Dean & Faith

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This analysis was inspired by Dean's confessional scene in season 10 where he admits that he believes that God exists. This is a complete 180 from season 1 Dean, who could believe in the existence of demons but not angels, and certainly not God. Even though angels feature heavily in the show's mythology from season 4 onward, it's never done in a preachy way or in a way that could be perceived as inauthentic to the characters. This is a collection of scenes that highlight Dean and his developing perspective on God.

Episodes

1.12 Faith

Dean: Why? Why me? Out of all the sick people, why save me?
Roy: Well, like I said before, the Lord guides me. I looked into your heart, and you just stood out from all the rest.
Dean: What did you see in my heart?
Roy: A young man with an important purpose. A job to do. And it isn't finished.

---

Dean: Well, I'm not much of the praying type... but... I'm gonna pray for you.
Layla: Well... There's a miracle right there.

This is one of the first times that Supernatural seeks to establish that Dean is not a religious person. His reluctance to visit the faith healer is in direct contrast to Sam's belief that perhaps the man can help. However, a true atheist would never indulge in prayer when they truly had no faith, much less offer to pray for someone else. This says to me that even though Dean does not have a foundation for a religious or prayerful life, he has not completely abandoned the possibility that God might exist.

2.13 Houses of the Holy

Sam: Maybe we're hunting an angel here, and we should stop! Maybe this is God's will!
Dean: Okay, all right. You know what? I get it. You've got faith. That's — hey, good for you. I'm sure it makes things easier. I'll tell you who else had faith like that — Mom. She used to tell me when she tucked me in that angels were watching over us. In fact, that was the last thing she ever said to me.
Sam: You never told me that.
Dean: Well, what's to tell? She was wrong. There was nothing protecting her. There's no higher power, there's no God. I mean, there's just chaos, and violence, and random unpredictable evil that comes out of nowhere, and rips you to shreds. You want me to believe in this stuff? I'm going to need to see some hard proof. You got any?

Yes, this last question is meant to be rhetorical. But I see this as Dean's subconscious giving voice to his desire--however small it might be--to explore the idea of God. He's reluctant, to be sure. And he's angry, and with good reason! Dean is the living embodiment of the question "why do bad things happen to good people?" Dean sees the act of living in faith as foolish and vain. After all, look what good it did for his mother. But I think a part of him wants to be proven wrong, wants to be shown that God is real and that He does exist.

4.01 Lazarus Rising

Castiel: I'm an angel of the Lord.
Dean: Get the hell out of here. There's no such thing.
Castiel: This is your problem, Dean. You have no faith.

Here it is! In case the casual viewer hasn't gotten the message yet (which wouldn't be surprising, because the show really doesn't focus on it too much), Dean is a man with no faith. And now that an angel has arrived on earth, and made himself known directly to Dean, he has to wrestle with what Castiel's existence means.

4.02 Are You There, God? It's Me, Dean Winchester

Sam: Maybe you were saved by one of the good guys, you know?
Dean: Okay. Say it's true. Say there are angels. Then what, there's a God?
Bobby: At this point, Vegas money's on 'yeah.'
Dean: I don't know, guys.
Sam: Okay, look. I know you're not all choirboy about this stuff, but this is becoming less and less about faith and more and more about proof.
Dean: Proof? 
Sam: Yes.
Dean: Proof that there's a God out there that actually gives a crap about me personally? I'm sorry, but I'm not buying it.
Sam: Why not?
Dean: Because why me? If there is a God out there, why would he give a crap about me?

---

Dean: See, this is why I can't get behind God.
Sam: What are you talking about?
Dean: If he doesn't exist, fine. Bad crap happens to good people. That's how it is. There's no rhyme or reason -- just random, horrible, evil -- I get it, okay. I can roll with that. But if he is out there...what's wrong with him? Where the hell is he while all these decent people are getting torn to shreds? How does he live with himself? You know, why doesn't he help?

