Why is Evil Sexier than Good?

Julian McMahon as Victor von Doom in The Fantastic Four

Julian McMahon as Victor von Doom in The Fantastic Four

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.

Why?

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?

Born good?

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:

  1. A desire to be tended to and to avoid pain and get pleasure for ourselves, and
  2. 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.

Until that happens, evil is sexier than good because we love evil more than good. Here is how Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) put it in his book Divine Providence, #83:

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.

Rebecca Romijn as Mystique in X-Men

Rebecca Romijn as Mystique in X-Men

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:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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6 comments on “Why is Evil Sexier than Good?
  1. Ian says:

    I think there’s a lot of truth to this post, but I believe there’s also another aspect that doesn’t necessarily involve the evil that the villains do. TvTropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EvilIsCool) probably puts it best:

    “There is a reason actors fight for the chance to play the bad guy. The lines are great, the costumes are awesome, the songs are spectacular, the villains often look much sexier than the heroes, and they don’t have to spend the whole shoot pretending they are nicer than anyone they’ve ever met.

    Plus, there are all those wonderful toys!”

    One of the messages this passage has, and the post you gave, Mr. Woofenden, is that the bad guys pretty much have it all: Darth Vader has his awesome costume, a cool lightsaber, his own personal starship, armies under his command, and even two Death Stars! What does Luke Skywalker have? Some robes, a green lightsaber, and… well, that’s pretty much it.

    Faced with those ideas, is it really any surprise someone would want to have all of Vader’s stuff? Heck, I’d love to be able to strut around on my personal starship while wearing his outfit and having everyone obey my every whim. But…and this is a big but…I think a lot of people would like Vader’s stuff, but not do the things he does (choking everyone to death, murdering children, enslaving the galaxy, etc.). What if, after getting all his awesome toys and costumes, I went around the galaxy and used my personal army to build orphanages, distribute Christmas presents to underprivileged aliens, and help restore areas decimated by famine. All the toys, but you get to use them for good instead of evil.

    Likewise, consider Sauron from the Lord of the Rings movies: He has entire legions of bad guys and monsters who flock to obey his every will, an enormous tower to do with as he wishes, and an incredibly awesome suit of armor to do it with. If I had the resources to pay for them, I’d love to have that awesome tower and my own suit of Sauron armor to go to work with, go grocery shopping, camping, etc. Practical? No, but I’d feel awesome wearing it everywhere. But again, what if we want the cool stuff, but not to enslave entire continents and bend their inhabitants to our will?

    We may like to have all the cool toys bad guys get, but we don’t want to do the bad things they do, and I think that makes a huge difference.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ian,

      Thanks for your comment–which did give me a chuckle. If you ever decide to go grocery shopping in Sauron armor, let me know. I want to see it! 😛

      Anyway . . . to bring the conversation to a different level, one of the issues is that evil tends to focus on physical power and physical wealth, whereas good tends to focus on spiritual power and spiritual wealth–which have to do with things like mutual love and growing in wisdom.

      In Star Wars, the good guys win in the end, not because they have greater weapons, armor, and armies–which they don’t–but because they have greater and more focused moral and spiritual power, represented by the light side of the force.

      Yes, there’s the dark side of the force. But it tends to divide against itself. The bad guys fight one another over who will be the greatest and most powerful. The good guys, meanwhile, are not focused on their own wealth and power, but are willing to work together in common cause with one another to vanquish evil.

      I agree that for most people the desire to be rich and powerful is generally fairly benign, because it is more of a fantasy than anything else. Most people in their ordinary life do want to treat their fellow human beings decently.

      However, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. How many people are really ready to handle the huge weight of responsibility resting on the shoulders of those who wield great power, which can be used either to do good or to do evil?

  2. Perhaps there’s some subconscious desire to be dominated by an attractive figure? (not that I’d be into that sort of thing; I’d rather be the villain than the victim, just one of those “nice” ones, you know?)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Robert,

      Haha! Yes, there are all sorts of funny subconscious desires running around in our heads. But you gotta watch out for those “nice” villains! 😛

  3. Rami says:

    Hi Lee,

    This isn’t directly related to what’s being discussed here, but there are some themes that I think overlap with something of a conundrum with which I’m very interested in your input: what is the attraction toward ‘dark art,’ as with movies, music, and often paintings/illustrations?

    For a great deal of my life, I’ve been really into ‘dark’ music, but by ‘dark’ I don’t mean ‘sinister’ or ‘evil;’- just brooding, gritty, atmospheric music. Same with movies (think Se7en, and the like). None of this affects me in any negative way, nor does it interfere with my relationship with God, but it does give me cause for pause when I reflect on just how attracted I am to it.

    With movies, it’s a bit easier to understand, because at least movies are *about* something. But with music, it’s mostly just aesthetics and atmosphere, but that dark aesthetic and atmosphere is a very enjoyable one to me, and I’m having a very hard time getting to the bottom of it.

    The only place from which I am to start is that music is an (at least intended) expression of art, and art is intended to in some way represent or interact with the human condition. So I feel compelled to believe that there’s some aspect of the human condition that’s reflected in the music I described, and in, if you can imagine, images of heaving, gritty dancefloors filled with dancing people. Beyond that, I have little else to go on.

    What do you think is going on there? And is it cause for concern?

    • Rami says:

      And also, with specific regards to more content-based forms of entertainment, like movies, is it therefore *wrong* to enjoy movies with characters like the ones you described?

      I think a classic example is something like Silence of the Lambs, and just how much pleasure we take in watching Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter unfold on screen as we delightedly hang on his every sassy word, despite being a truly villainous villain. Or how much fun we have watching Christian Bale’s utterly despicable Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho.’

      Is it spiritually destructive to enjoy movies and music with these themes even as a form of artistic expression, or are you warning us against a more internalized attitude toward that art, one that revels and celebrates in evil?

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