By L. Alfred James
In my previous article we compared two different theories about human nature. The most popular theory claims that human beings are born morally pure. The only reason they do bad things is because of the evil influences of their environment (e.g., a greedy society, a flawed education, harsh circumstances, etc.).
The Christian theory claims that human beings have an evil streak within them; they are fallen. They do bad things because they have a nature that has been corrupted, a nature that has been changed from its original design plan. Thus, human beings are not bad because society makes them bad. Society is bad because human beings make it bad.
A brilliant illustration of these two theories comes from J.F. Baldwin’s book, The Deadliest Monster. Baldwin points to two different monster stories from classical literature: Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Each monster story tells a very different story about the origins of evil.
Mary Shelley, the author of this story, tells us the Frankenstein monster was “built” by a brilliant scientist. Dr. Frankenstein collected body parts from corpses, connected them together, and blasted this new “body” with electricity. It comes to life.
And this creature is a pure being, innocent, with no selfishness or ill will. He has only benevolence toward humanity. In fact, he even chops firewood for a family. Eventually, he realizes that society is not as saintly as himself, and he is utterly disappointed. In his own words:
For a long time I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow, or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased and I turned away with disgust and loathing.
His disappointment turns to bitterness. For although he was such a nice guy, he was hated and rejected on account of his ugliness. He is shunned in several different ways. But the final incident that pushes him over the edge is when he rescues a young woman and, as he carries her to safety, he is shot in the shoulder by the woman’s fiancé:
This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and as a recompense I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.
You know the rest of the story. He goes on a rampage killing multiple people, including the brother of Dr. Frankenstein, as well as his wife. We don’t need to go into the gory details.
The important thing to notice is that the Frankenstein monster only becomes evil because society drives him to it. He was “born” good and benevolent. He had the best of intentions, but he became corrupted by society’s treating him so poorly.
Jekyll And Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson provides a very different account of the nature of evil. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde we meet Henry Jekyll: a daring scientist, willing to experiment with possibilities that most men would never consider.
Through a potion he had concocted, Jekyll can transform into a seemingly different person: Edward Hyde. By means of the same potion he can then transform back into Jekyll. From this experience he realizes that there are two natures inside of him:
With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two… It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both;
Jekyll realizes he has two natures: A good side and an evil side. The potion taps into this dual nature. It works like a switch. With one swig of the potion, his good side is in control of his behavior—he is Jekyll. With another swig, his evil side is in control—he is Hyde.
The story is just as tragic as Frankenstein. The evil side of him gets stronger and stronger, until he is totally controlled by it. The only way he is able to stop it is to commit suicide.
The Key Difference
Do you see the difference between these stories?
With Frankenstein, evil is caused by the environment. It is external. It comes from without. The Frankenstein monster begins his existence as an utterly loving and kind creature. He has nothing but benevolence for mankind. The only reason he becomes evil and starts killing people is because everyone is so mean to him and his circumstances are so difficult.
With Dr. Jekyll, evil is not caused by the environment. It is internal. It comes from within. Jekyll is a decent man, but he has a dual nature. He has evil inside of him. Mr. Hyde is not some evil spirit that comes from another realm and takes up residence in Jekyll’s body, like what happens in demon possession. No, Mr. Hyde is actually part of Jekyll’s nature, a part that he keeps suppressed through self-discipline.
Which Story Describes Your Worldview?
Which story do you believe?
Are people pure and innocent, until they are corrupted by society and circumstances? If you believe that, then you agree that Frankenstein draws a fairly accurate picture of human evil.
Are people born with a sinful nature, a tendency to be self-centered in all that they do? If you believe that, then you agree that Jekyll and Hyde draws a fairly accurate picture of human evil.
If you believe the Frankenstein story, you believe that human beings are basically good. We don’t need to find a savior to rescue us because we are good enough to work out our own salvation. We are not stricken with an evil nature. Instead, we’ve just suffered from a bad environment. We don’t need a savior; we need a teacher: someone to show us the way to be good.
The Frankenstein story is believed by every major religion of the world except Christianity. Every other religion teaches some form of salvation by works. Every other religion teaches that human beings are basically good, they just need some instruction to help them find the path to salvation. For instance, in Hinduism, you find salvation in self-denial, yoga, kindness, or devotion to a god. In Buddhism you must fulfill the eight-fold path. In Islam you must follow the five pillars delivered through the Prophet Muhammad. In all of these religions, you are good enough to save yourself.
Christianity is the only worldview that believes the Jekyll and Hyde story. The Apostle Paul describes the human experience with astonishing precision in Romans 7:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the flesh a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)
That is the Jekyll and Hyde experience every human being endures. According to Christianity, evil is within us. It does not come from some external source.
Therefore, we are not good enough to save ourselves. Our situation is desperate. You can hear the desperation in Paul’s voice: “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
This is why we need more than a teacher. We need a Savior. We need more than instruction. We need rescue. We need more than motivation. We need salvation.