---

Castiel: I'm not here to perch on your shoulder. We had larger concerns.
Dean: Concerns? There were people getting torn to shreds down here! And, by the way, while all this is going on, where the hell is your boss, huh, if there is a God?
Castiel: There's a God.
Dean: I'm not convinced. 'Cause if there's a God, what the hell is he waiting for, huh? Genocide? Monsters roaming the earth? The freaking Apocalypse? At what point does he lift a damn finger and help the poor bastards that are stuck down here?
Castiel: The Lord works...
Dean: If you say "mysterious ways," so help me, I will kick your ass.

It feels like Dean is unintentionally walking the path that all of us take who actively try to live a life of faith. For people who are brought up in religion, we have the unconditional faith of a child. Then as we get older, we start contrasting God's Word with what we see in the real world. All of us--religious or not--ask ourselves the burning questions: Where is God? Why doesn't He help? What does He want from us? And some people ask those questions not expecting any kind of answer, thus proving that God isn't real. But for the number of times we've seen Dean ask the same questions--and this time, to someone who might actually know the answers--I can't help but feel like Dean is seeking real answers, answers that can help him understand who God is and how His presence fits in with the world Dean knows and understands.

4.07 It's the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester

Sam: I thought they’d be different.
Dean: Who, the angels?
Sam: Yeah.
Dean: Well, I tried to tell ya.
Sam: I just... I mean, I thought they’d be righteous.
Dean: Well, they are righteous, I mean, that’s kinda the problem. Of course there’s nothing more dangerous than some a-hole who thinks he’s on a holy mission.
Sam: But, I mean, this is God? And Heaven? This is what I’ve been praying to?
Dean: Look man, I know you’re into the whole God thing, you know, Jesus on a tortilla and stuff like that. But just because there’s a couple of bad apples doesn’t mean the whole barrel’s rotten. I mean, for all we know, God hates these jerks. Don’t give up on this stuff, is all I’m saying. Babe Ruth was a dick but baseball’s still a beautiful game.

My heart really breaks for Sam here. He's had such a glowing view of angels in his mind, likely ever since childhood (might Dean have been responsible for instilling that in him? and if so, why?). And the show takes the time to indicate that Sam lives a life that involves prayer, which is important. But seeing angels face to face has obviously shaken Sam's views. And while Dean's words indicate that he sets himself apart from Sam--Sam is the believer, the one who's "into the whole God thing", while Dean does not actively believe, nor does he pray--Dean still tries to shape a world for Sam that allows peace and beauty. We could extrapolate that to include Dean's (perhaps subconscious) hope that God might indeed exist, even if His angels are jerks.

4.10 Heaven and Hell

Anna: Dean, do you know how many angels have actually seen God? Seen his face?
Dean: All of you?
Anna: Four angels. Four. And I'm not one of them.
Dean: That's it? Well, then how do you even know that there is a God?
Anna: We have to take it on faith... Which we're killed if we don't have.
Dean: Huh.

There's something to be said for questioning an angel directly about the existence of God, and while the conversation doesn't give Dean the answers he expects, it says a lot that Dean even engages in this questioning.

4.15 Death Takes a Holiday

Dean: I've done things. Horrible things. And someone upstairs still decided to give me a second chance. It just makes me feel... I don't know.

It's interesting that by this point we see Dean actively talking about God here, and it's very character-appropriate that Dean doesn't have the words to express what he's feeling. He's doing what all believers do at some time or another, which is to examine the weight our actions against God's unconditional love. We all look at ourselves and find ourselves undeserving of God's love. It makes it difficult to accept that love. And obviously Dean isn't ready to name that yet, and in fact we have no real guarantee that that's what he's actually feeling. But having seen evidence (angels) that Heaven exists, and therefore God exists, Dean is slowly changing his worldview to accommodate this new information. It blends so nicely with his seeker's heart.

