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  Misplaced Myths and Current Dangers


Misplaced Myths and Current Dangers

by Edna Garte

...the way to fight evil is to maximize your own goodness. Throughout history however, nations have distorted these spiritual ideas into justifications for military crusades.
When I was four years old, my mother and I came across some soldiers on leave who were drunk and behaving aggressively. A little confused, I embarrassed my mother by asking, "Mummy, are those good soldiers or bad soldiers?" I had been taught that good and bad soldiers were fighting a war, and that we believed the good soldiers would win.

Now that I'm a little older, I know that life isn't that simple. Good and bad don't always line themselves up in opposing armies. Destructive forces on opposite sides of a conflict can feed each other, endangering everyone. We need to keep those forces from sending us into a panic that leaves us running to them for shelter. One cure is to look carefully at differences between myth and reality.

Myths often have kernels of truth that inspires people with their values. When they're taken literally, however, they present over-simplified pictures that defeat their own purposes.

There is a dangerous way of thinking about our current foreign policy, which has wrapped itself in an ancient religious belief.

To bring death, crippling injury, and water poisoned with human sewage to thousands of people unnecessarily, in the hope of instituting paradise, is to play God--without God's love, compassion, wisdom and information.

This idea goes back to Zoroaster (6th century BC), an Iranian philosopher who influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In a nutshell, it says that Good and Evil have been in conflict throughout time. God works through the Good, which will finally win out. Paradise then will become universal.

Zoroaster believed the way to fight evil is to maximize your own goodness. Throughout history however, nations have distorted these spiritual ideas into justifications for military crusades.

In relation to Iraq, the myth goes something like this:

The war in Iraq is part of a greater struggle between good and evil. Since the evil ones all serve the same Enemy, they must be in league with each other. We have the power to destroy all of them. We also have a higher mission. If we accept the “collateral damage”, we can turn the Middle East into a garden of democracy, peace and love for America. Terror will then disappear; harmony will prevail, and oil will flow freely throughout the earth.

What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is what it does to reality. Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were not in league with each other; they were rivals for power. Many believe Osama was trying to provoke us into a general Middle Eastern war that would drain our resources, destroy our international influence, and leave us vulnerable to his attacks.

It is one thing to defend ourselves, and do everything we can to stop atrocities in other parts of the world. It is another to second-guess history and try to stamp out all evil in advance, thinking the final outcome will justify our actions. To bring death, crippling injury, and water poisoned with human sewage to thousands of people unnecessarily, in the hope of instituting paradise, is to play God--without God's love, compassion, wisdom and information.

We need leaders who can discern our real security needs. A president needs to distinguish between immediate threats and imagined opportunities to transform a region of the world. If we want to use myths, we’re better off going back to their essential truths. We can increase goodness by taking care of each other, and remembering that the same spirit lives in every person on earth.

Edna Garte is Professor of Humanities at Oakland Community College, in Auburn Hills, MI.

Copyright © 2004 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on November 1, 2004.

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