Thursday, May 11, 2023


This photo of infant Adolf Hitler reminds us that every wicked monster was once a child. My question is, when did they become so evil? Were Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacey, Ted Bundy, Richard Speck or Gary Heidnik okay and suddenly metamorphose into monsters when they turned 18? How about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Ivan the Terrible? Were they OK as kids? 

I posit they were busily growing into their wickedness. But even if that's right, when did their budding evil become a full blown reality? And what do we mean by "wicked?" Let's keep that simple. We'll stipulate that wickedness is deliberately, even happily, causing gratuitous pain or harm to others.

So what is going on with people like Dahmer or Bundy? Let's try a Biblical explanation. Everyone, children included, says the Bible, have a "fallen nature." Our very desires become evil  (Gen. 3; 1 Pet. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:10, 18). Our very intentions direct us toward evil. (Gen. 6:5; 8:21) Do you find this explanation satisfactory for someone like, say, Hitler of Pol Pot

Some ethicists argue that no one actually chooses to be evil. What appears to be evil is actually just the absence of good. And total evil is the total absence of good. But clinical psychologists favor a more causal explanation. What appears to be evil, they say, is really heredity and environment (deficiencies in a child's family life, for example) combining to form one or another "disorder." That, then, is "acted out." .  

The problem with these explanations, except perhaps the Biblical one, is that they fail to do the wickedness full justice. Do Hitler, Himmler, or Eichmann, for example, represent the mere absence of good? Were Stalin, his sadistic secret police chief Beria, or Saddam Hussein simply "acting out?" Weren't at least some of these monstrous people consciously and knowingly, torturing and destroying people simply because they liked doing it? 

 But we're still left wondering how quickly evil can develop in a child. And there also is the question, how evil can a child be? Apparently the evil can develop early, and can be truly horrific. Remember little Jimmy Bulger? He was the two year old who was lured away from his mother in a Liverpool shopping mall by two boys. Then they proceeded to bash Jimmy to death with bricks and leave him on train tracks to be chopped to pieces. This was thoroughly wicked. The perpetrators were only ten. 
Jimmy Bulger
So let's go back to our original question. Are there wicked children? Do some children deliberately, with malice, cause gratuitous pain or harm to others? The answers to both these questions seems to be yes. And it seems they relish doing it. Maybe that's a partial answer. Maybe the relishing, the sensuous enjoyment of inflicting pain and suffering, is an end in itself. If so, then this kind of wickedness may require no further explanation. Except for this, of course. Why do some people experience that perverted kind of joy; and when do they first experience it? What do you think?