Are People Born Wicked?
Wicked! is my favorite musical by far. One of my dreams when I was younger was to finally gather up enough courage to go and audition for this amazing show. Even if I did not get cast, even if I was only cast as an extra; I wanted to at least be able to say that I tried to be a part of the show. Fear, of course, took over, and I never did attempt to chase this dream; but my love for Wicked! has never changed. It is a love for the soundtrack, for Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, and for the Broadway stage; but more than anything, it is a love for my favorite storyline.
At the beginning of the story, Glinda the Good Witch asks a question to the gathered crowd that is celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch. It is a question that is ignored by the crowd, and that seems to often be ignored by anyone who may hear it: “Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?”
Perhaps the question is uncomfortable to us because it means we have to re-think our deep-rooted prejudices. Or, perhaps it is uncomfortable to us because we fear that if the latter answer is correct, then at some point, we may succumb to the dreaded wickedness that we despise.
But shouldn’t either answer to the question “How does one become wicked?” scare us? Shouldn’t either answer break our hearts?
Of course, if wickedness is thrust upon someone, then we ought fear that reality. If this is true, then it means it can happen to any one of us at any time. If we allow our circumstances to mold and shape us beyond our control, then we risk becoming that which we fear the most. We have all heard the theory before that if someone is abused in their youth, they will likely grow up to be an abuser. We tend to fear the teenager or young adult who came from a “rough background” because we know that means they may be “bad news”.
But the reason behind our uneasiness towards this “cause of wickedness” theory should not only be geared toward the wicked one. We ought to fear the cause of wickedness more than its effects.
Before she was the Wicked Witch, her name was Elphaba. She had a family and a home. She was born as the result of an affair. She was the oldest and the least favored between two daughters. She was bullied at home and at school. She was subjected to whispering, snickering, and pointing everywhere she went. She grew up taunted and abused no matter where she was. All she ever wanted was to make some good in the world. But she was never given the chance. Instead, she was forced to watch as everything she cherished was stolen from her; that is, until the day she’d had enough. Until the day she decided that if people insisted they had to fear her, she would give them something to fear. Until the day she truly believed that she learned no good deed goes unpunished.
All anyone ever had to do was to show her a little kindness. All anyone ever had to do was to show her a little love and a little inclusion. All anyone ever had to do was to give her a chance.
How many people may not have ever been whispering things or taunting her, but still stood by in silence? How many people had the chance to speak out against what was happening to her, but chose to look the other way?
Perhaps if wickedness is thrust upon us, then we ought to fear the cause more than the effect. Perhaps we ought to fear when we contribute to the cause more than the wickedness itself. Perhaps we ought to fear our own ignorance, and the ignorance of other people who have impacted the lives of the wicked. Because the truth is, if we believe people have wickedness thrust upon them, then something and/or someone must be thrusting it upon them.
But what of the other option, that people are born wicked? Surely, we fear that this answer may be true. Surely, if birth was the only cause of one’s wickedness, then there must not be a solution.
If we believe people are born wicked, then what does that mean we believe about God? Do we believe it is possible for him to create something as anything other than good? That’s not what I believe, and I’d imagine many others would agree with me that when God creates and when God gives life, it is good. Yet, when we live as if we believe the wicked are born, we tend to live as if we believe there is no potential for good. We refer to fellow human beings as “the scum of the earth”, we verbally express our desire to see fellow human beings “rot in prison”, and we get offended when someone is not offered the death penalty. We dehumanize our fellow man. We operate as if the acts of the wicked transform them into some sort of creature that is no longer human, and no longer deserves their basic human rights. I understand that there are things humans have done that are unspeakably evil; I am not at all saying that there should not be consequences. I am, however, saying that these consequences do not have to be dehumanizing.
If people have wickedness thrust upon them, then perhaps it is possible that the wickedness can be removed. But dehumanization is not the way to remove wickedness. Our first response ought to be mercy when we see injustice; it ought to break our hearts, and we ought to seek to understand the root of the problem. When we understand the root of it, we are better able to not only restore that which has been broken as a result of evil, but we are also able to prevent it from happening again. Our prayer ought to be modeled after Jesus’ prayer on the Cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they have done.”
People are not born wicked. The Wicked Witch was not born wicked. Wickedness is thrust upon people, and though the task is difficult, there must be a way to reverse its effects. There also must be a way to prevent it from happening to someone in the first place through love, mercy, and compassion. God will bring justice; we must bring mercy. And we must pray that in his justice, he too, will bring mercy.