4.18 The Monster at the End of This Book

Dean: Well, I feel stupid doing this. But I am fresh out of options. So please. I need some help... I'm praying, okay? Come on. Please!
Castiel: Prayer is a sign of faith. This is a good thing, Dean.

One of the best moments in Dean's entire character arc. We would never have thought we'd see Dean actually engaging in prayer--that's Sam's domain, after all, as we learned in 4x07--but the way he approaches it is exactly as might be expected. He's still resentful that he even needs to pray, he feels pushed into this action, and is definitely uncertain about what he's even doing. This is NOT a conversion moment for Dean; it's merely the first step toward acceptance and faith. Castiel does a beautiful job of very simply stating this very thing, giving him encouragement in this moment of true vulnerability.

4.22 Lucifer Rising

Dean: Tell me something. Where's God in all this?
Zachariah: God? God has left the building.

"Tell me something." Dean continues to ask the question, "where is God?" because he now truly wants the answer. The question has been asked too many times to be dismissed as simply a trope or a plot point; Dean is taking the information he has, and is actively putting that information to use in his own personal search to find and understand God.

5.03 Free to Be You and Me

Dean: Look, I'll be the first to tell you that this little crusade of yours is nuts, but I do know a little something about missing fathers.
Castiel: What do you mean?
Dean: I mean every time I was looking for my dad when all logic said that he was dead, but I knew in my heart he was still alive. Who cares what some ninja turtle says, Cas, what do you believe?
Castiel: I believe he's out there.
Dean: Good. Go find him.

This is a beautiful moment of encouragement, where Dean is almost treating Cas the same way he treats Sam, as a protective brother. Dean empathizes with Castiel's plight (as he too now wants to find God in order to communicate directly with Him), and Castiel seeking God definitely mirrors Dean's relationship with John. There's no lack of belief present on either of their parts, only the desire to communicate with one who is missing. Dean encouraging Castiel to go find God can also be seen as Dean wishing for Cas to carry on in Dean's place, to finish the quest that Dean himself cannot yet complete. In some ways, it could be interpreted that if Castiel were to be successful and actually find God, that would provide Dean with the proof he needs in order to believe for himself.

5.14 My Bloody Valentine

Dean: Please. I can't.... I need some help. Please?

This is the episode where Famine appears to touch Dean's soul and declares it to be empty. He proclaims Dean to be dead inside, as Dean was the only one in the town not affected by Famine. And as Sam struggles in the panic room, trying to detox from demon blood, Dean goes outside and offers what is one of, if not the only prayer not directed to Castiel or other angels in the show's history. It's heavily implied that despite his lack of (professed) belief, Dean is praying to God.

5.16 Dark Side of the Moon

Sam: This is Heaven’s Garden?
Dean: It’s-it’s nice... ish. I guess.
Joshua: You see what you want to here. For some it’s God’s throne room; for others it’s Eden. You two, I believe it’s the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. You came here on a field trip.
Sam: You’re Joshua.
Joshua: I’m Joshua.
Sam: So, you talk to God.
Joshua: Mostly, He talks to me.
Sam: Well, we need to speak to Him. It’s important.
Dean: Where is he?
Joshua: On Earth.
Dean: Doing what?
Joshua: I don’t know.
Sam: Do you know where on Earth?
Joshua: No, sorry. We don’t exactly speak face-to-face.
Dean: I... I don’t get it. God’s not talking to nobody so...
Joshua: Why’s he talking to me? I sometimes think it’s because I can sympathize—gardener to gardener—and, between us, I think He gets lonely.
Dean: Well, my heart’s breaking for him.
Sam: Well, can you at least get him a message for us?
Joshua: Actually, He has a message for you. Back off.
Dean: What?
Joshua: He knows already. Everything you want to tell Him.
Dean: But...
Joshua: He knows what the angels are doing. He knows that the Apocalypse has begun. He just doesn’t think it’s His problem.
Dean: Not his problem?
Joshua: God saved you already. He put you on that plane. He brought back Castiel. He granted you salvation in Heaven and after everything you’ve done, too. It’s more than He’s intervened in a long time. He’s finished. Magic amulet or not, you won’t be able to find Him.
Dean: But he can stop it. He can stop all of it.
Joshua: I suppose He could, but He won’t.
Dean: Why not?
Joshua: Why does He allow evil in the first place? You could drive yourself nuts asking questions like that.
Dean: So he’s just going to sit back and watch the world burn?
Joshua: I know how important this was to you, Dean. I’m sorry.
Dean: Forget it. Just another deadbeat dad with a bunch of excuses, right? I’m used to that. I’ll muddle through.
Joshua: Except... you don’t know if you can, this time. You can’t kill the Devil, and you’re losing faith, in yourself, your brother, and now this?
Joshua: God was your last hope. I just… I wish I could tell you something different.
Sam: How do we know you’re telling the truth?
Joshua: You think that I would lie?
Sam: It’s just that... you’re not exactly the first angel we’ve met.
Joshua: I’m rooting for you boys! I wish I could do more to help you, I do! But... I just trim the hedges.
Dean: So what now?
Joshua: You go home again. I’m afraid this time, won’t be like the last. This time, God wants you to remember.

