Dennis PragerDennis Prager, a thoughtful writer about politics and other subjects, makes a very good point in an article praising a new Broadway play that bucks the trend of recent decades on the Great White Way by unapologetically presenting a Christian as an unambiguous heroine.

Prager points out that whereas our culture’s strong strain of Rousseauan assumptions makes us unduly mystified by evil and thereby fascinated with it, what is really difficult to explain is the great amount of human goodness in the world:

The older I get, the less I find evil interesting and the more I find goodness interesting. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is great goodness, not great evil, that needs to be explained. In fact, given the ubiquity of gratuitous cruelty and other expressions of evil–and the apparent ease with which many ordinary people can be transformed into monsters–evil may be more explicable than goodness.

Given all this, one would therefore assume that there would be many studies of goodness and of good people. Yet, there are probably 100 books, studies, and articles about evil for every book, study, or article about goodness. This emanates in large measure from the modern, i.e., post-religious, belief (“faith” would be a better word) that people are born good [this derives from the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau–ed.]. Consequently, it is evil that is deemed aberrant and therefore needs to be explained, not good, which is deemed normal and therefore needs little explanation.

Just as studies of goodness are deemed less interesting than studies of evil, portrayals of goodness are deemed less interesting than portrayals of evil. Again, the ratio is probably at least a 100-to-1.

Yet, true stories of goodness, well told, are the greatest stories. While stories of evil have the benefit of sensationalism and appeal to voyeurism, stories of goodness uplift, inspire, make us cry, give us hope, provide real models to emulate, and ultimately may even make us a little better.

I think that an intuitive appreciation of the miracle of human goodness is behind the widespread fondness for genre fiction such as historical romances, mysteries, Westerns, espionage fiction, older-style science fiction, and the like. It’s an appreciation that individuals and critics should cultivate consciously, as an antidote to the vile Rousseauan fantasy that has done so much harm in the past few centuries.

–S. T. Karnick