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Why did Mal lose his faith?

Octavia

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In the first episode of Firefly we see that Mal has faith in a God/his angels. Later, the shepard asks why does Mal think that "belief" means "on high". How and why did he lose his faith?
 

Taake

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I think it is losing the war too, because I think, on some level, that Mal truly feels that ”evil” won. Not just a simple enemy. Losing the war was tantamount to be abandoned by God. If we think Old Testament/Hebrew Bible the Israelites are crushed/exiled by their enemies when they themselves have failed God, but Mal felt like he was on the side of good, the righteous, so it doesn’t make sense that they’d be allowed such a crushing defeat by evil.

Bottom line, I think he still has faith, technically, but cannot make sense of how evil was allowed to win. One could say that he’s in a crisis of faith of sorts.
 

thrasherpix

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IIRC, Mal was to be the scifi version of a defeated Confederate (a Southerner in our 19th century Civil War) who then has to make his own way.

Many in the Confederacy believed God was on their side which is why they were going to win despite being poorly outfitted compared to the industrialized North. I'd share some details but it could make this political since some people still romanticize that time (heck, maybe even Joss Whedon does for one reason or another, perhaps even buying into how the primary reason was state's rights and ignoring just how many were forced to fight they had no personal interest in, though the latter is true on both sides).

Point is, religion was a major factor in motivations, and it's also when the Southern Baptists split from the Baptists here in the USA over interpretation of scripture and why the South was with God while the North was not in the Southerner view (the North also believed God was on their side, and there is a cynical saying about how God favors the side with the biggest guns, though it's not always true, see our American Revolution, or consider how the Vietnamese and Afghanistan remain free nations, at least in their view, today in spite of not having the biggest guns). They truly believed they fought for God and that God would sustain them.

The industrialized North had everything going for it and its victory shouldn't have been a surprise. Even Sam Houston, a war hero who helped Texas break away from Mexico, said it was a doomed war for the South (which, along with other sensible things he said, got him into trouble). But those who believed in the war believed God was on their side and that they fought for God, and so the loss must've felt like a gut wrenching betrayal, as I'd say Mal felt (though I'm sure many others saw it as a test of faith, and even to this day there are people who say the "South will rise again" and actually mean it).

Since then, a woman told me she learned in her religious school that slavery was obviously wrong because the North won as otherwise God wouldn't have allowed the North to win. I've read it in a book, too. That is there are people who believe the reason the North won is because God was on their side. (I guess it shouldn't surprise me given how many also thank God for their favorite sports team winning as well, never mind all the work and training that goes into it.)

Btw, I just remembered something you might like. It's the War Prayer by Mark Twain. It wasn't allowed to be published when he first wrote it for what I think are obvious reasons. Here's hoping you like it:

 

Octavia

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I'd like to see Mal now - after Book's passing, and look into if he has reflected on his dying words since Serenity. I feel that sort of thing could change a guy like Mal. I am not so on board with the idea that he rejected God cos he felt that God abandoned him in the war, I'd consider it more that Mal was driven into a life of crime and moral grey to survive and that felt more like a betrayal than anything. It feels like a child chucking a tantrum if one was to turn their back on belief simply because they didn't get their own way. Although we have seen Mal act childish at times!

I think he still has faith, technically
Yes, I think so too - which is why Books words may have changed something within him. What do you think?

Point is, religion was a major factor in motivations, and it's also when the Southern Baptists split from the Baptists here in the USA over interpretation of scripture and why the South was with God while the North was not in the Southerner view
Ahh! That is a bit of a history lesson for me. Many seem to think the differences in denominations are not large, but they really are. The southern baptist churches appeared bordering on extremism to me, even before I knew this information. I have grown to see that my understanding does not follow any interpretation specifically - perhaps the result of such a rich childhood in being exposed to such a wide range within the christian faith. I think I may have to read that link a few more times to grasp it - it sets a stunning scene. Thanks for linking it :D American writers are rarely discussed in WA.

Old Testament/Hebrew Bible the Israelites are crushed/exiled by their enemies when they themselves have failed God, but Mal felt like he was on the side of good, the righteous, so it doesn’t make sense that they’d be allowed such a crushing defeat by evil.
My understanding is that God was not involved in such trivial things like earthly war once he sent Jesus to set the record straight... er. I am starting to think there is way more to this topic than I initially realised! Mal now lives a life in poverty to stay true to himself rather than submit to the work of the central planets. He still thinks he is taking the high ground. Wait, does that contradict my first point? Help me out here haha.
 
thrasherpix
thrasherpix
I want to add that the Southern Baptists of today, for the most part anyway, have become different since the 19th century as it adapts to the times. Heck, even modern Lutherans in Germany seem to have little in common with German Lutherans of WW2

Taake

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. I am not so on board with the idea that he rejected God cos he felt that God abandoned him in the war, I'd consider it more that Mal was driven into a life of crime and moral grey to survive and that felt more like a betrayal than anything. It feels like a child chucking a tantrum if one was to turn their back on belief simply because they didn't get their own way. Although we have seen Mal act childish at times!
I suppose I don't see it as a temper tantrum for not getting his own way, more a deep crisis of doubt for not understanding what went wrong/why this is happening. He wouldn't be the first to ask, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

My understanding is that God was not involved in such trivial things like earthly war once he sent Jesus to set the record straight... er. I am starting to think there is way more to this topic than I initially realised! Mal now lives a life in poverty to stay true to himself rather than submit to the work of the central planets. He still thinks he is taking the high ground. Wait, does that contradict my first point? Help me out here haha.
This is more literal than I intended to suggest. But let's sort through it and I'll see if I can make sense of my thoughts. I didn't mean to imply that God got literally involved in the war, just to point out the logic of the Bible. The Israelites were part of "the first covenant" which Jesus fullfills and creates a new covenant (Hebrews 8:13), which kind of upends the whole tradition by nixing the need for sacrifices, because Jesus is the eternal sacrifice. I.e. where the Israelites would sacrifice a 1000 goats to God for good fortune in battle, e.g., a Christian would not as the new covenant is faith based. Meaning what is required of you is to perservere in your faith in God. The logic of the old covenant still holds though - if you fail the covenant of God, God will turn his back on you. Some kind of punishment is implied if you fail to live up to the covenant, in this case I would think of it more as God's grace being taken from you, rather than God actively letting your enemies win.

Mal has faith, he believes he is fighting for a righteous cause, that God is on their side because they are perservering in the faith. When his side loses the war he is thrown into a crisis of doubt because evil has won.

Which means either that
a) he failed the covenant by not perservering in the faith, though he thought he did
b) he didn't have the right faith, which means he has to adjust to the idea that something he believes is truly wrong is either supported by God, or allowed to happen by God
c) that God is utterly indifferent and thus, passively, allows evil to happen.

As you point out, though his side lost, Mal refuses to bow to the ideology of the central planets, meaning he still believes he was of the right faith. Basically, I think Mal believed so fervently in the righteousness of his side, that he cannot intellectually (or emotionally) accept the defeat. He cannot reconcile his faith in good (and God) with reality before him. Therefore he is failing in faith because reality is overpowering his convictions in good, and he is at a crossroads where he could turn his back on it completely.

Again, I don't think this is a tantrum for not getting his way, it's about struggling to understand that what he believed was God's way, maybe wasn't.

We see him start to grow and change though, no doubt his crisis would eventually be resolved, but at the time of the show, I feel like he is still very much at the height of pain and sense of betrayal. He's only human after all, perhaps the big picture makes it worth it, but that is hard to grasp when you're in the middle of it.

Did that make any sense? :)


Yes, I think so too - which is why Books words may have changed something within him. What do you think?
I think Books whole presence changes him actually, because it forces him to confront his own faith, or supposed lack thereof.
 

