I have long been fascinated by a simple question: Does the good done by a person/organization overshadow evil that is done?
When I was younger, I would quickly say “under no circumstances.”
Ah, to be young and idealistic once again. Now that I’m old and grizzled, things are not so clear-cut.
Today’s news is filled with examples. Let’s look at a few.
The easiest one has got to be the Catholic Church. Without a doubt, the good done by the church has been massive — hospitals, schools, ministries to the poor and destitute, counseling, Notre Dame football — to name but a few. This good is uncontestable.
But, the church also protected pedophile priests on a massive scale. It is possible that the current pope may be brought down by the scandal. There may also be evidence that there was a system within the church that enabled such behavior. Truly evil.
Can one argue that the societal value of these hospitals and schools outweighs the sin of pedophilia? This is a terrible question and one many Catholics today face.
What about Bill Cosby? Let’s not be so quick to condemn as he goes through sentencing. Cosby was known for generosity to African-American schools, for being a role model for both black and white families, and bringing joy to millions with his stand-up comedy and television programs.
Heck, I still remember his bit about the Philadelphia street buck-buck championship of the world when Fat Albert made his first appearance. Hey, hey, hey!
But Cosby has been convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting at least one woman and possibly many others. The darkness and evil of these acts is astounding.
Do we throw away all of Cosby’s good over his veiled, corrupt and criminal private life?
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the current nominee for the United States Supreme Court, also fits in this category. By all accounts, Kavanaugh has been a model jurist, a tireless worker and a conservative but fair-minded adjudicator.
But then, a story from his teen years became public that does rise to the level of criminal behavior. A new allegation of flashing private parts at a drunken college party has made its way forward. There will probably be more.
How do we balance Kavanaugh’s younger and drunken party-boy behavior with the excellent judge he has become? Does this immaturity taint everything he does for the remainder of his life?
Of course, we can move to the extreme example of Adolph Hitler. The ultimate personification of evil due to the systematic killing of more than 6 million souls in extermination camps, Hitler is the ultimate villain for all of us.
Yet, to many Germans, he was a savior. Many forget that the treaty of Versailles that ended World War I was strangling Germany. The people of Germany were starving, broken and alone. Hitler changed all of that. He gave the Germans hope and a path forward.
Of course, does this “good” excuse his evil? In Hitler’s case, never.
Today, we are often beset by these ethical and moral conundrums. And it is truly heart-breaking when we discover that a person we looked up to or a childhood hero was not the person we thought they were. I suppose that is one of the costs of growing up.
I remember when I was a kid that I loved to hate Pete Rose. He played for the Big Red Machine that was the rival of the Dodgers. But when Rose came to the plate, I always wanted to watch because he was amazing. He still holds the record for the most hits in major league baseball.
But then, it was discovered that Rose bet on baseball games. Further, he bet on games in which he may have been able to impact the outcome, threatening the very integrity of baseball.
I suppose the only way to answer these questions is perspective and context, but even that is not very satisfying. Each one of us must make the decision for themselves.
Geez, I hate this. In some ways, I’d like to be a kid again and just see only black and white, not the odd gray colors that seem to cover the world.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and has one hero that he knows will never disappoint him. John Boston. He (Steve) can be reached at [email protected]