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The Good Guys and Bad Guys
October 16, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

EXODUS 17:8-13; JOHN 17:18-23

The other day I picked up a magazine, and just by flipping the pages found quickly two headlines. The first headline read, “Millions of Children Live in Fear.” The article pointed out that millions of children in our country are afraid—afraid to go outside, afraid that someone bad will get them. The other headline just a few pages later read, “Elderly Americans Fear of Crime is a Bigger Problem Than the Crime Itself.” Many seem to be if not paralyzed, at least immobilized by fear. Across our country, there is a strong feeling of paranoia, the belief that somebody is out to get me—commonly called “The good guys and bad guys myth”. When you look back at our history, you see that we've been kind of brainwashed, victimized by the good guy- bad guy mythology, epitomized in the old cowboy movies where the good guy dressed in white and the bad guy dressed in black. You could always tell the good guys from the bad guys. Wasn’t life a lot easier and a lot simpler, because all you had to do was look at their hats to know if they were good or bad—a nice, comfortable, simplistic view of life. 

This mythology now is currently revived in the popular movie Star Wars. Once again, the good guys are in white and the bad guys are in black. It’s easy to tell them apart. The Force in Star Wars—God—is on the side of the good guys. How comfortable, how comforting, how reassuring! Isn't it great to be on the good guys side! This mythology has been strong and influential in American life—simplistic, but strong and powerful. We can see this myth applied to other areas of our life. One of the speakers at Pastor’s School last week, Sam Kean, pointed out how prevalent this mythology is in the area of health. The bad guys who are out to get us now are germs, and the supreme germ of all—the devil— is cancer. Millions of people react in fear, in paranoia, because cancer and germs are out to get us. Notice the good guys are dressed in white. What would happen in hospitals if the nurses and doctors wore black? Have you ever thought about that? I don't know if there's anything more sanitary or clean about the color white, but they are all dressed in white. They are our heroes, our superstars coming to fight, wage war on behalf of the good guys against the bad guys. 

The tragic aspects of this myth have been when we have applied it to war. We heard it in the Old Testament lesson. The Old Testament is filled with accounts of violence. On this occasion, it was a battle against the Amalekites. Moses stood on the hillside and raised the rod of God. When his arms grew weary and would drop, the Amalekites would gain success in the battle. But when he raised up the rod, then the Israelites were successful. So Aaron and Hur held his arms up while his armies devastated, annihilated the Amalekites. The bad guys, the Amalekites, were defeated by the good guys. The good guy-bad guy myth was strong then too. Historians tell us that these accounts were no doubt exaggerated. We like to exaggerate. We like to remember the sensational, but the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites was not as violent, was not as bloody as we've been led to believe because we see in those pages also, that the Israelites by and large, just settled down among the people of Canaan. They moved in, took over some of the land and lived comfortably with their neighbors. We see that in the call of Joshua when he called all the local people to come and worship the God who led the Israelites out of Egypt. 

The question needs to be asked—what would the attitude of the Israelites have been if they knew the Amalekites as people and not just as bad guys dressed in black. It's this kind of mythology that's kept our wars going. There's a certain number of soldiers, a certain number of police who are sadistic, who really enjoy brutality and violence, but that's a very small portion. The majority of our armies are like us, and in order to motivate, in order to propel them into battle, we've had to build this mythology that the opponents are all bad, that we are the good and God is on our side. Isn't it time on the face of this earth for the world to move into a new image where we look upon people as human beings. Even enemies have hurts and pains, even enemies laugh and cry, even enemies have mothers, fathers, even enemies have children. It is time to enact and to broaden Jesus’ prayer which we heard in the New Testament lesson, when he prayed that we may be one. O, that the world may be one and come united by a new image. 