Octavia

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To say that he lost his faith just because he lost the war seems simplistic and dismissive. Maybe I just thought one who has accepted faith, would know better than to lose hope after such a trivial/human set back. Without losing the war, he never would have met River, and in essence - freed the world. As you said, there was a bigger picture to his life.

sense of betrayal
Yeah, the sense of betrayal in my opinion was the life he led after the war. During the war he was betrayed by his own side when left in Serenity valley, after the war he was forced to sin to survive. Like, I think his loss of faith was to do with more than just losing the war. My wonder if it is the sin that led to the faithlessness, then onto the loss of direction coming to head when River arrives on the ship.

just to point out the logic of the Bible. The Israelites were part of "the first covenant" which Jesus fullfills and creates a new covenant (Hebrews 8:13), which kind of upends the whole tradition by nixing the need for sacrifices, because Jesus is the eternal sacrifice. I.e. where the Israelites would sacrifice a 1000 goats to God for good fortune in battle, e.g., a Christian would not as the new covenant is faith based. Meaning what is required of you is to perservere in your faith in God. The logic of the old covenant still holds though - if you fail the covenant of God, God will turn his back on you.
Mostly I agree, some believe the sacrifices were never supposed to be literal, only symbolic like much else in the bible but misunderstood by humankind. The perseverance goes beyond this life. Even if the war didn't go his way, it doesn't mean that it is Gods end plan, the faith is in the trust of a better future. Satan's attacks come in all forms, losing the war wasn't a punishment from God, it was an act of evil which can not be avoided in the current situation of sin. God doesn't save literally, he saves spiritually. Did Mal really toss all belief aside because his earthly body did not triumph in war - which his participation in, was a sin? I think no, but he did get cranky that God didn't follow his human ideal.

He wouldn't be the first to ask, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"
True, but those who asked it still had enough faith to ask it. In regards to my use of belief, it was less about a deity, perhaps more about drive? (my limited vocab hinders my discussion, I cant find the most accurate wording, or order to thoughts) - driven by the (holy) spirit. Tantrums occur when there is misunderstanding of the rules, a misunderstanding of expectations - so maybe that is exactly what he did. Mal didn't just turn his back on faith, he actively banned the practice. He was angry at where he was, no longer carefree and confident of his stance and meaning. He constantly dismisses any form of faith, even mocking it.

When Book says "I dont care what you believe, just believe it" he has a choice to go with his heart (which God/spirit works through) or go with his mind - self preservation. He went with his heart - to believe in River. So had he ever really lost faith? Or was he just being an angry child in all of his posturing, eventually coming around again to acceptance?

Some kind of punishment is implied if you fail to live up to the covenant, in this case I would think of it more as God's grace being taken from you, rather than God actively letting your enemies win.
Agreed. He did not appear graceful on Firefly.

Thanks for letting me add more words, so I can come to understand my own answers too. I still don't think I have come to my final conclusions yet! I welcome more input from all.

Where is Mal now with his belief? Do the comics shed any light on this?
 

WillowFromBuffy

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Maybe you could say Mal became God.

Mal starts out fighting for generals, for a people and for his god. In the end, all the death and suffering he has endured and inflicted turns out to be for naught. This forces him to conclude that God is either indifferent, downright evil or non-existent.

Mal responds by buying a ship. Inside the still walls, he has a little piece of reality in which he is king. He invites like minded people to come live there with him, and he rules them with a stern, though mostly fair and benevolent hand. Outside the walls there is just the chaotic entropy of empty space, the barbarous and cut-throat people of the border planet and the fascists rulers of the central planet. Inside his little pocket dimension, he is god, and so he has found a form of salvation.

It fits with the philosophy from Buffy and Angel, where the hero forces meaning, goodness and stability upon a chaotic and uncaring universe.
 

thrasherpix

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There are many types of devotional faith. Some of it is very casual, and people will get angry with God if they can't even find a parking space. Though I'm not certain it's true (though it's believable to me), one person was even angry at first when she was injured in a car wreck after she ran a stop sign as she was sure God would protect her. Many parents do see God as a babysitter, I've seen them practically say that on the news and surprised when their child is hurt. (Glad my deeply religious grandmother had better sense or I'd never have reached age 5.)

We even have this thing called prosperity theology (to me this is the only kind of Christianity in which some of our politicians can believe in if they're going to express admiration for Jesus in one breath and Ayn Rand, who despised the teachings of Jesus and Christianity, with their next breath), and actually believe that material wealth is a sign of God's favor, while the poor are rotten sinners (so it won't be them helping at the soup kitchens, though they might send in their cash to a scam artist as "seed money" thinking they're gonna get so much back for their act of faith, a very mercenary thing to do even if they're hoping it will help pay their medical bills or send their kids to college, and sometimes the one taking their money even admits he's going to use it to buy a jet, and that's okay, God's blessing to him, and then back onto the givers, or so say the believers of this version). My grandmother thought they worshiped Mammon (demon/devil of greed and power) rather than Jesus (and you can't worship both).

It's perhaps ironic (though it makes sense to me) that the smallest and poorest church in my home town did the most to help me get my mother into the hospital to save her life, and see her taken care of, while the other churches with more money and members were apathetic at best, and some trying nasty tricks. If I ever move back to that town I actually plan to go to that church because they're really cool people. Who knows, maybe I'll become a Christian.


But for some, perhaps many, religion is tribal. It determines who you do business with (because you trust them, or at least feel obligated to them), and there's a conformity of even clothing as strict as a middle school clique. (One of the games me and some kids who didn't go to church used to play--because it was SO boring there--was guessing which church a car came from on Sunday, which we generally could by how they dressed, maybe even walked. It was so small that we'd have them memorized soon enough though.)

And on the extreme end (not counting inquisitions, though even those happen in some third world countries today), help in wars. I've seen "God Bless the Troops" far more often than "God Bless us All" or "God bless the world."

A Californian friend of mine who picked me up from the East Texas Bible Belt who thought Christianity was a religion of peace was shocked by all the bumper stickers with crosses promoting Jesus while also promoting guns and being anti-Obama, which struck her as a very unlike Christ who preached peace, offer the other cheek, have faith in God, and love thy enemy. It's because for many it's not about what Jesus taught, but rather tribal, having god on your side so your side wins. Many Christian denominations even hate each other. The reason we have a separation of church and state here in the United States was to prevent the war between Catholics and Protestants in Europe (which was horrific at the time) from spreading to the new land.

Not all think like this, but many do. Many of them will only attend churches for major holidays like Christmas and Easter and for special occasions like weddings and funerals. They're most likely to open their Bible to look up someone's birthday (many have a page where you can write stuff like that down).


To others, God is Love. This is the God I think you follow, and so you have a very hard time understanding the more tribal form of Christian.

Just be careful because some tribal Christians try to suck in all Christians to their political crusades. And unfortunately, many who are not Christian are dumb enough to think all Christians are the same which plays into the hands of the Christian Right (or whatever group), though there are a few counter movements, such as Reclaiming Jesus.

Just to end this on a positive note, I found this 2 minute skit adorable that I hope you like:

 
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Octavia
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Aww that is a cute video! And exactly how one finds God :)

Taake

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There are many types of devotional faith. Some of it is very casual, and people will get angry with God if they can't even find a parking space. Though I'm not certain it's true (though it's believable to me), one person was even angry at first when she was injured in a car wreck after she ran a stop sign as she was sure God would protect her. Many parents do see God as a babysitter, I've seen them practically say that on the news and surprised when their child is hurt. (Glad my deeply religious grandmother had better sense or I'd never have reached age 5.)

We even have this thing called prosperity theology (to me this is the only kind of Christianity in which some of our politicians can believe in if they're going to express admiration for Jesus in one breath and Ayn Rand, who despised the teachings of Jesus and Christianity, with their next breath), and actually believe that material wealth is a sign of God's favor, while the poor are rotten sinners (so it won't be them helping at the soup kitchens, though they might send in their cash to a scam artist as "seed money" thinking they're gonna get so much back for their act of faith, a very mercenary thing to do even if they're hoping it will help pay their medical bills or send their kids to college, and sometimes the one taking their money even admits he's going to use it to buy a jet, and that's okay, God's blessing to him, and then back onto the givers, or so say the believers of this version). My grandmother thought they worshiped Mammon (demon/devil of greed and power) rather than Jesus (and you can't worship both).

