Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom reflects on Lord of the Flies
Is human nature good or evil?
It’s a question humans have wrestled with for thousands of years, and the writings of philosophers and the scriptures of the major world faiths have sought to find an answer.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies – so well portrayed by our Middle Fifth cast and crew – asks us to imagine what would happen when a group of children being evacuated from Britain at war are shot down in a plane which crashes on a tropical island. There are no adults. Is human nature good or evil? Will they be able to build a civilisation and work together so they will be rescued, or will they descend into savagery?
Golding’s answer is quite clear. At the end of the novel, one of the main characters, Ralph, weeps for the end of innocence and the darkness of the human heart.
The Biblical writings offer a rather nuanced answer to this question. On the one hand, the creation myth celebrates the goodness of God’s creation and the idea that human beings are made in the image of God; on the other hand, soon after this we are offered a mythical account of the Fall of humanity and the image of God in humans becomes distorted. From here the Scriptural narrative offers a complicated story of redemption which culminates in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
So is human nature good or evil then? I rather like the answer of a little boy who was once asked, ‘if the goodies are green and the baddies are red, which colour would you be?’ He responded, ‘striped’. Human nature has the capacity for good and evil.
So, what is it then which brings out evil? What leads to the dark side? One of the directions in which Lord of the Flies points in answer to this question is ‘fear’. It’s not long on the island until the children begin to be afraid, and their fear finds a focus in the ‘beast’. As the story progresses, the dictatorial Jack uses the fear of the beast to secure control – and only Simon (or Simone, in our version) realises what none of the other characters grasp: that the beast is within us.
Fear then brings out the evil within. The wise Jedi master Yoda offers the same teaching in Star Wars: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
As human beings, we struggle with a wide range of fears: of lack of control; of the natural world; of those who are different; of the darkness we might find within; and, ultimately, of death. So, we need to treat with caution any decisions we might make which are motivated by fear. Certainly, any kind political strategy which plays on people’s fears is a sign of darkness to my mind. But fear leads to darkness on a daily basis, too: we might be tempted to join in with cruelty to another because we fear being left out of a group; we might overload ourselves with stress because we work so hard in fear of failure; or we might deny the person we truly are because we fear being laughed at or rejected by others.
It’s hardly surprising then that one of the most common phrases throughout the Bible is ‘Do not be afraid’. It teaches over and over again that we do not need to be afraid, of others, of the darkness within, and ultimately of death. Why? Because we are loved. ‘Perfect love,’ says St. John, ‘casts out fear.’ May that be true in each of us, in our school, and in our world.