The Good Place is an American comedy series about the after life. The basic plot is that an administrative error has sent Eleanor, a selfish “dirt bag” to the wrong place. She ends up in “the good place” instead of “the bad place”, with predictably hilarious results. She knows that she doesn’t belong there, but must do everything in her power to stay, if she wants to avoid an eternity of excruciating physical torture.
I can’t say too much about this series, which I highly recommend (it’s on Netflix), because anything I say will be a spoiler. However, I will introduce the other three main protagonists in the drama, who you get to meet in the first episode: Chidi, Tahani and Janu. On Earth, before they died, Chidi was an ethics philosophy professor, Tahani was a celebrity charity fund-raiser and Janu was a Buddhist monk who took a vow of silence when he was eight.
Eleanor, as I already mentioned, was a selfish dirt bag. However, she does seem to have some redeeming qualities. She is feisty and funny (and hot), and never gives up. She’s a fighter. So, as the story progresses, through a series of clever twists and turns, we find ourselves watching a drama of four archetypes: the warrior (Eleanor), the monk (Janu), the philosopher Chidi) and the queen (Tahani).
What is “the good place”? When do we feel that we are in a good place? Perhaps when we feel like a king or queen, a philosopher, a monk or a warrior. In other words, when we think we are in control. As soon as we realize we have no idea what’s going on, this illusion of mastery shatters and we wake up to the awful realization: we aren’t in “the good place” at all.
What if we pool resources? What if the warrior, monk, philosopher and queen band together like The Avengers or The A-Team? Together they are stronger. They complement each other. The strengths of one make up for the weaknesses of the others. And what if these archetypes represent the qualities of one person not four separate people? Then it’s not really about individuals teaming up, but about “subpersonalities” integrating in the psyche.
Either way, whether it’s about outer community or inner communion, what if that doesn’t work either? What if, periodically, all four of you realize that you are in “the bad place”? Why? What have you done wrong? What’s missing?
In the last chapter, I suggested that everywhere is a bad place when there is no genuine spiritual community, because you will inevitably fall back into a default community, of which I claimed there are only four kinds: a muggle community, a muppet community, an addict community and a victim community. In “the good place” you find warriors, monks (and nuns), philosophers and kings (and queens). In “the bad place” you find victims, addicts, muppets and muggles. They are the negatives or shadows of the positive archetypes.
So what distinguishes a spiritual community from these other communities? And why do the four positive archetypes keep ending up in “the bad place”? Why do they keep being exposed as their negative opposites? The queen a muggle, the philosopher a muppet, the monk an addict and the warrior a victim?
We find one possible answer in Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus”, in the revealing answer Mephistopheles gives to Dr Faustus’ questioning about how it can be possible that a devil has escaped hell:
“Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?”
It should be obvious really, but in the modern world, it is such a forgotten truth, that it is almost a taboo. “The good place” is where God is and “the bad place” is where God isn’t. It’s as simple as that. Wherever you go, whatever you do, however clever and kind and good you think you are, you will always end up waking up to the fact that you are really in “the bad place” all along.
Unless you don’t wake up. You could live your life truly believing that you are in “the good place”. Maybe you are okay with being a victim, addict, muggle or muppet, or a bit of each, with a bit of warrior, monk, philosopher and king thrown in. Maybe “the bad place” isn’t so bad.
But if you do wake up, maybe once, maybe twice, maybe countless times, the truth will eventually dawn on you: there is no God but the true God, and there is no place like the real Good Place. Believe and you are there. Doubt and you are not. It really is as simple as that.