After decades of observing the world around us and reflecting on some horrific history, I would call for balance in our mythology. On the one hand, let us not be too quick to absolve ourselves from contributing to the plus factor Johnson writes of. We may not be murderers but there are gradations of our complicity in the acts of others. We make our petty compromises and dismiss them as petty. We put others’ reputations on the line to save our own. We condone the acts of terror perpetrated by our secular leaders on our behalf.
And we have less excuse for our actions if we are among the baptized. We carry on a mediocre Christian life and refuse to turn in conversion. The hard sayings of the Gospel are not preached to us: love of enemy, the beam in our own eye, etc. Our opinions and commitments mirror those of the unbaptized.
On the other hand, let us not forget the alternative structures of good. I won’t give percentages but I’m confident that positive, constructive, helping factors also abound in our world. They also spring from our nature and manifest themselves in many ways. What motivates the many small acts of kindness, the compassion towards suffering persons, the individual and collective acts of generosity? Of course, most of the time we carry on inertias, sticking to traditions, conforming to conventions of social behavior, getting along, and these imply a certain respect for our neighbor.
The modern age has its own ways of expressing the fall of our nature. We have the Faustian bargain, the selling of our soul for temporary advantage over our fellows. We seem to need an enemy to hate at all times. But so have others throughout history. I don’t think we are any more forgetful of these destructive forces than other civilizations have been. I remember Edward R. Murrow’s reminder to his television viewers as he quoted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in our selves.”