Sherlock Holmes and the Beauty of Friendship

This is an adaptation of a discussion post I wrote for my Theology of Beauty course. I was thrilled that I could reference one of my favorite shows… Sherlock!

In late January, my friend persuaded me to “at least sample an episode” of the popular BBC series Sherlock. I was hooked after fifteen minutes of episode one. I am so fond of this show that I integrate references to it in my conversations, desperately want a long, tweed coat that can accommodate a popped collar, and want a landlady like Mrs. Hudson.

Recently, my supervisor at work (who also likes Sherlock) asked, “Why do you like Sherlock so much? What value do you find in it?”

I thought about this, and my immediate response expressed guilt for having watched television, “Well, I think I could find a better use of my time than watching Sherlock episodes. I think there is a lot more value in reading the Bible for an hour and a half than watching an hour-and-a-half episode of Sherlock.”

“I disagree.”

The comment made me pause. My boss was not implying that Sherlock expresses more wisdom or has greater meaning than the Bible. Rather, he meant that I can gain understanding about reality via Sherlock even though it isn’t intrinsically religious.

So, I thought about why Sherlock is a valuable show. Here’s what I decided: Before becoming friends with Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Molly, and several others, Sherlock was married to his profession and had no friends. His abrasive personality, brutal honesty, and pathetic social skills drove people away. You couldn’t blame people for disliking him, though Sherlock didn’t seem to mind that he was friendless (partly because he didn’t know what it meant to have friends).

In time, Sherlock’s unexpected friendship with Watson softens him, and by season three, we see that Sherlock has transformed from someone seemingly unlovable into someone who is funny, self-sacrificing, and has feelings. Perhaps Sherlock realized that not everyone hates him. Perhaps Sherlock discovered that he is loveable, funny, and kind—a good man, which Watson has told him he is. Perhaps he also realized that good friends make life more enjoyable. They give him a reason to get up in the morning, and they make life an adventure. As I write this, I am reminded of the second episode of season three, “The Sign of Three,” in which  Sherlock gives the heartfelt speech at Watson’s wedding. Sherlock has discovered what it means to have a companion–to matter to someone–and to have someone matter to you.

Watson and Sherlock’s friendship is an expression of brotherly love, and many aspects of it remind me of I Corinthian’s 13:4-7, the famous passage on love:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Sherlock reminds me of the God-given relationships in my life—the David and Jonathan types—that have transformed me for the better. And even though Sherlock is fiction, it speaks of the complex facets of relationships that will never be fully captured by language: why people forgive, why people sacrifice, why people choose to change, and why people choose to invest in friendships and marriages despite the risks involved.

When I find religious themes in popular, non-religious programs, I am reminded that God does not exist exclusively inside the Church. His Spirit moves and works in all things, revealing truth through mediums we no not expect him to use. My professor made this statement at the beginning of the semester, and I think it applies here:

“We need to take the fact that God is omnipresent seriously—and that Spirit is ever active. Where the Spirit is, Christ is. Where the vestigia Dei are (the vestiges of God in all created things) God is revealed to those who seek the good. Where the Imago Dei is, the Spirit is ever speaking in the conscienta (conscience). As Yong says: Transcendence ‘haunts’ every corner of being, and ‘the finite borders on the infinite’ at all times and places’” (Horton-Parker, Skip).

The Spirit can take a show like Sherlock and work in a way that I do not understand to reveal the beauty and wonder of friendship between two unlikely people, and the mystery of loving people in spite of their faults. I think that’s pretty cool.

(Fan Moment: John Watson’s Blog is “real”! Take a look here! You must read the comments in each post. Very funny.)

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