1 Samuel 15 (KJV) – For bitterness is as the sin of witchcraft, And presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
[Our Christian high school just put on a “fearless” production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which continued to haunt me after leaving the theater. I identified deeply with many of the characters, whose seemingly minor flaws led to tragic results. I am writing this in hopes it will help me identify (and repent of) the deeper sin they shared — but could not name — which ultimately destroyed them all.]
HALE: Brothers and Sisters, Honored Judges, thank you for gathering to hear me. As the servant of God who first drew your attention to the wickedness infecting this town, it grieves me to announce that Satan has seduced yet another soul into a villainous compact.
I will not name them until the end, but I must warn you that it is someone who seems outwardly pious. Yet I assure you that this person is actually the chief of sinners, and willingly gave themselves to partake deeply of Satan’s most sinister plans. In fact, it is fair to say they have been the devil’s chief instrument, the one ultimately responsible for all the harrowing tales of woe this court has been suffered to hear.
So cunning, so malicious is this individual that I confess they nearly deceived me. I could not bring myself to admit that one so outwardly righteous, so eloquent and wearing the mantle of holiness, could possibly be in league with the evil one. Yet I assure you that such is in fact the case. And that unless you purge this evil from your midst, Satan will surely unravel all the good we have tried to do for Christ and His Kingdom in this new land.
Why would someone willingly bind themselves to infernal damnation, when the grace of Christ is so freely available? Why, for lust. Not the common lust of the flesh, but very lust the serpent used to tempt our mother Eve. The same he dared to test our Savior with in the desert.
The lust… for glory.
I know these words sound harsh, beloved. Does not glory belong alone to God? Is it not the heights of wickedness, like unto Lucifer himself, for a mortal to seize the honor we owe to our Creator alone? Can there truly be one among us so craven that they would sink to those depths?
Indeed, my heart quails at the need to cast so stern a judgement. But I am a minister of the gospel. I have taken a solemn oath to confront and rebuke evil wherever it be found. I dare not stand idly by while Satan wreaks his havoc among the helpless sheep of God’s own flock. How could I face the great Shepherd, if I failed to call out this wolf before it devoured any more lambs?
I know not how this unlucky soul fell into the dark one’s clutches. Perhaps their motives were once pure and upright, and they foolishly sold their soul in a moment of weakness. But I fear the ugly truth is that they had always cherished the seed of wickedness in the depths of their heart. They probably tasted the delights of forbidden fruit at an early age, and spent their whole life scheming to obtain more if it.
In the end, it matters not when or why they chose this unholy path. The end result is that they willingly and wholeheartedly gave themselves to further the work of the Evil One, all the while arraying themselves in the trappings of righteousness. They delved deep in the pursuit of unwholesome knowledge, and basked in the riches and pleasures it won them, headless of the suffering they left in their wake.
Your honor, good Christian men and women of the covenant, I submit to you that this one person is the root and source of all the problems that have come upon us this innocent town.Though it pains me to do it, I must unmask this evildoer at once, and demand that the court try, condemn, and execute this malefactor before exacting judgement on any other soul led astray by their wiles. Those wretches are but simple dupes of this one true mastermind. There is only one villain that deserves the full weight of our combined wrath. And the name of that villain is…
PARRIS: Lies! Your honor, forgive me, but this man lies! I can tell by his face that he is about to bring slanderous accusation against me.
It is true: I am a vain and foolish man. I confess that I have taken unwarranted pride in my status and my learning. I have burned with envy when classmates with half my intelligence and a tenth my piety won fame and comfort, while I languished in poverty. Perhaps it is even true that I took too much delight at naming the evil of others, rather than confronting the shame within my own heart.
But your honor, I swear to you upon my mother’s grave that I am no servant of the evil one. I have given my life to the service of the gospel. I would never, never make any sort of pact with the evil one. If I am guilty of any great sin, it is merely my foolishness in bringing this man into our town. In my weakness, I hope he would reassure the townsfolk that there was no evil in my home, lest scurrilous rumor destroy my reputation.
You may well mock and chasten me for inviting in the very one who seeks to be my undoing. That judgement of blindness I most truly deserve, and I will carry that shame to my grave. But of this greater sin, I am utterly innocent. Please, your honor, you must believe me!
