedom that sacrifices the inherent value of life in favor of individuality, the encyclical affirms that the Gospel of Christ is indeed a Gospel of life. Christians are therefore called to resist the culture of death and embrace a culture that respects, protects and serves every life because “[o]nly in this direction will [one] find justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness.”
At times the culture of death’s attack on life is easy to identify and thereby resist. (One need only ponder the struggle over abortion-rights or euthanasia to see the menacing culture of death at work.) Other times, however, its attack seems more insidious yet equally dangerous. And one of the most recent examples is Netflix’s most tweeted about show geared towards teens:13 Reasons Why.
Based on Jay Asher’s debut novel of the same name, the series tells the story behind the suicide of a young teenager named Hannah, and according to the show’s producer Selena Gomez, is intended to offer an “honest” view of suicide so it “should never be an option.”
With teen depression and suicide on the rise, such a purported intention sounds noble enough. The series’ questionable (if not unconscionable) methodology, however, has proven to be far from noble.
Essentially, each of the 13 episodes reveals a new audiotape Hannah left behind and allows young viewers to progressively uncover (and essentially experience) the multiple mistreatments that led to her tragic decision. Viewers are accordingly lured, episode after episode, into witnessing just about every shocking teen trauma imaginable: Hannah’s homosexual kiss that becomes fodder for teen bullying, her witnessing of a friend’s rape, her own sexual assault and eventual rape, her failed attempt to receive help from a dismissive guidance counselor, and most disturbingly, her final hopeless and graphic act of slitting of her wrists in the bathtub.
Countless experts have already rung the alarm on the show and criticized its depiction of suicide as explicitly dangerous. Everyone from suicide prevention groups, mental health experts, educators, youth ministers, and even mainstream reviewers have warned that the series’ graphic images and sensational plot lines could potentially result in harm to young viewers who have previously dealt with these serious issues and could work to desensitize people to suicidal acts in general.
One initial take away from this controversy for Christians is that the culture of death is very much alive and willing to manipulate young people. It might feign concern for human tragedy and difficulty and might even claim to pursue justice and peace. Unwilling to acknowledge Christ’s love and His redemptive powers, however, its solutions always—always—fall short. Instead of offering hope, it offers despair. Instead of offering love, it offers wrath. Instead of offering faith, it offers skepticism or doubt. And instead of seeking to raise children of light, it seeks to raise children of woe.
The more imperative take away, however, is that our culture is in desperate need of hearing, seeing and experiencing the gospel of life. While Netflix and others of its ilk might choose to capitalize off of teen tragedy and continue to promote shows such as 13 Reasons Why, Christians have unyielding power to combat its influence by living Christ-centered lives that bear witness to Jesus, as The Ultimate Reason Why Not.