Now, don’t tell me you haven’t had the same thought. Sweetness and light is all very wonderful. But for some real excitement, nothing beats the dark and dangerous.
At least, that’s the message of popular culture—and someone must be eating it up! Certainly there are good-looking good guys and gals in popular movies and novels. But if the hero is very sexy, the villain is even sexier.
On the male side of the ledger, the villain has that brooding, swaggering, bad-boy persona. He’s the one that the women swarm around. They’re magnetically attracted to him like moths to a flame—and he uses them for his pleasure just as fast as they come.
On the female side of the ledger, all eyes snap to the femme fatale. She’s incredibly sexy, she knows it, and she flaunts it. She wraps infatuated men around her finger until they’ve served her wicked purposes, then tosses them aside all battered and broken up.
Cinematographers know all about it. They know that if they made a movie with nothing but good guys, it would fall flat at the box office. So they spice it up with sex, violence, and villains, and the crowds flock to see it.
Yes, we know that the bad guys will end out dead or in prison. We know that the wicked woman will be thrown to the dogs before the final credits roll. We can justify it to ourselves by saying we just want to see the crooks get their comeuppance.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that there’s more to it than that.
Why do we keep coming back for more sex, more violence, more murder, and mayhem?
Why are we humans so fascinated with evil?
In these enlightened times, conventional wisdom says that everyone is born good, and that we become evil only by exposure to the evil, abuse, and oppression in society. If some people turn out to be criminals, tyrants, or greedy corporate sharks, they must have been mistreated in childhood, or warped by our materialistic, pleasure-centered society.
It’s a beautiful theory. If we take it to its logical conclusion, it means that no one is to blame for the evil in our society. In fact, it means that no one is really evil. We’re all born good. If we just dig deep enough, if we peel away all those layers of corruption caused by societal influences, we’ll find the angel of light inside even the worst villain.
There is some truth to this theory. There is indeed an angel hidden away inside even the worst villain. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll ever get to it.
That’s because evil is real, and we humans come equipped with it at birth.
Born innocent, but tarnished
Before you get all upset about that, let me hasten to add that we humans are also innocent from birth. The idea in some Christian circles that unbaptized babies go to hell if they die comes from a misunderstanding of the human condition.
Yes, we are born with all kinds of evil built into our nature. I’ll get to that in a minute.
But we are not born sinful. In other words, we have no intention to commit evil. It’s just our natural state—and we are not blamed for things we’re not responsible for.
I’m aware that traditional Christian theology says we’re born with original sin, which we inherited from Adam and Eve. However, the doctrine of original sin that is embraced by both Catholics and Protestants is based on a misunderstanding of the Bible.
We don’t have time to go into a lengthy theological treatise on what the Bible says about inborn evil and sin. For now, let’s look at just one verse commonly quoted to support the idea of original sin. Here is Psalm 51:5 in the New Revised Standard Version:
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
But that’s not what the original Hebrew says. Here it is in a more literal—and more accurate—translation:
Behold, in iniquity I was brought forth,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
The psalm is not talking about the sinfulness of the newborn infant. Rather, it’s talking about the atmosphere of evil into which the infant was born, and the state of sinfulness of the parents when the baby was conceived.
It is not possible for newborn babies to be sinful. They don’t even know the difference between good and evil, so how could they be sinners?
But we humans are born into all kinds of evil both in the world around us and in the tendencies toward self-centeredness and greed that are built right into us from birth.
And yet, for all that, we are still born innocent. We are not held responsible for what we do as infants and children because we don’t mean to do anything wrong. It just comes naturally to us.
And that’s the whole problem.
Born into evil
You see, we humans are not born naturally good.
For human beings, good could be defined as being at least as concerned for the happiness and wellbeing of others as we are for our own happiness and wellbeing. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
But that’s not what we are like when we’re born.
In fact, when we’re born, we’re almost entirely wrapped up in our own needs. We are focused largely on our own comfort and discomfort, our own pleasure and pain. We are not born with any awareness that others have pleasure and pain too, and that our actions may cause discomfort and even pain for the people around us.
For example, babies will cry any time of day or night that they feel hungry or wet or cramped or colicky. Are they aware that their parents are walking around like zombies because they’re not getting more than an hour or two of sleep at a time? Not at all. When babies feel any kind of discomfort, they’ll start fussing. And if it’s not taken care of soon enough, they’ll start crying.
Is this sinful?
Not at all. In fact, it’s necessary for their survival. Babies cannot take care of their own needs. If they didn’t cry, their parents probably wouldn’t realize anything was wrong, and would not be able to take care of them properly. Crying is a very practical means of making sure that parents take care of their babies and children.