C.P. Snow, a British scientist, has written, “If we can't feel that all individual human beings, whatever they believe, whatever they look like, whatever economic system they are living under are, in essence, like ourselves—then whatever we say, we don't believe in individual human beings and we are headed straight for horrors.” Let’s move to a place where we look upon people not as Communists, but as people, not as bad guys in black hats, but as people like ourselves. We are living in a time today that is crucial. It's exciting to live today. We have within our power, in our hands, the shaping of the future. We have been given the opportunity in our lifetime to shape the future, whether it's going to be good or evil. Look at the time in which we live. On the one hand, we have nuclear weapon stockpiles that can destroy this earth many times over. We are living in a time that is the most dangerous time in the four billion years of our history. But, on the other hand, we are living in a time of communication and transportation in which this globe has shrunk. We now can easily talk to all peoples of the world and get to know all peoples of the world, to establish a relationship with the whole world that can lead us into new vistas of peace and justice. 

Part of this is due to the space exploration program. We have seen pictures of our earth that are fantastic. We've seen a new image to move from a bad guy-good guy myth. Let's move to a new image. Lester Pearson, former Prime Minister of Canada, described this image, “Gradually entering into the world's consciousness like a silent and rising tide within the human imagination are those pictures taken by earth-men from interstellar space, showing our planet full of light, hanging small, fragile and vulnerable, single and alone in a cold void with a oneness, a unity that suddenly takes on new meaning.” Isn't that a beautiful image! Earth, when viewed from space, is small, fragile and delicate. We are one on this earth. We are in this world together. An image of our fragility in the face of the universe can cause our cooperation to save our environment, clean up our air, clean up our water. We are in this world together not to compete over a few square inches of land or power, we are in this world together to save our earth, and to make it the best possible place we can to live. Let's get that image in our heads of one earth—fragile, delicate—instead of good guys and bad guys. 

But in the meantime, until we've converted the whole world to that kind of thinking, there are bad guys. There are people out to get us. We do have enemies. In the face of enemies on a global scale, in the face of people who would destroy us, in the face of a disease that would rage and kill our bodies, in the face of a criminal who would break into our house, rob and hurt us, when confronted with bad guys, what is the best response? Fear has a place to play. Fear has a role for fear gets our adrenaline going. Fear gets us motivated to act. Fear prepares us so we will go to the doctor, we'll get a checkup, we’ll put another lock on the door, we'll be more careful, we'll report unusual circumstances to the police. 

Fear has a place but prolonged fear is not a satisfactory motivation to face one's enemies. Look at what happens to the body when we fear, when we are afraid. The body cannot sustain very long this kind of attack. Think what people who live in fear do to their bodies—disease. Look at the word disease. Disease really means “not at ease”. When our body is not at ease, it’s disease. To put fear in our bodies, to put fear in our systems as prolonged motivation is to disrupt and destroy that equilibrium—that ease—and to cause disease, rather than the calm confident air of faith. 

To act with fear as a motivation is to be vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation. We do not act rationally, we do not act as thinking people when we are confronted by fear. To live according to fear and to use fear as a motivation leads to Murphy's Law. Murphy's law says, “If anything can possibly go wrong, it will.” A lot of people live day by day with that attitude. If anything can go wrong, I'm sure it'll be me. Somebody is out to get me. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. That's Murphy's Law. That kind of negative attitude grows out of the good guy-bad guy myth of paranoia where somebody is out to get me. 

A far better response to our enemies is faith. Meet life in faith—faith in the ultimate goodness of God, faith in the ultimate victory of God, faith in the future, faith in his love, faith in my ability to endure, faith in the essential goodness of people, faith that in the last analysis people will make the best judgments. When fear scares us, faith can take over so that we act rationally and maturely and make the best decisions. Faith allows us to relax. We don't have to prove anything nor feel inferior. Faith allows us to relax and accept all kinds of people, to admit that in all cultures there is beauty and good ideas, to admit that in all the other religions, there is truth and wisdom, that Christianity is not all right, and other religions are all wrong. That’s the good guy-bad guy, myth. Faith allows us to relax, to accept, to be interested in and to appreciate all the beauty and wisdom that comes to us from all people, from all religions and from other ways of life. We have no monopoly on what is good or what is right. 

Let's substitute for the good guy-bad guy myth, the image that we have one earth. We’re all in this together and the way to live; the way to succeed on this earth is not to act out of fear, but to act in confidence and trusting faith that God will see us through

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris