Sons of Anarchy and the Rise of Cognitive Dissonance
The hit show "Sons of Anarchy", which is just beginning its final season, centers around a motorcycle club in a small town named Charming Heights. In true outlaw spirit, this club uses illegal means to stay off the governmental radar and live the ‘anarchist’ lifestyle. From gun runs to major cocaine deals with the cartel it seems that the sole aim of all the members is money and more money.
One thing seems certain within the world of bullets and drugs, only the strong and conniving survive. While the club may have started off promoting an extreme form of libertarianism, the ethos changes throughout the life of the club. The rabbit hole becomes darker and more sinister as the gravity of their sins continues to drag them down.
The character that most ebodies this ethos is Jax Teller, the son of a founding member whose past is complicated and horrifying. Jax continually feels drawn to leave the insanity of ‘club life’, making plans to take his wife and children away from constant death threats. While he senses the extremity of his immoral actions, he still regularly finds himself in dire circumstances and allows his lower nature, that of greed, selfishness and lust, to come to the fore. This exemplifies both the danger of a cognitive dissonance, our conscience screaming out to us in our times of deep sin, and our inability to see that our bodily actions indeed form our character. Can a person still be a ‘good person’ even though they have murdered, tortured, and engaged in salacious affairs? Do the actions have consequences deeper than just receiving a cold shoulder from a hurt spouse?
These questions are represented in two ways by the "Sons of Anarchy". On one end, it seems there is a deep well of forgiveness within the club and its families. At one point, members seem to follow Christ’s command to forgive each other seventy times seven. However, even though forgiveness might be given on the outside, grudges and deep hatred swarm within the characters. The show also reveals what happens when a person removes himself far from his actions. Continued drinking, smoking, and getting high serve as covers for the club members as they chase after all sorts of sin. No matter what they do to try and make things ‘right’ in the club ethos, the sins of the past haunt them and require them to dig a deeper grave.
"Sons of Anarchy" should serve as a warning to those who believe their sins do not affect themselves or those around them. The Sons act as the epitome of life disconnected from any search for truth, goodness, or beauty. In their own icon on the back of their jackets we see a skeleton, holding the staff of the grim reaper and a ball of power. This figure hints at the philosophy they base their lives on. While they might indeed gain some sort of fleeting earthly power, they are ultimately dead if they disconnect themselves from the deadly and violent actions that they perform. They have sacrificed the beauty of the God-given Imago Dei by burying it deep within the grime of sin for a dead man’s bones. In this way they mirror the warning of Christ who called the Pharisees, “white sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all filthiness.”
The only saving grace that calls each of the members to remember the transcendent are their children, whether legitimate or not. The club cannot help but be prompted by the children to desire a more ordered life. Family ties and those of the brotherhood are deep and unbreakable on the surface of things, but a little more digging reveals even the closest of brothers are willing to lie, cheat, steal and murder if that means coming out on top. While they may know there is indeed a God, that knowledge does not inform and influence their lives, once again reminding us of the danger of disengaging from reality.
"Sons of Anarchy" offers a bleak picture of life when we allow our darker concupiscence to take hold. But it also reminds us that Christ came to heal, to salve, those areas broken by sin. There is always great hope in the existence of man as this is a sure sign that Our Lord continues to fight for each one of our souls. The Sons of Anarchy are indeed fulfilling their personal philosophy of trying to deny an authority over their lives; however while denying the authority of a loving God, in his place they become enslaved by a power who wants each of them to burn for all eternity.