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A song in the musical Hamilton describes how to conduct a duel. If you lose, it advises, “Pray that hell or heaven lets you in.” It reminds me of the old Billy Joel song where he declares, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.”
For some reason, our culture has convinced itself that evil is more fun than good. That simply isn’t true. Let me count some ways …
First, good is more fun in the best stories.
You can see a problem cropping up in our storytellers from the time of Shakespeare and Milton to the time of Scorsese and Marvel movies.
Shakespeare’s Prince Hall is more interesting as the rebel youth in Henry IV than he is as the responsible Henry V, and Milton’s conquering Satan is more interesting than victim Adam in Paradise Lost. Cinema from Taxi Driver to The Avengers is fascinated by portraits of tortured heroes.
Novelist Regina Doman sees this as the playing out of a phenomenon Dietrich von Hildebrand noticed. “If you sever the connection between goodness and beauty, goodness is in danger of becoming merely abstract and merely moral, and evil will become fascinating.”
She said we have an “impoverishment of the imagination when it comes to goodness. We don’t know what it looks like and acts like. We do not see it as attractive.”
The right place to start is in books with attractive good guys such as Frodo Baggins, Jean Valjean, Robin Hood, Atticus Finch and Swiss Family Robinson, or good heroes from movies such as Jackie Robinson in 42 — and interesting good girls, such as Heidi, Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, Elizabeth Bennet, Nancy Drew, Jo March, Anne of Green Gables, Celie from The Color Purple and Katniss Everdeen, and more from good movies and Regina Doman’s books and others.
Second, your favorite people are good guys.
Simone Weil wrote: “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
Think about it: The entrepreneur who built your community’s bank is guaranteed to be more interesting than anyone who robs it, the people who make your town livable are far greater than those who live like parasites on their efforts and the friendships you most enjoy are filled with positivity, not negativity.
Third, good families are more fun.
As I wrote before, the first sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is wrong. He says “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” but exactly the reverse is true.
Happy families are defined by what they do: They are outdoorsy, athletic or brainy families; they are theater or board-game families and more. Unhappy families are defined by tension, unforgiveness, hurt and weariness, no matter what their interests are.
Saint families aren’t always perfect, but they are always more joyful. St. Basil the Elder, his wife St. Emmelia and their 10 children, including St. Basil the Great, St. Peter of Sebaste and St. Gregory of Nyssa, and the eldest daughter, St. Macrina, who took care of them all, were pretty near perfect. Less perfect was St. Vladimir of Kiev’s family. He raised St. Boris and St. Gleb but had married multiple times before converting, and had also raised the step-brothers who murdered them.
Read your Bible to see how joy and trouble coincide, for instance for the seven Maccabee brothers, or the endlessly troubled and irrepressibly joyful Holy Family. Speaking of the Bible …
Fourth, the good we do outlasts the evil you do.
Exodus tells us that God inflicts punishment “down to the third and fourth generation” but blesses “down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Scientists studying epigenetics and intergenerational trauma are proving the first part true.
Our own times show how the second part is true. There were 3,000 converts on Christianity’s first Pentecost Sunday, and now we have 2.3 billion Christians worldwide. Africa’s Christian population increased 6,750% since 1900. After remarkable growth in the 21st century, India now has five times as many Catholics as Ireland, and China will soon have more churchgoers than America.
Every single Christian today is here thanks to ages of Christian witness and goodness.
Fifth, our personal stories tell the same tale.
A last argument for how much more powerful good is than evil is in the All Saints Day Gospel. A simple thought experiment shows that the opposite of the beatitudes isn’t true:
• Happy are the poor in spirit — while the greedy and grasping are empty and sad.
• Happy are those who mourn — but not those who harden their hearts.
• Happy are the meek — the arrogant and pushy are not.
• Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness — but the apathetic are joyless.
• Happy are the merciful — for they are not bitter and resentful.
• Happy are the pure in heart — but the lustful are always dissatisfied.
• Happy are the peacemakers — but inciters are always upset.
• Happy are you when you are persecuted — standing up to bullies makes you heroic.
So celebrate — and, more importantly imitate — the saints. They are the happiest and most interesting people that ever lived.