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A Cure for Fear: Scarecrow and Personal Freedom} ?> Sometimes I’m more interested in the development of the villains than the heroes. Watching little Bruce Wayne in Gotham is great, but then there’s Scarecrow. I remember the first episode Dr. Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. Scarecrow, showed up. He’s super creepy. And on that night, while I was watching the show, I unintentionally did something super creepy myself.
I frequently text myself ideas that I might use at a later date. That night, I typed on my phone these lines from the show, “Imagine the thing you fear most in the world. Imagine that’s all you see. Every waking hour.” The text was sent, but it did not go to me. It went to the grandfather of one of my kid’s friends—whom I had only met once. When I realized what I had done—a full day later!—I texted a frantic apology. He was very nice about it, but I suspect he thought there was something seriously wrong with me.
The reason I wrote down that quote was because Scarecrow illustrates (on an exaggerated, supervillain-sized scale) what sort of evil can happen when one has little to no personal freedom. Being free to make choices is part of what makes us human. Personal freedom is vital on a lot of levels. It’s also an important idea to me because of my belief that human beings are made in the likeness of God.
I have lots of personal freedom because my needs have always been met; I have been well-educated, I live in a pretty safe place, and I have opportunities to succeed. I am very aware of the difference between right and wrong and have been brought up with the ability to discern and make choices that are life-giving and wholesome—or not. And yet, I can still potentially scare the poop out of people with bad decisions and scary late-night texts.
Jonathan Crane does not have much personal freedom at all. This Gotham episode, “The Scarecrow,” presented his story; his mother died in a house fire that both he and his father survived. His father’s fear and devastation at his failure to save his wife turns him into a madman. This fear catapults him into truly immoral research and criminal activity as he tries desperately to find a cure for fear. He forces his son to help him scare and kill phobics while they are in a state of terror, and then cut out their adrenal glands—he believes that the chemicals produced in that state could be used to make an anti-fear elixir. He hopes it will fix his own debilitating fear and the fear that he imagines his son to have (which he doesn’t). His father injects Jonathan with too much of the stuff just before getting gunned down himself right in front of his son. As a result of the injection, Jonathan descends into terrifying hallucinations that the doctors are not sure will ever end.
Now, that’s a backstory for you. The kid is doubly messed up—first by the psychological damage inflicted upon him by his father, and then by chemical damage done to his brain. Most people would say that someone in his shoes would never have a normal life.
As a society, we uphold this idea that children who are brought up in terrible situations “don’t have a chance” at being normal or becoming contributing members of society. Of course, there’s always hope and with help, many, many people beat the odds; breaking the chains of addiction, abuse, or dysfunction.
One of the most difficult things that people who have suffered a lack of personal freedom need to overcome is fear: fear of failure, rejection, unworthiness, success, suffering, and the unknown. When you have not been given the tools to deal with fear, the problems of life can seem unsurmountable. Anxiety creeps in, and fear becomes truly debilitating. It removes a person’s ability to make decisions that will bring them closer to their goals, hopes, and dreams. Fear is not something that God put into us (“God did not give us a spirit of fear…” 2 Timothy 1:7), but it’s actually an enemy of humans and of God. It makes us less like God.
Imagine the thing you fear most in the world. Imagine that’s all you see. Every waking hour. Some people know exactly what their biggest fear is, and shudder at the thought of seeing it all the time. Others, like me, don’t even know exactly what that thing we fear most is, because we’ve lived in such positive circumstances we haven’t had to face it.
But everyone’s faced some sort of fear. It can be devastating. It can rob me of my potential and my life. It can convince me to abandon my personal freedom, to abdicate my ability to make my own decisions. Fear of never doing anything remarkable—not making a difference in particular has been a struggle for me. I’ve learned to overcome it by reminding myself of what God calls me to be. When I live more intentionally and take steps to curb the fear that tries to assault me, I can open up to new possibilities and make decisions that promote joy and even greater freedom.
Jonathan Crane became a villain in serious part to circumstances that were beyond his control. I believe that villainy can be greatly reduced by helping people to overcome their fears and experience freedom. Someone like Jonathan, who has the odds stacked against him, needs outside influences to show him what freedom looks like. When that happens, when fear is overcome by joy (and in his case, probably a lot of medical and psychiatric help), we can become more fully alive and more fully what we are meant to be.