And yet . . . the reality still is that we are born concerned primarily with ourselves and our own pleasure and pain, and with total disregard for anyone else’s pleasure and pain.
And as we grow from infants into toddlers, we also become concerned with our own toys. We become very aware of what’s mine—and the stuff that’s mine becomes very important to us. If we see a toy we like that isn’t ours, we want it for ourselves.
So we are born with two basic drives built right in:
- A desire to be tended to and to avoid pain and get pleasure for ourselves, and
- A desire to own material possessions and to be in control of all the stuff we enjoy.
In other words, we start out all wrapped up in ourselves and in the material world.
In babies and young children, this is all very innocent, and we think nothing of it. But what happens if we hit adulthood and those things are still what drive us?
Why is evil so attractive to us?
This brings us right back to our original question: Why is evil sexier than good?
The fact of the matter is that when we hit adulthood, self-love and love for material possessions and pleasures still do drive us to a great extent. Oh yes, our parents and teachers may have managed to model for us, and discipline into us, some concern for others. We may even have grown idealistic and taken it to heart.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll probably admit that as young adults, and maybe even as older adults . . . in fact, maybe even now, we still like to be catered to, we still like to avoid pain, and we still like to get pleasure for ourselves. And we still want to acquire various material possessions that we find pleasurable. And those desires might even still be what’s driving us.
If not, then we’ve managed to make some progress on the road toward spiritual rebirth. Because being reborn spiritually is the only thing that causes us to leave behind our focus on ourselves and on material things as our primary goals in life, and to start putting God and our fellow human beings first in our goals and activities.
Each of us is born with a predilection to love ourselves and the world, and subject to all kinds of evil that have these forms of love as their wellspring. It is the pleasures of these loves that guide us; and they render us unaware of our involvement in evil. This is because every pleasure that stems from love simply feels good to us.
The dirty little secret of our lives is that from the start, we find evil to be more pleasurable than good because our natural inclination from birth is to put ourselves first. It feels good to get our own way, and to see all those who get in our way suffering for it.
Why are we fascinated with bad guys?
With that in mind, let’s take another look at those juicy novels that we devour and those edgy movies that we flock to see.
If a young person—or perhaps you—is deciding which movie to watch, and one of them is rated R while the other is rated PG, which one is going to have the edge? Producers making a movie that could easily get a PG rating will often throw in a scene or two of gratuitous sex, violence, or profanity that is completely unnecessary for the plot just to get the R rating. Why? Because it will attract more viewers, and make more money.
And whether it’s a drama or an action flick, a movie without a few fascinating male and female villains is likely to be a box office bomb. We may sing the praises of the heroes and heroines, but what draws us to the movies like moths to a flame are the sexy bad boys and femmes fatales that fill up the screen with tension and drama.
Yes, we know it will all end out in rack and ruin for the bad guys. But oh, what a thrill is the ride until the huge, exciting crash at the end!
The evil within
The deeper truth is that when we devour those juicy novels and flock to see those edgy movies, we are watching the dramas of our own mind and spirit play out before us.
Think about it. Every novel, every play, every movie is an expression of the mind and heart of the people who wrote it and the people who bring it to life. And it gains an audience, large or small, depending on how well it reflects something of the mind and heart of the reading or viewing public. We are attracted to entertainment and drama that reflects the issues, the struggles, the realities within our own soul.
The reason we find villains attractive and fascinating during their thrilling rise and meteoric fall is that they reflect the evil in our own soul—evil that we find very attractive as soon as we become aware of it.
Look back over your life, and consider some of the things you have done (or perhaps some of the things you are still doing) that ultimately caused pain and heartbreak for yourself and for the people around you.
Why did you do it?
Because underneath it all, you took pleasure in doing it.
Perhaps it was a sick pleasure. But the first step to understanding the grip evil has on us is to recognize that we naturally love evil. We love to dominate others and make them serve us. We love to get money and possessions for ourselves even if it means others will have to go without. We love being the winner, and we hate being the loser.
And so we continue on with our evil and destructive thoughts, feelings, and actions even when intellectually we know that it is wrong, and we know that it will end badly.
This is the human condition. It is the state in which we find ourselves when we first begin to wake up spiritually, and recognize that our life is an uncontrollable mess.
And once we do recognize that we love evil, that we find it fascinating and sexy, then and only then are we ready to squarely face the evil within us. Only then can we begin the painful process of spiritual reformation and rebirth that we must go through if we are ever to leave behind our naturally devilish ways, and join the company of angels.
For further reading:
- Spiritual Growth 101 with Mike Tyson: “The Virtue of Selfishness”
- Self-Esteem is Made to be Broken
- If God is Love, Why all the Pain and Suffering?
- Strip Search Prank Calls, Domestic Violence: Evil Loves Deception
- Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth