The Struggle Between Good And EvilIn the 20th Century, human beings created atomic weapons that could actually end human existence as we know it: Anyone not blown up by a direct hit would likely die soon after from radioactive fallout, or starvation due to living on a planet that mankind had rendered uninhabitable.
During the cold war between the NATO and communist bloc superpowers, all of our nuclear warhead-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles were trained on our enemy's strategic sites, like population centers, and all of theirs were pointed at ours. Perhaps the only reason we didn't have World War III from about 1950 to 1987 was because of something called MAD, mutually assured destruction.
But MAD only averted war because political leaders placed a high value on human life: theirs and the lives of their people. Okay, there are examples of despots who didn't value the lives of their people all that much, but despotism only works if you have living humans over whom to rule. In a MAD scenario there are no people. No people, no power.
So there you have it. The civilized development of humanity can be reduced to a ratio of 2:1, evil to good:
Evil - 1 of 2 - After thousands of generations, humans still have not fully mastered the concept of getting along.
Evil - 2 of 2 - Humans have evolved intellectually to the level of conceiving and creating horrific weapons, capable of mass destruction and annihilation.
Good - 1 of 1 - Most humans still hold to the fundamental concept of valuing life, even if only for self-interest.
Is History On Our Side?
Historically, the good news has been that the one good characteristic has typically trumped the two evils. Even in the history of warfare, where each side likely considered the other to be evil, there has long been an understanding about the basic treatment of the unarmed enemy and innocent noncombatants.
Isolated atrocities notwithstanding, even when the ancients captured and held prisoners-of-war, they were often released at the end of conflict. Medieval chivalry manifested, among other ways, as a code of honor between combatants. And in modern times, the Geneva Convention established standards for the treatment of prisoners-of-war and civilians.
But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the foregoing was nullified.
• The civilized world was introduced to what can happen when evil humans have no regard for the lives of the innocent and unarmed, or even their own lives.
• Civilized humans of all faiths came face-to-face with a type of ad hoc combatant who regards no other convention of behavior but their own misguided and esoteric standard of what is right.
• These combatants feel so justified by their self-righteous standard that thousands of years of progress in civilized conventions and behavior not only are afforded no regard, but the peaceful assets of non-combatants are actually used as weapons against them.
On that Terrible Tuesday it became abundantly clear that:
• Any balance maintained in the human evolutionary ratio - where the two abiding evils are somehow managed by the one compelling good - was tipped in favor of evil. And the tenuous but diligent efforts of the one good over the two evils were breeched.
• Presumed enjoyment of civil liberties, one of the valuable by-products of the success of good over evil, was put in harm's way for a day, and in jeopardy for the foreseeable future.
Why Is Evil Easier To Leverage Than Good?
As I have pursued my personal journey of faith over the years, I have contemplated the tension between good and evil. But of even more interest to me is how seemingly effortless are the tasks of evil, and how tireless and constantly vigilant the forces for good must be.
I posed this question in a poem I wrote and published in this space the week after the 9-11 attacks: Why is evil easier to leverage than good? It's true, isn't it? One evil person can do more damage in a minute than the good many people can do in an hour, a day, perhaps even a lifetime. And for those of us who seek to do good, our task is daunting.
Shakespeare made a similar observation in one of his most famous plays, Julius Caesar. This familiar passage is from Marc Antony's eulogy of the slain Caesar:
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.
How unlevel is that playing field? How much more unfair could it be when the living good have to battle not only the living evil, but even that which was perpetrated and left by the dead?
Things Really Haven't Changed That Much
In case you think I'm painting a hopeless picture, where good has insurmountable odds against evil, remember that nothing I have said so far is all that different from what good people have faced in fighting evil though time immemorial. The only thing new in the battle between good and evil today is the technology. But as we have seen, that difference has the potential to provide evil with even greater and unprecedented leverage.
Therefore, the good people of this world must recognize that our blessings in the wrong hands can also become a curse. And as long as there is evil and hatred in the world, one of our challenges is to be good stewards of our blessings by sharing them with others without being naïve about how evildoers can use them for their dark purposes.
This War Is Not About Religion
Evil is an equal opportunity employer. The list of those who have toiled under this master is long and varied. We must recognize that the war we wage today is not about religion. Yes, we were attacked by, and are currently at war with, a group of people who say they follow Islam. But it is my opinion that they do so more with words than with deeds.
In my life I have acquired many friends who do follow Islam, and they are the gentlest and most peaceful human beings I have ever known. Like me, a Christian, their religion causes them to seek out and do good things, and we struggle with the same battle over the influences of evil from within and without. But also like me, they hold to things taught in their religion, like valuing life and practicing tolerance. I see no evidence of either of these things in the terrorists who attacked us.
Our enemy is not Osama bin Laden; it is evil. He is just the evildoer du jour. Getting rid of bin Laden and his followers is not going to rid the world of evil. It will pop up somewhere else in the form of another cause and perhaps another religion.
Technology: The Enemy Of Evil
I believe that the new leverage of evil - technology - can ultimately become its greatest enemy. As more earthlings become connected though technology we begin to do something very special: we communicate. Not nation to nation, but person to person.
As a result of technology, we can leverage the good that we do by talking with people around the planet. This electronic publication is being sent to subscribers all over the world. With these words and my good intentions, perhaps I have in some small way thwarted evil. You can do the same thing, even if it's just with a simple email.
Now let's go back to the 2:1 ratio of evil to good I mentioned earlier. I don't know how long it will be before humans learn to get along, but we can build fewer weapons, and we can be better stewards of our peaceful innovations. And when we have done those things, look how that tips the balance between good and evil.
Write this on a rock... Good has always had to work harder than evil. For those of us who seek the good in this world, we must never miss an opportunity to make a friend. And with the technology we have today, we can now make them all over the world. Now go forth and do good.