It's perhaps ironic (though it makes sense to me) that the smallest and poorest church in my home town did the most to help me get my mother into the hospital to save her life, and see her taken care of, while the other churches with more money and members were apathetic at best, and some trying nasty tricks. If I ever move back to that town I actually plan to go to that church because they're really cool people. Who knows, maybe I'll become a Christian.


But for some, perhaps many, religion is tribal. It determines who you do business with (because you trust them, or at least feel obligated to them), and there's a conformity of even clothing as strict as a middle school clique. (One of the games me and some kids who didn't go to church used to play--because it was SO boring there--was guessing which church a car came from on Sunday, which we generally could by how they dressed, maybe even walked. It was so small that we'd have them memorized soon enough though.)

And on the extreme end (not counting inquisitions, though even those happen in some third world countries today), help in wars. I've seen "God Bless the Troops" far more often than "God Bless us All" or "God bless the world."

A Californian friend of mine who picked me up from the East Texas Bible Belt who thought Christianity was a religion of peace was shocked by all the bumper stickers with crosses promoting Jesus while also promoting guns and being anti-Obama, which struck her as a very unlike Christ who preached peace, offer the other cheek, have faith in God, and love thy enemy. It's because for many it's not about what Jesus taught, but rather tribal, having god on your side so your side wins. Many Christian denominations even hate each other. The reason we have a separation of church and state here in the United States was to prevent the war between Catholics and Protestants in Europe (which was horrific at the time) from spreading to the new land.

Not all think like this, but many do. Many of them will only attend churches for major holidays like Christmas and Easter and for special occasions like weddings and funerals. They're most likely to open their Bible to look up someone's birthday (many have a page where you can write stuff like that down).


To others, God is Love. This is the God I think you follow, and so you have a very hard time understanding the more tribal form of Christian.

Just be careful because some tribal Christians try to suck in all Christians to their political crusades. And unfortunately, many who are not Christian are dumb enough to think all Christians are the same which plays into the hands of the Christian Right (or whatever group), though there are a few counter movements, such as Reclaiming Jesus.

Just to end this on a positive note, I found this 2 minute skit adorable that I hope you like:

I'm not sure how this relates to the topic? Would you mind clarifying :)
 

thrasherpix

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I'm not sure how this relates to the topic? Would you mind clarifying :)
To some, a faith in a god (Christian and otherwise) is tribal, which includes "support/bless the troops." Mal seemed to be of this mold, though he did show more devotion than many beyond that. She says she doesn't understand this type of thinking so I was trying to explain it. The rest was based on that and I thought she'd find it of interest. In retrospect I guess I should've made it private.
 
Taake
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Thank you, then I understand.

Taake

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To say that he lost his faith just because he lost the war seems simplistic and dismissive. Maybe I just thought one who has accepted faith, would know better than to lose hope after such a trivial/human set back. Without losing the war, he never would have met River, and in essence - freed the world. As you said, there was a bigger picture to his life.
Isn't that a bit dismissive of someone elses struggle though? I'm not saying there can't be more to it. But I feel like there are so many trivial struggles, compared to the grand scheme of things, that if accepting faith was easy, and holding on to hope was a song... the struggle to do those things really wouldn't be a wide spread theme even in the New Testament.

I suppose I just dislike the image of Mal as nothing but an angry child who needs to come around, but I think it is ultimately semantics. I just see it as a very natural, human, thing to grow disillusioned and to struggle with faith. I think that struggle is part of what faith is, and everyone struggles in their way. Some aggressively so, as Mal.

Mal didn't just turn his back on faith, he actively banned the practice. He was angry at where he was, no longer carefree and confident of his stance and meaning. He constantly dismisses any form of faith, even mocking it.
Again, to me, this is just a sign of deep crisis. I don't believe someone truly without faith can be that angry at faith. That anger is personal.

I'm not saying your point of view is wrong by the way, like I said, I think we kind of view Mal similarly, but use different words for it. :)

I haven't read the comics, though I keep thinking of it, somehow I doubt Mal's beliefs are a big part of it though.
 

