Does A Villain Have Value?

I like to read up on the craft of writing and got some obvious advice recently that the book’s villain cannot be the mustache twirling antagonist of yore. Yes, noted. This is unrealistic unless you’re crafting a screenplay for Jerry Bruckheimer.

The reason villains need to be real people in fiction is because villains are real people in life. If you have ever personally known someone in jail, or have spoken to someone who has a family member or friend in jail, you learn about the crime and then you learn about the person who committed it.  And when they speak of that person, they talk about what happened to them that lead to that unfortunate fate. The villain becomes a victim. That’s not to say they are relieved of responsibility, but their value is no longer defined by their bad decisions.

One of my husband’s best friends from grade school, Tim, is a convicted pedophile.  He will be eligible for parole in 30 years. He is guilty of heinous crimes. He was abused as a child by a family member. My mother-in-law, a family friend who spent time watching Tim said, “I feel strangely responsible. I spent so much time with him. I wish he’d have felt like he could talk to us.”

Some people feel bitter when criminals in jail “find Jesus.”  It’s too convenient, too easy, and too self-serving if the parole board regards it as “progress.”  Unconditional grace and forgiveness, no matter what, without any caveats, robs society of its eye for an eye. We want them to pay and suffer for their wrongdoing. It’s too good, letting murderers and pedophiles cash in on a higher power’s grace and forgiveness.

I believe we need not worry. Most are suffering and convert because they genuinely recognize one of Christianity’s best tenets – forgiveness for all and the gift of intrinsic value.

After a person’s potential to contribute to society (good or bad) is removed, what is their life’s value?  Scripture redeems their value by telling them it is intrinsic and not just defined via humanistic works. It reinforces what those of us who know a criminal already realize. They are still human and their lives are defined by more then just their wrongdoing.

For my atheist readers, I ask: Does a person have intrinsic value beyond their contribution to society? If so, how is it defined and determined?



  1. It’s the same reason the #1 priority of the federal government is “security.”

    You can’t live an advanced life if you are worried someone is going to cap your ass.

    We have to be safe from death. Otherwise we become base and mean.

    Additionally, we are awesome. Awesome doesn’t kill awesome.

  2. Sage, tell me why that that line should not be crossed. Why, in your estimation, is a human life sacred?

  3. I was hoping this conversation would go here.

    Not only do I believe that humanity is most likely the greatest creation of the universe, I also believe that modern day America could possibly be the greatest civilization of humanity. Without a doubt we have contributed more to humanity than any other collective group of people in time.

    In general I do not feel that it correlates that humans should ever have the right to kill another human. It crosses a line that should rarely, if ever, be crossed. Although it is not difficult to create a hypothetical situation where is a appropriate to kill an innocent human being.

    And I’m happy to report that the vast majority of civilized societies in the world today do not use capital punishment.

    I feel that the United States will evolve out of using capital punishment. Just as we have evolved out of slavery and squelching minority rights. This will be something that we look back on with a sense of strange curiosity.

  4. Alright Gentlemen. So society, man or his creation, assigns value to a human. When one fails to serve that greater good, do they lose their value? Or do they have value as a negative? If their value is cautionary, why not just kill all our murderers and show value through their elimination?

    Christianity offers salvation beyond the contribution to man. As “God’s children” in a religious sense, we are loved regardless of what we give out.

    According to your ideals, when you’re in solitary until lethal injection in 8 years…what is there available in terms of hope for that human? Do they not need or deserve it? Should they just leave the planet, value cashed out? Does value come and go?

  5. I’m going to go with: value is not innate or absolute. It is prescribed by society.

    Humans must have value otherwise chaos will ensue.

    Incidentally, I just went to bed with the new found belief that humans will prevail for eons… possibly for ever. We will certainly beat out the 150 million year legacy of the dinosaurs.

    It seems we are living on the razor’s edge with nuclear weapons and our voracious appetite for consuming EVERYTHING.

    But we should have never gotten this far to begin with. Our upright, closed off air way. Our slow run. Our lack of strength. Our helpless babies. We should have been the mid-day snack for any meat eater that wanted us.

    But yet we prevail. We reign superior.

    We as individuals often are myopic in our view of current affairs. And consequently we see everything as grave and terminal. However, we as a species have seen much worse than anything we are currently experiencing:
    Bubonic plague.
    Bay of Pigs
    Noah’s Ark
    The Dark Ages

    We haven’t seen anything that other generations have seen.

    We deserve value. And society protects it beyond everything else.

    Each human is given a birth right of value for merely being born into the greatest species in the universe.

    It is not god that has given us intrinsic value. We have given each of us value. It is a value that has been fabricated by man himself.

  6. One atheist reader’s comment: I’m not sure that any human being has intrinsic value, even if she is contributing to society. Of course, this statement begs definition. How do you define “intrinsic value”? How do you define “contributing to society”? I think it was Peter Singer who proffered the idea that a being isn’t entitled to rights unless it is sentient. He used this idea to argue that certain animals should have more rights than certain under-developed humans, including those under the age of 2. Of course, it is a provocative concept, but I’m not sure how else you begin to get at “intrinsic value”? What characteristics does a human being (or other creature for that matter) need to possess, to qualify as sentient? Is there better criteria for judging a person’s “person-ness”? can o’ worms…

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