Why faith in goodness is not enough

Martin Richard, 8, who died in the Boston Marathon BombingPatton Oswalt and Mister Rogers have been doing their best to keep us sane after the horror of Boston. I would like to believe what they say about good outnumbering evil and that the helpers will always be there.

Then I read the message boards on news sites where the trolls hide behind their anonymity to spew out the most horrific hate the reptilian part of the brain can invent. Of course, those people know who did it. It was the Muslims. Or right-wing gun nuts. Or North Korea. Or President Obama. Or the New World Order with the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, Monsanto, the Vatican, and (naturally) the Jews.

We want to write these people off as a thin slice of humanity. We shouldn’t.

I’ve been reading Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Yes, she probably would have been a Justin Bieber fan like any teenage girl. In a way, Justin Bieber reminded us of the essential tragedy of Anne Frank: She was an ordinary girl forced into extraordinary suffering because ordinary Germans and Dutch turned to evil.

The Holocaust reminds us of how fragile decency is and how easily people can be convinced to strip themselves and others of their humanity. A minority of evil can turn into a majority. The helpers can turn into the attackers.

The danger of the post-9/11 world is that it could change us in the same way. In some ways, it has. The goal of terrorists is to turn us to evil, to become like them, and in the end, to destroy ourselves by destroying our humanity. That’s why it’s dangerous for us to believe that goodness and compassion will always be there. Human decency has failed too many times in the past as people gave into their fears and anger.

The only way to make sure that good outnumbers evil and the helpers will be there is if we fight for our humanity. We must prevent ourselves from succumbing to the hatred, selfishness, and brutality we know lurks below our humane surface. We must fight to uphold the values of decency and compassion as others seek to strip them away. We must battle evil by refusing to become evil.

We can’t simply have faith in goodness. We have to fight to protect it. It’s a war we can’t afford to lose.