Shekhar Kapur’s film Elizabeth, starring the hugely talented Cate Blanchett, opens with the burning of three heretics at the stake. As the woodpile is lit beneath them, a religious dignitary expresses his token wish that they burn in hell forever, a sentiment shared by many in the gloating crowd.
Scenes such as this were commonplace in 16th century England and much of Europe, as religious fervor swept the land. Burning a witch or a heretic was seen as an act of duty, a ritual purging by the church, who believed that fire cleansed the souls of those martyred. For the poor victims, forced to endure this hideous punishment, the only hope of relief was strangulation prior to the fire being lit, or the strategic placing of gunpowder to hasten the end.
The human race is no stranger to cruelty. You don’t have to look too far for examples of man’s inhumanity to man and the zealousness with which such acts are often carried out. But, in terms of evolution, have we made any progress? A visitor from a distant planet could be forgiven for thinking that, as a species, we still have a long way to go.
Ask yourself the question. Does the good outweigh the bad in human nature, or is this wishful thinking? Most of us would like to lead fairly quiet lives, without causing harm to others, but this in itself doesn’t exonerate us from the crimes commited by the small minority. As humans, we all share the same characteristics. We are all capable of sudden and violent extremes. Perhaps the most we can hope for in one lifetime is to curtail our worst excesses and strive for an uneasy balance that we may or may not obtain.
There is an old saying that’s applicable. ‘The leopard don’t change its spots, they merely fade.’