“I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” —Ronald Reagan
This quote is one of Ronald Reagan’s most famous. I would love to be able to assert its veracity unequivocally. I would love to pip something in passing like, “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” And though you will see that, if I can’t bring myself to agree with Robert Browning, in the end I will agree at least with some of what the former president says here.
Yet while I wish I could say that the world is a good place, I simply can’t. I can’t when I read a news article about a gentle soul like Lamiya Aji Bashar, an 18-year-old Yazidi girl who was held and sexually abused by her ISIS captors. Her story was a headliner in a number of news outlets; you may already know it. Shrapnel from a landmine that went off as she successfully escaped her last abuser cost her vision in one eye. Yet she remained thankful that she had escaped at all. It was impossible for me to read her story without my soul convulsing. It is impossible to write this this without my soul doing so again.
But let me return to Ronald Reagan’s quote. Though his first sentence suggests otherwise, it soon emerges that what he really means is that mankind is not so good as the president is purporting, after all. For when he says in his second sentence that right will always triumph, he clearly implies a struggle. And the reason for a struggle is because of the badness, the wrongness that right must prevail against.
Yet in this life, right does not always prevail. How many petty dictators exist today? In how many countries is human thriving and creativity deliberately oppressed? In how many cultures are women viewed merely as property, a commodity to be used, abused, and cast aside? They are told that their sole function is to have babies or worse, merely to be objects of men’s desire. In some cases, the milder ones, they are ordered to cover themselves when they breastfeed; in other cases, not at all mild, they are told they have the wrong religion, are told to cover their entire bodies, in others, are often denied a proper education; in others, are prohibited from driving.
Some of my friends think I’m going too far when I say that were a young man to ask me for my daughter’s hand in marriage I would say, “No, for I don’t own her. You and she must make that decision.” Is that going too far? Perhaps, but there’s a point behind it. That aside, in regard to the litany of abuses that precedes this panoply of pedantry and many more unstated cruelties toward women, children and even men, if humankind were fundamentally good, surely this would not be the case. But we are not fundamentally good. We are seriously flawed.
Seriously. A friend of mine even says we human beings are depraved from top to bottom. And he just might be right. Whatever goodness abides in us from our Creator was corrupted thoroughly by our first parents. And if you don’t believe that, well then believe this: you and I are pretty screwed up. We are part of that very human race that took the eye and, worse, the innocence of a sweet girl in northern Iraq. We have made our own immoral decisions. We must own up to our own perverse evil if we are to do anything at all about the evil perversity of the world. It’s too easy to point (or flip) our finger at religious zealots. It’s a lot harder to point the finger at ourselves.
Let’s just say we do decide to do that, to admit that we are a part of the problem. Then what? Well, let’s look at the last bit of Reagan’s bon mot: “… right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” If there are truly purpose and worth to every person’s life, which I am certain is the case, then what about the words leading into that idea, “right will always eventually triumph”? This isn’t a matter of the recent victory of Wales over Belgium or the unfortunate loss of Wales to Portugal, or the basketball victory of the slightly outmatched Cleveland Cavaliers over the Splash Brothers (who have since added a third) that we’re talking about here. No, Reagan’s words are about the looming human problem of right against wrong, good versus evil. And as I mentioned at the opening of this blog, triumph implies a fight, one harder than anything a sports team, even a noble one, can engage in.
So where amidst all this gloom does this leave us, even while the world has its way with those who cannot defend themselves? Perhaps it actually offers us a clarion call to engage in the struggle to protect and rescue the innocent, not to stand idly by while the helpless are tortured and abused. Some say, “America cannot be the world’s police force.” I say merely that, “what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” And each and every life has a name. The one about whom I have written, about whom I had to write in this blog, is Lamiya Aji Bashar.
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