When I look back on the books and movies that really influenced me, that I still remember clearly, that have become classics, I am struck by the fact that very often they had really strong, dramatic "bad-guys. Think about the classics: Treasure Island with Long John Silver, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstien, Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes...Why do these books stay in our minds? Why are the villains so vivid?
I suspect that we are facinated by our own alter egos. If we became really, really honest we might encounter the fact that under the right circumstances we might do some evil things ourselves and it takes a strong moral code (often backed by fear of serious punishment) to keep us out of trouble. Virtue is not something we are born with - ask any mother of toddlers! Children can get into terrible trouble and do some really nasty things if given the opportunity and just a little motive.
Recently I have heard that we are now a "post-Christian" society. There seems to be a glimmer of pride in this assertion, as if to say that we have outgrown the shackles of "Christian Puritanism" and we are finally free. Free? Free to do what? Free to be what? I have to wonder.
The difference between the villains and the heroes in the stories we loved was in the nature of their response to life and its troubles. Villains are selfish and egotisitcal. All they worry about is taking care of themselves - no matter what. Heroes on the other hand are selfless. They offer their very lives for the sake of others. Now where do heroes get their direction and inspiration? It isn't from the villains. It isn't from perfect childhoods where they got everything they wanted. Don't think so. Mankind in ancient history used to be pretty villainous. If we take a look at all the horrors of long ago; the men, women and children bruatlly killed in wars, abused in secret, abused in public, all the rape and plundering that has gone on, one might just give up on humanity. But once Chrisitanity came along the whole human race was given a new example and a strong motive for a completely different way of being. Suddenly being kind was cool! Being Christian became a badge of honor. The villains were still interesting but not models you'd want your kids to follow. Christianity inspires souls to a nobility that goes beyond the here and now, unlike villainy which is all consumed with self centered power and immediate gratification.
Since, by some people's estimation, we have moved on past Christianity, I have to wonder what will be next? What come after selfless, heroic, noble behavior? Do we humans really become better just by moving on? Recently someone told me that the reason we we doing as well as we are in today's world is that we are still living off the fumes of Chistian thought and behavior. It's simplya cultural habit we haven't quite broken yet. Some may claim they don't need it but what if everyone thought like that? Where exactly would we be?
The villains in stories may be interesting, they may facinate us, but I seriously doubt we would want a villain in our house, in our family or in our heads. I believe we need to rethink our post-Christian position and perhaps become better aquainted with the virtues which made heroes out of ordinary men and women.
A good place to start might be to read books about heroic people and discuss what made them so great. The Road that Goes Ever On - A Christian Journey through The Lord of the Rings is a good example of a book that delves deep into the heroic and the villainous realities of our stories and our lives.
The question for us may not be - have we moved on past Chrisianity - but have we ever really embraced Christ?