Octavia

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so you have a very hard time understanding the more tribal form of Christian.
Spot on. Thanks for explaining some more to me :) I rarely considered the history of the US in its relation to Firefly, but it obviously has close ties. I am not a history buff, it all seems like going round in circles to me - the cycle we're in now cant be changed, a new circle starts, the same things happen, just with different words and issues. The world makes me dizzy.

I appreciate @thrasherpix explanations because that is where I get confused. I mean, I know that people believe in God differently but I have a hard time understanding those who claim to worship God but live entirely Godless lives. The example of the US is perfect for this. The prosperity hope, the idea that the lord will provide physically, is one which will be corrected by the powers that be. It was for Mal.

Isn't that a bit dismissive of someone elses struggle though? I'm not saying there can't be more to it. But I feel like there are so many trivial struggles, compared to the grand scheme of things, that if accepting faith was easy, and holding on to hope was a song... the struggle to do those things really wouldn't be a wide spread theme even in the New Testament.

I suppose I just dislike the image of Mal as nothing but an angry child who needs to come around, but I think it is ultimately semantics. I just see it as a very natural, human, thing to grow disillusioned and to struggle with faith. I think that struggle is part of what faith is, and everyone struggles in their way. Some aggressively so, as Mal.
What I mean here is that he was so deep in faith that he was devo when he wasn't saved in Serenity Valley, instead of making space and thinking "oh, well maybe there is more to this" he spat the dummy and wouldn't even allow a preacher to say grace. He was disrespectful towards the God he once loved - yet we see he still relies on his heart and morals. I do think Mal is immature and I could list countless times where he acts it. I am not saying its not natural - I think Jonah is a brat too. He loved God until God didn't do what he expected - it was conditional love.

We agree on many points, "natural .. to grow" - mature. My personal wording comes from training so many young animals. When you've gone through the tanties enough times, you realise they are all exactly the same and once an animal know the rules, there are few tantrums, just productivity. A happy animal is one that knows it's boundaries, that feels comfort in self control, the limits set by its master. (the smarter the animal, the softer the limits - it becomes more of a negotiation, the balance of respect is along a finer line. Mal needs hard limits). There is no hatred or judgement behind the words I use, it is a description of the behaviour.

(A side note - I've noticed generally people put their own connotations onto a word in online conversations, while I use something as a description, they will see differently. When talking in person, many can see that the words are used in good humour, not negatively, simply as a description)

Again, to me, this is just a sign of deep crisis. I don't believe someone truly without faith can be that angry at faith. That anger is personal.
That anger personal, in that he was mad at himself? I am not sure I get this bit. Was he mad at himself for misunderstanding "belief", as Book points out? But I also realise in trying to figure out my own answer I have swung back and forth haha. (don't feel committed to reply, I am continuing to sort through myself, until I get bored)

So, I am starting to think now that he never actually lost his faith. He came back around to it after going through a time of wandering. Which links him to the stories of God's people again. As you said, his crisis was human, by the end of Serenity he comes around - sees his role is bigger and steps up (in faith) that he is doing the right thing. He grew to maturity.
 
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WillowFromBuffy

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I think realising that the universe is cruel and unforgiving is as good a reason to lose faith as any.

I think it is interesting how Book and Mal mirror each other. They both underwent a crisis that changed dramatically changed the coarse of their lives. Mal went from being a soldier to being a crook. Book went from whatever he was before to becoming a shepherd.

But both men are humbled by their experience. Book does not believe in the same way that Mal did. Mal seemed certain that God would grant him victory. For Book, faith is a comfort, but he does not seem to believe in an intervening god.

I actually think the transformation they undergo is quite similar. They are both humbled men who have learned to treasure small graces. They live their lives by strict rules, though they are still deeply practical men. Atheism and theism can take so many different shapes, so maybe there isn't so much of a divide.
 

AlphaFoxtrot

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There's no consistent answer possible for this type of topic. The best I can offer, is that it would have been explained in latter seasons.
 
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