Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wicked Children

Can children be wicked? That depends on what you mean by wicked. There are a variety of definitions; but let's keep it simple. We'll define wickedness as deliberately causing gratuitous pain or harm to others for personal pleasure.

Why do people do that? There is the orthodox Christian explanation that everyone, children included, has a fallen nature. Is that adequate? 

Deficiencies in a child's family also are blamed. But kids who come from hellish families sometimes turn out kind and considerate and some seemingly nice families produce savages. 

Some argue that no one actually chooses to be evil. Their behavior is simply the absence of good. Others offer a therapeutic explanation. What appears to be evil, they say, is really just heredity and environment combining to form a disorder that then is "acted out."

The problem with these explanations is that they fail to do the wickedness in the world full justice. Do Hitler, Himmler, or Eichmann, for example, represent the mere absence of good. Were Stalin, Beria, or Saddam Hussein simply acting out? Weren't at least some of these people consciously, knowingly, torturing and destroying people simply because they enjoyed it?

OK, adults do that, you say, but children? Perhaps you don't remember James Bulger? He was the two year old who was lured away from his mother in a Liverpool shopping mall by two ten-year-old boys. They then proceeded to bash James to death with bricks and leave him on train tracks to be run over. If this wasn't wicked, what is?

The fact is that every sadistic monster who ever existed once was a child. And when did they become evil? Did Jeffrey Dahmer, or John Wayne Gacey, or Ted Bundy, or Richard Speck or Gary Heidnik suddenly metamorphose into monsters when they became adults? That seems unlikely. 

So are some children evil. Do they deliberately cause gratuitous pain or harm to others? Of course they do. And they enjoy it. The puzzling question is, why?  

-- GKC

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