[Hale tries to interrupt, but is cut off by a peremptory gesture from the governor]
DANFORTH: Peace, Parris. Spare me your whines. You are not the target of this silver-tongued devil. It is clear that he means to blame me for the evil that has come upon this town. I knew he was going soft when he ran out of my court. I am only surprised he had the gall to accuse me to my face.
[Turns to face Hale, who seems to have turned white with fear]
So, little man, your heart sickens within you when it finally comes time to mete out the punishment you once called for so stridently. Bah, ministers! All you want to do is talk against evil. We the magistrates actually have to do something about it!
I am not ashamed to admit it: I am no saint. You know as well as I do that no mortal can judge as truly as God. So what? If we waited for perfect men to render perfect judgement, honest people would be overrun by murderers and scoundrels.
No, the only way to keep order in this wild new country is for strong men to make strong decisions, and stand behind them, no matter the cost. The forces of rebellion and chaos are waiting ever at the gates. One slip, one crack in our armor, and all hell will break loose.
[Quieter] I wish it were not so. I have always sought to know the bare truth, and render the best judgements of which the human mind is able. If we lived in a gentler, more civilized land, then maybe we could take the time for endless appeals and lawyerly disputation. Then no man would be forced to bear the burdens I must bear.
[Angrily] But, dammit, man, we have to live in this world. And in the real world, real men have to step up and make the real tough decisions. It doesn’t matter what I wish the world was like. It doesn’t matter what doubts may come to torture me in the depths of the night. What matters is that I make the best decisions I can make out the messy half-truths you people foist on me, and then shove it down your throats so you can get on with your lives!
That’s the real sin, here. Everyone likes to blame the judge, because that means they don’t have to face their own culpability, or the responsibility of living with the hard decisions. Well to hell with them, and to hell with you Reverend Hale. I may be a tyrant, and I may be a figurehead, but I am no servant of the evil one. I am just a man doing an ugly thankless job because civilization would fall apart if I did not.
In the end, nobody really cares whether I was right or wrong. They just want justice to be Somebody Else’s Problem. Well, as God is my witness, I for one have refused to take the easy way out. Wise or foolish, these decisions are mine and mine alone to make, and I have not shirked my duty to make them. [Shouting] God may well judge me someday, but you sir, you will not!
[Hale just stands there, open-mouthed, speechless. The crowd seems frozen in tableau, unwilling to break the silence. Until one man self-consciously clears his throat…]
PROCTOR: Ahem. Easy there, judge. I’m sure the good Reverend there didn’t mean you any harm, or disrespect. He just spoke the simple truth.
[The crowd murmurs their disapproval. The governor gathers himself for a thunderous rebuke. Realizing his error, Proctor hurries on.]
PROCTOR: Oh no sir, not about you! About me.
[The crowd stills. Proctor turns to Hale, who stares at him with a stricken look. Proctor somehow manages a ghost of a smile.]
PROCTOR: You saw right through me, didn’t you? It was me, all along. I am the one who done this to the town.
No, I never signed my name in blood to no devil’s book. I did something far, far worse. I set myself up as a god. I made my pride an altar, and my lands a graven image. I sacrificed my wife, my neighbors, and my reputation, all in worship of myself.
Abigail, I know it is way too late, but I ask you for your forgiveness. More importantly, I ask you to forgive yourself. You were lonely, scared, and hungry for love. I was bitter and resentful at God and my wife for not giving me what I thought I deserved. I took you and used you without a thought for what it might cost you. Worse, I deliberately let you keep hoping that I truly loved you, that I would make an honest woman out of you.
I should have owned up to my sin at once. I should have told you, told my wife, told everyone my secret shame. We all prattle about confession and the forgiveness of Jesus, but I never had the guts to put it to the test. If I had, none of this would ever have happened.
But I was too proud. You are right, preacher. I did give myself to the devil. Not knowingly, but willingly. I was willing to damn every other soul in this town to hell just so I could look good in my own eyes, and not have to confront the depths of my own sin and shame.
And none bore the brunt of it so thoroughly and uncomplainingly as you, dear Elizabeth. The wife God gave me, as surely as He gave Eve to Adam. And just like Adam, I blamed you and Him for my own weakness and disgrace.
