Goodness and Evil

A.P. European History

7 May 1997

Throughout the world’s history, man has displayed his capacity for good and evil. Unfortunately more of the latter than the former. It is well known that people should be judged in the context of their times, so it is difficult to objectively say who was good and who was evil without using today’s moral beliefs. It is also difficult to say how these two characteristics can be controlled to make a better society because whatever viewpoint appears in a community, it is bound to be turned around and used for other purposes, whether from a radical point of view or from a reactionary.

It would probably be easiest to say that the people throughout history who have displayed the most goodness are the people who died in martyrdom. How could there be anything wrong with a person who overcame his own needs and gave up his life for a higher cause? Two such examples that are very well known are Cassandra and Joan of Arc. Cassandra, through her supposed ability to see the future tried to save Troy from being destroyed, but the people whom she was trying to save turned against her and killed her because they believed that she was either crazy or a witch. Joan of Arc dressed up as a man and led the French army to victory, all the while knowing that she could be killed if anyone found out as she was when she was burned at the stake for witchcraft.

Unfortunately it is more difficult to chose the best example of man’s evil because there are so many. However they all stem from the same root, intolerance. One way in which this is shown in the power and actions of the Inquisition. Millions of people were killed for reasons such as having a different opinion from the church or being involved in science. Even more people underwent extreme torture just so that the Inquisition could get a confession out of them even though most of these confessions were false. It was not realized until the middle of the eighteenth century that the only reason one would confess to anything he was accused of under torture is to escape the pain, as if playing a game of mercy. Another good example would be the religious persecutions and wars which wiped out hundreds of people in regions all over the world. One of these that stands out the most is the Bartholomew’s Night massacre in which the Catholic French wiped out the majority of the Huguenot, or French Protestant population in one night. All this was done in the name of religion and for the love of God, yet it was usually brought on by calculating regents or corrupt religious officials for their own benefit. A wise man from Siam once said that if divine providence desired for everyone to be of one religion it could have easily done so.

One way to prevent this goodness from disappearing and evil from reappearing is to accept people for the good they are trying to do and for their good intentions rather than for what their source of information is or their line of belief. Humanity has to realize and accept its own diversity and appreciate what each group can contribute to the whole. Although it is very difficult to believe that mankind will ever get there, the gradual change towards the better has been seen throughout the course of history. One example of this is the gradual abolition of slavery in Europe and later in America. Another is the secularization of public institutions and the separation of church and state in most countries. Whatever the example, tolerance seems to be the only solution to most of our problems. There are reasons why the human race is the way that it is and man has to realize that before he self-destructs.

Works Cited