What a heartbreaking conversation for Dean, to have come so far on his quest only to find that the being he seeks doesn't want to be found. Dean manages to ask the obvious question ("So what now?") but is given little in terms of an answer. Again, this is a moment, a feeling of abandonment, that is universal to all people whether faith-led or not.

5.17 99 Problems

Sam, Dean, and Castiel attempt to find a way to kill the Whore of Babylon, who according to Revelation can only be killed with a special weapon, wielded by a true servant of Heaven. They at first convince her father, a minister, to take to the task, but Dean ends up killing her, which surprises him just as much as it does everyone else. This compels Dean to accept becoming Michael's vessel, but only if the angels promise that his loved ones will be okay. The episode ends with Dean visiting Lisa to say goodbye.

It's amazing to see Dean's reaction at being able to complete the task set out for him, especially since Castiel as an angel could not complete the task. Dean's self-loathing is well-known, and even the Whore of Babylon can see it ("You're pathetic, self-hating, and faithless"). To be seen as a true servant of Heaven--more than an angel, even--is a stunning revelation for Dean; so much so that he gives himself over to the task he knows he's destined to do, which is to assist Michael in stopping Lucifer. Dean saying goodbye to Lisa, the person he says he pictures himself happy with, is truly a heartbreaking moment.

5.18 Point of No Return

As Dean packs up his belongings, he writes a farewell letter to Bobby[1]. In the letter, he writes that Bobby once told him that he prays every day. Although he's not sure it's still true, Dean asks Bobby to pray for him.

5.22 Swan Song

Dean: Cas, are you God?
Castiel: That's a nice compliment, but no. Although I do believe He brought me back, new and improved.

---

Dean: Wow. God gives you a brand-new, shiny set of wings, and suddenly you're his bitch again?
Castiel: I don't know what God wants. I don't know if he'll even return. It just... seems like the right thing to do.
Dean: Well, if you do see him, you tell him I'm coming for him next. 
Castiel: You're angry.
Dean: That's an understatement.
Castiel: He helped. Maybe even more than we realize.
Dean: That's easy for you to say. He brought you back. But what about Sam? What about me, huh? Where's my grand prize? All I got is my brother in a hole!
Castiel: You got what you asked for, Dean. No Paradise. No Hell. Just more of the same. I mean it, Dean. What would you rather have? Peace or freedom?
Dean: Well, you really suck at goodbyes, you know that?

In the aftermath of Sam's death, we're back to examining the timeless question, "where's God in all of this?" When we WANT to find him but we can't, we get angry. Those aren't the emotions of an unbeliever. Dean has traveled far down this path toward faith; but he's suffered the biggest loss imaginable, made the biggest sacrifice, and received what he believes to be nothing in return. His response is a very human one: "what about me?"