Perhaps my cruelest act of all was putting you on a pedestal, trying to make you sinless and perfect to justify myself as your husband. It is only God’s simple justice that I am condemned because you perjured yourself out of love for me. I should never have put you, or poor little Mary, in the position of having to save my life.
I can see now that the Reverend was right. I have been acting as Satan’s perfect tool this whole time, thinking I was doing the right thing. Because the god I was really serving was myself, not the Jesus who died on the cross for my sins.
I should have claimed that poppet as my own. For it really was my needle that pierced Abigail’s belly, even as I treated her as my soulless plaything. I was the one who inflamed her with the agony of false love, and brought all this damnation upon so many innocent souls.
I see it now, all so clearly. And so I freely confess that I am truly guilty of every charge against me, and only my death can purge this town of the ruin I have brought upon it. God may well damn me to hell for the horrors I have wrought, but the least I can do is give Him the glory I so wrongly stole for myself all these years.
[Proctor walks over to the Marshall, holding out his hands to be led away to the gallows. The other guards hold Elizabeth, who is screaming and trying to run to her husband. Abigail is dissolving into tears, as are most of the townsfolk and all the girls.]
[Then Hale, who has been frozen like a statue, runs to embrace Prospect. The two men weep in each other’s arms. Then Hale pulls back, looks Prospect in the eye, and holds out his hand. Prospect stares at it in wonder, then up at Hale. Whatever he sees there inspires him to reach out firmly to grasp Hale’s hand and shake it, a glint of the old fire and dignity returning to his face.]
[Which turns to shock as Hale grabs that hand, turns Proctor away from the Marshal, and leads him back to his wife. The guards, equally stunned, release her as she gathers her husband into her arms. She smothers him with sobs and kisses, as he breaks down completely, crying out her name.]
[Hale allows himself a moment to bask in the bliss of their reunion, before a change seems to come over him. He squares his shoulders, walks over to the Marshall, and thrusts his hands in front of him. With a voice far quieter yet somehow more commanding than his earlier bombast, he angles his face toward the Governor.]
HALE: Forgive me, your honor. It was never my intention to cast aspersions on you, much less Reverend Parris or Goodman Proctor. The true villain of this tale, that I could not bring myself to name, was ME!
[The crowd stares in shock; so silent, you could hear a pin drop.]
HALE: Like Proctor, I never intended to sell my soul to the devil. He came to me as an angel of light, promising truth, knowledge, and holiness; wearing the garb of religion and the mantle of tradition. I drank the sweet wine of theology, never guessing it was laced with the deadly poison of self-righteousness.
I do not blame my teachers, nor the holy writ they fed me with. Rather, like St. Paul, that Law which was good became death when it encountered my sin. Like Eve, I hungered after the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that I might become as God.
Fool that I was, I failed to heed the warnings from history, of the learned Pharisees who nevertheless crucified our Lord. In my arrogance I thought myself too pure and wise to fall into the trap that had ensnared them. I saw my careful study and learning as the armor to shield me from error; never suspecting it was the millstone that would drag me into the depths of hell.
For in the end, it was in fact my learning that, like Judas, betrayed me with a kiss. I was so full of my knowledge — and so empty of self-knowledge — that my mind seized on the girls’ testimony as a steel trap seizes on a rabbit. I was filled with an overpowering certainty of my own rightness, confident that I alone held the key to overcoming a great evil.
I completely forgot the wise words of St. Paul, that it is when correcting sinners we are most likely to be tempted. Thinking myself wise, I became the most abject of fools. Seeing myself a liberator, I condemned countless innocents to bondage. Certain I stood on heaven’s side, I became a willing agent of hell.
I refuse to clear myself by blaming others, as I so recently urged others to do. While some may have perhaps acted unwisely, that is between them and their Creator. Who am I to cast the first stone? Let all the blame for this sorry affair fall on me, because I though blind dared to claim I could see, and thus gravely misled this just and honest court.
I know the blood of Christ is even now sufficient to bear the sins of such a scoundrel as I. But in this world, I ask only the grace to pay the penalty I so thoughtlessly and carelessly inflicted on others. Your honor, please accept my sacrifice as penance and proof of the truth of my confession.
Let John Proctor and the others go, to restore their lives and reputations as best they can. Usher me to that tree which will reunite with my Maker, the only Judge holy enough to redeem a sinner such as I.