“Dad, I want you to know, you did raise the son you always wanted.” – Lex Luthor

I remember it well, for it began as a discussion of Hannibal Lecter and resulted in an argument about whether or not sociopaths are born or made through their circumstances. Secular society would have you believe that evil (though they would not dare call it that) originates in our circumstances rather than is inborn, that criminals are “made” and not born. This, of course, flies in the face of Christianity, which takes the view that all of mankind is depraved, and it is only through the presence of moral law and the intervention of Christ that any of us can even aspire to goodness. Yet even among Christians, the debate of whether sociopaths are born or the result of circumstances is a hot topic… and doesn’t even touch on the idea of spiritual legacies.

Do you find it interesting how often the sins of the fathers are repeated in the behavior of the children? It seems that some families are “cursed” with various behaviors, ranging from repeated sexual immoralities to addiction and abuse. It is only when someone puts their foot down and refuses to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors that the trait is broken. Interestingly, we also see this in scripture, that often a trend follows certain family lines. David cheats on his wife with Bathsheba, a sexual sin, and his son Solomon is as well known for having hundreds of wives and concubines (more sexual excess) as he is his wisdom! Lot steps outside God’s will, becomes corrupted in the evil town he has chosen to live in, and his daughters bear sons by him, who grow up to be the mortal enemies of the Israelites. They suffer the consequences of their mothers’ sins in addition to their own choices. To some extent, this is not surprising, because spiritual legacies are throughout the Bible. We are to this day suffering the consequences of Adam and Eve’s decision to sin in the Garden!

Tolkien explored this philosophy in The Lord of the Rings, when Isildur refused to destroy the One Ring and condemned his descendants and the men of Gondor to be bound to its will and susceptible to its influence. It is only when Aragorn is tempted and refuses that the Ring loses its hold on the heirs of Gondor. This is an interesting thing to ponder, because it raises the question of whether or not God is punishing families for continued disobedience, or if it is merely that certain evils tend to pass on to descendants as a result of our own choices.  I tend to fall in-between these views, because I do believe that God permits us to suffer the consequences of our actions, but also that He judges us according to ourselves and not anyone else! Our sins are ours alone and must be atoned for in Christ’s blood, but that does not mean we will not suffer the temptations and weaknesses of our ancestors. We do have the power to stop the addiction, or the immorality, or the depravity with our generation.

We should model our lives after our parents’ best traits, not agree to carry on their worst faults. There are plenty of new problems that we’re going to have to face due to the consequences of our actions; we don’t need the added baggage of the previous generation’s problems.

Even though as Christians we might contemplate the notion of spiritual sin legacies, secular society completely rejects it in favor of secular humanism, which professes a belief that all immoral behavior (what we might call sin or evil, and not necessarily in their eyes immorality by our definition of the word) is the result of environment. While many sources choose this explanation for the behavior of certain individuals, I’m going to point to Smallville, with the Luthor family. Throughout the seven seasons in which the Luthors are instrumental to the plot we are encouraged to believe that Lex’s eventual transformation into a villain is the result of his traumatic upbringing and his father’s intentionally corrupting influences.

The strongest contrast is drawn between the Luthors and the Kents, and how the fathers played important roles in the destinies of their sons. Clark, led through the positive moral influence of Jonathan Kent, and the hard-hitting council of his Kryptonian father, Jor-El, embraces his destiny as a savior and becomes Superman, while Lex, constantly berated, tormented, and humiliated by Lionel, struggles with his desire to become a better person only to eventually surrender to his dark nature and become as depraved as his father. What intrigues me most is the deliberate contrast between Jonathan Kent and Lionel Luthor as total opposites, showing the result of each of their actions and the effect it has on their families. Each have some things in common, like their desire to prepare their son for adulthood, their determination to protect him, and, eerily enough, their mutual respect and admiration for Martha Kent. But where Jonathan is a good influence, Lionel hardly sets a decent example. He is as immoral in business as he is in his personal life, valuing ambition and intelligence far above such common things as compassion and restraint. Even though he seems to change now and again for the better, and even at times fears what his son has and will become, in the end he gets what he ultimately wanted most: a ruthless, powerful son unhampered by emotion, who pushes him out a twenty story window to his death.

So what caused Lex’s evil, his circumstances or his choices? The overwhelming implication is that it was his environment and with a different father he might have been a different man; it is not his fault because he is as much a victim as anyone else, and even Clark is somewhat to blame, for if he had not turned his back on Lex and withdrawn his positive influence, Lex might have continued fighting his evil inclinations for far longer. But the truth is while these events did play a role in Lex’s continued downward spiral, Lex chose who he became, it was not forced upon him. His environment certainly contributed but he knew the difference between good and evil and chose evil. It was never his destiny to be who he became, because he could have stopped Lionel’s spiritual legacy then and there, but instead he surrendered to it.

I have a difficult time accepting the world’s view of victimization because not all criminals were raised badly. Two children can be raised in the same environment and turn out completely differently, which to me indicates that there must be something in them to be built on in order for extenuating circumstances to have an enormous impact. Harry Potter lived in a cupboard under the stairs and was treated miserably by his aunt and uncle for the first eleven years of his life, yet he turned out all right. But to accept this philosophy of evil is to admit it exists, and if we admit evil exists, then we must admit that there are absolutes and a God. If we choose to believe circumstances are always at fault, the villain becomes a victim and we can dismiss the nature of evil as merely being a product of environment, and without evil, there is no need for absolutes, and no need for God. One can see the appeal in secular society! After all, much of the world does not want to believe in a higher power, because it means assuming responsibility for their actions and not only being held accountable for them, but also being judged for them.

Circumstances may contribute to our worldview, and our families may influence our weaknesses and tendencies, but it is you and I who ultimately determine what we become.

[ video rated: TV14 – violence, sensuality]