9.01 I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here

Dean: So, there's – there's no recovery? I mean, there's no bounce-back. There's no nothing.
Doctor: I'm afraid that's in God's hands now.
Dean: You're a doctor. You're a medical professional. You're trying to tell me that my brother's life is in God's hands? What, is that supposed to be a – a comfort?
Doctor: Mr. Dougherty–
Dean: No, God has nothing to do with this equation at all.
Doctor: I didn't mean–
Dean: That's not good enough.

On the surface, it's easy to interpret this as Dean backsliding in his path toward acceptance of and faith in God. "Is that supposed to be a comfort?" It's a question easily raised by an atheist, and likely would be. But in the larger context, this indicates that Dean is still very angry about God. He may even feel like he's been lied to, might feel foolish for even trying to believe. Again, this is a very natural human reaction, especially to these circumstances. One might even suggest that Dean's anger against God--or at least his perception of Him--helped fuel his need to kill Abaddon. On a larger scale, that anger could have even contributed to Dean becoming a demon himself at the end of this season.

10.16 Paint It Black

Father Delaney: Do you truly believe in God, agent? Because it can be a comfort.
Dean: I believe there is a God. But I'm not sure he still believes in us.

Maybe it's the environment--because seriously, how often have Sam and Dean actually attended church to worship? probably never--but something in that moment in the confessional speaks to Dean. It could be the privacy of the space, or the presence of someone who truly wanted to listen without judgement. Or it could have been the forced opportunity for introspection. But this is one of the biggest indicators of Dean's progress on this journey. He has transitioned from someone who actively does not believe in God, to someone who professes that belief when asked. It's not a change of heart, because Dean seems to have always had a seeker's heart. It's more of a change in his state of mind, where he can reconcile having battled all manner of evil things against the presence of a force for (at least potential) good. It's acceptance, though not faith. And he obviously doesn't believe that God has faith in him.

11.21 All in the Family

Chuck: I'm getting that not everyone's totally on board.
Dean: Here's the thing, um...Chuck. And I mean no disrespect. Um, I'm guessing you came back to help with the Darkness, and that's great. That's, you know, that's fantastic. But you've been gone a long, long time, and there's so much crap that has gone down on the earth for thousands of years. I mean the plagues and wars, slaughters, and you were... I don't know, writing books? Going to fan conventions? Were you even aware or did you just tune it out?
Chuck: I was aware, Dean.
Dean: But you did nothing. And, again, I'm not trying to piss you off--I don't want to turn into a pillar of salt.
Chuck: I actually, I didn't do that.
Dean: Okay... People pray to you. People build churches for you. They fight wars in your name. And you did nothing.
Chuck: You're frustrated. I get it. Believe me, I was hands-on. Real hands-on, for...wow, ages. I was so sure if I kept stepping in--teaching, punishing--that these beautiful creatures that I created would grow up. But it only stayed the same. And I saw that I needed to step away, and let my baby find its way. Being over-involved is no longer parenting. It's enabling.
Dean: But it--it didn't get better.
Chuck: Well, I've been mulling it over, and from where I sit, I think it has.
Dean: Well, from where I sit, it feels like you left us and you're trying to justify it. (wipes tears)
Chuck: I know you had a complicated upbringing, Dean. But don't confuse me with your dad.

This confrontation has been a long time coming, and it turned out so poignant and beautiful. At a convention early in 2016, Jensen spoke about this scene, without naming the other character. He said that in the script, Dean was supposed to get angry. But in the filming, when the moment came, he shed tears instead. He said he learned a lot about Dean from this scene, and I think we all can say the same. All the anger Dean has been expressing about the absence of God can be traced back to the very primal feeling of abandonment, of hopelessness, and when the moment for that confrontation finally came, instead of anger came an emotional release--that questioning that so many of us experience, whether believers or not. It was an incredible, beautiful scene, and an important step in Dean's journey.