“A sin eater is a person who has the capacity to sense, draw out, and consume the suffering of others.” Isaac DeLuca Sin Eater.
I watch the Showtime series Dexter whenever I can. Some of my family members have wondered how in the world I can watch this stuff or find in Dexter a sympathetic character. I can because I think that there is a dark place in each and every one of us, as Dexter calls it his “Dark Passenger.” Some of us can squelch this. Some cannot. To me, it’s the epitome of sin and a lack of impulse control that I believe some are born with. Or, as in Dexter Morgan‘s case, was born when we experience a horrifyingly traumatic event. There was a free preview of the channel on all this past week and I spent every night getting through the latest season. What occurred to me as I watched the season finale was that perhaps Dexter serves as his community’s sin-eater, perhaps not in the literally sense as in eating in the presence of a corpse, but in the Scapegoat or Sin-Absorber sense.
In Season 5 Dexter meets Lumen (notice the light reference) who has been tortured and raped by a group of childhood friends, now grown men, who get their kicks by murdering women after such unspeakable acts. Lumen escapes this with Dexter’s help, but spends the season trying to track down and kill the perpetrators. After initially backing away from involvement, Dexter tries to help her eliminate her torturers and together they see what each of them has the capacity to do. Dexter is amazed that he is finally fully seen by another human being and she is not disturbed. Perhaps because, momentarily, she is broken herself. But in almost the last scene of the season finale Dexter does something that struck me as a completely selfless and redemptive act. He grasps Lumen’s head between his hands and kisses her squarely in her third eye chakra between her brows. It’s not a quick peck, but a long drawing out sort of kiss. It is only after this kiss that Lumen feels completely healed from her trauma, and after, I might add, they have indeed tracked down and killed the last perpetrator. Lumen is freed, but Dexter is not. He has not got rid of his Dark Passenger. It is his lot to kill those who harm society, or so he believes.
Despite the ethics surrounding the acts of such a person, it brings up all sorts of religious connotations for me. Are some people destined/doomed to play the bad role? In the Hebrew bible, God is seen as choosing some for evil purposes and some for good. Paul clearly thought that God did this very thing by hardening Pharoah’s heart to accomplish the freedom of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. (Romans 9:17-18) One can also say that Judas Iscariot was destined to betray Jesus, whom the writers of the Gospels thought was known from the beginning as the betrayer (John 6:60-71). However one interprets it, clearly in a foreknown world, some are doomed to be the evil that people hate. Jesus, himself, and his disciples can be seen as “sin-eaters” in the sense that at the last supper, the disciples would be considered eating with “the dead;” Jesus himself. In the Church, priests can perhaps be considered sin-eaters in the sense that, during the Eucharist, we eat Jesus’ body in order to confer grace or absolve us from sins.
Dexter could also be an example of a case of natural selection. There are those who prey on the innocent and those who prey on the prey-ers upon the innocent. It’s natural law or a hierarchical food chain, however one chooses to see it. It could carry religious connotations or it could be simply evolution with human beings as just another animal acting out animalistic ways. It just struck me that Dexter manages to heal all those who come into contact with him, yet he is never healed in the sense that he is always broken, always has a Dark Passenger, and yet we sympathize with him, or some of us do anyway. He didn’t choose to be this way, larger forces did. Some of us can’t choose to absorb the sins and sufferings of others.
- Dexter’s Sara Colleton: “This Is the Last Time We Will Dangle” Deb Almost Finding Out (omg.yahoo.com)
- Previewing Dexter’s Killer Finale (seattlepi.com)
- Preview Clips of Dexter Episode 10 – In the Beginning (dreadcentral.com)
- The Magic Goes Away in World Premiere of Crandal’s Bag (seattlest.com)
One thought on “Dexter Morgan, Absorber of Sins if Not a Sin-Eater?”
First, thanks for making me think – you always do that.
I’m glad that network television feels able to raise these questions as part of its content. I’m even more glad if it doesn’t try and give people pre-packaged answers. If I were a totalitarian despot, I would make everyone watch only political content with which they thought they funddamentally disagreed, but the role of mass media as moral mouthpieces is another story.
The more I start thinking about the notion of sin, the more complicated it gets. A person whose religion obliges observance of rigid dietry laws would consider they had sinned in the sight of their God if they ate the wrong thing, at the wrong time ETC. Such a perceived sin would hurt nobody but God and the transgressor however. Someone who empties someone else’s bank account, or injures someone, physically or psychologically, leaves consequences behind them. If the sinner is pennetant and the sin is forgiven, what of the consequences that remain? I don’t think they can be wiped away, still less eaten by a “sin-eater”.
The scapegoat is an attractive notion – a proxy victim. But my personal feeling is that sacrificial victims, from hapless goats to Jesus Christ, dodge the issue. Ultimately, the sin and its consequences are ours.
Dexter is interesting because he presents us, not with a scapegoat or sin-eater I think, but with someone who has more complicated stuff to deal with than us. “Things could be worse. At least I don’t have to deal with that. How would I feel if I did?” Via a fictional person, we can think about whether there are degrees of murder, depending on whether the victims “deserved” to die, and how richly they deserved it. How strong does an impulse have to be before we can legitimately claim to be unable to resist it? And endless simlarly interesting, if unanswerable questions.
Confused as ever but, as they say, “in a good way”.
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