A Battle Between Good and Evil?


A friend posted this meme, a quote attributed to John Wesley that seemed quite appropriate to our mid-term elections. I am writing this on Tuesday afternoon, while the polls are still open. So I don’t know anything about winners and losers and whether there has been a shift in political power between the time I am writing this and you are reading it. Actually, it really doesn’t matter to what I’ve been thinking about.

What I want to question is whether we will continue to frame our political discourse as a battle between good and evil–with those in opposition the “evil” party? These thoughts have been sparked not only by the Wesley quote but also by a book I’ve been reading, The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. They talk about three bad ideas that have crept into education that actually undermine both personal and societal well-being. The third of these is life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

It seems to me that this has been the thesis of much of the political advertising and rhetoric in recent elections, and particularly this one. The knight in shining armor in one party’s ads is the incarnation of evil in the other’s. This is not particularly new.

What does seem new is that we have extended the penumbra of evil to cover the supporters of these candidates. It troubles me that there is an increasing perception that America consists of two opposing sides, each seeing the other as evil and detrimental to the nation’s future. The sides mirror the views of the candidates they support. One sees it in the ugly images of angry faces shouting at each other across barricades. More quietly, it sometimes means that someone decides that another can no longer be their friend.

The reality, of course is far more complex. People who vote for different candidates actually have many common concerns and aspirations–a desire to make a living, to see their children educated well, to have good heath care when we need it, to live meaningfully. Many of us struggle when voting, because there are some emphases in each party with which we agree, and we must choose between them. Most of us don’t see one party as all right, and the other all wrong, when we assess the policies they advocate against our own deeply held values.

What concerns me is that the narrative of a battle of good against evil may not end with words. In fact, some, whether in violent confrontations, or violent acts have taken the battle beyond words. For now they are outliers–kind of like John Brown was prior to the Civil War. The question that disturbs me is how long we can continue using this narrative in our national discourse without increasing instances of our social fabric descending into civil disorder–or resorting to authoritarian measures to maintain order.

We cannot stop politicians, advertisers and political advocacy groups from using this rhetoric. But we can stop enabling it. We can refuse to support appeals that divide us from our fellow citizens, or even our fellow human beings–that propose that some particular class of humans is evil and ought to be opposed. I wonder what would happen if we wised up enough to turn our backs and walked away from any politician who turns their opponents (and their constituencies) into evil enemies.

Any of us who have worked on teams realizes that good teams use all the different skills and perspectives within the team. Differences can be good, because none of us is as proficient, strong, or smart as all of us. I’ve sometimes been at loggerheads with another until we did the hard work of understanding why the other thought the way he or she did. Not simply or quickly, but often, in the end, we ended up with a better solution or program than either of us could have designed alone. I would contend that it is unpatriotic to rob our country of the gifts and contribution of all of us, just to favor a particular political base.

You may ask, “are you saying there is no evil out there?” Hardly. Rather, apart from sociopaths and the corrupt, I would contend that a truer portrait is the one that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn offered when he said, “The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” The most dangerous people, I believe, are those who fail to reckon with the line of good and evil running through their own lives. I become that person when I attribute that evil to a political opponent, and virtue to myself or my party. A far saner approach, it seems, is to see all of our parties as imperfect human structures, striving for proximate rather than ultimate goods, which belong to God alone.

For those of the Christian faith, I am also reminded of Paul’s word to the Ephesians when he said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV). Paul reminds us that we make a great error when we battle against other people, because that is not where the real battle is.

At bottom, these are my reasons for refusing to adopt the narrative that life is a battle between good people and evil people.” I neither want to be found blind to the evil in my own life, nor be found to have misspent my life fighting the wrong battles. Will you join me?


4 thoughts on “A Battle Between Good and Evil?

  1. The problem is that we have entered an era wherein what formerly was beyond the pale, what was denounced by all decent citizens, is now the new normal. One party systemically does everything it can to disenfranchise voters, from Native Americans in North Dakota to Black senior citizens in Georgia. Its spokespersons are either complicit or silent. The military is injected into domestic matters in a cynical political appeal to fear and terror. We are told by the President that there are good and fine people who are neo-Nazis. I write this the morning after the elections. The American people have spoken–a divided verdict at best. Racism, misogyny, fear have equal footing. Those who say they oppose the uglification of all that is good and decent, and American–access to voting places, for crissake!–but vote for politicians who pander to fear and division because of policy agreement, are like the good Christians of Germany in the early 1930’s who said they deplored Hitler’s barbarism against Jews, communists, and homosexuals yet voted for him because he was seen as rebuilding Germany’s economy. The nation is heading for dangerous times. Watch out what happens when the sugar high of what we are told is a thriving economy dissolves due to unsustainable debt. Those who have made the devil’s bargain will search around for scapegoats. Today the government sends our army to the border. Tomorrow it will send it to our streets and neighborhoods.

  2. A stupendous problem for Americans today is the fact that NRA has made itself the enemy of the people, as time and time again their political pressure tactics have led to gun violence – still worse, repeated gun massacres – because of their refusal to develop serious gun licensing and control measures.

    Just this week the NRA blasted doctors and the medical profession for calling on new efforts to stop the EPIDEMIC of gun violence. The NRA shows no signs of being interested in conversation.

    From the website for SAFE – Scrubs Addressint the Firearms Epidemic.
    “Gun violence in the United States is a medical threat of epidemic proportions. In 2015, firearm related mortality rates exceeded motor vehicle traffic mortality for the first time in American history and has remained higher in all subsequent data (1). In 2016, 38,656 lives were lost to firearms, almost 8,000 of these deaths were individuals under 25; and firearms caused over 116,000 injuries. The 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic claimed 11,310 lives, less than a third of the number of deaths caused by firearms in a single year (2).

    • What is troubling in so many instances of gun violence is that existing licensing and background checks were done. A common denominator in many of these instances is that the shooters were often white, disaffected men. It seems we need to ask what this means. I also wonder if national and online debates only harden positions. I think it might take two generations (40 years) of concerted effort from entertainment to education of saying violence is not an answer and incentivizing voluntarily going gun free to begin to walk this back. No quick fixes, I think and something probably neither of us will see. But we can at least begin…

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