An old proverb maintains that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. That this adage has persisted over a number of generations might suggest that it has some validity. It poses the interesting question whether evil can masquerade behind a facade of of virtue and goodness.
If my readers allow me to digress I will share a recent experience. I have a vice. Each morning I will practice the useless task of scanning four newspapers. One recent day I was truly impressed by the unusual number of violent events perpetrated in the name of a Deity. Shiites and Sunis were blowing each other up in Iraq in the name of Allah. A hugh car bomb had been detonated in India resulting in dozens of deaths. Again the cause was religious strife. Similarly, a religious war had erupted in Mali.
These events are not unique to our time and generation. During the conquest of Canaan, God instructed the children of Israel to kill every man, woman, child and animals in the the conquered villages. The horrors of the inquisition, the bloody conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders and the slaughter of Huguenots and Albigenses were all conducted by well meaning people in the name of God.
However, I would like to shift attention to some more contemporary attempts to do good that seem to have had disastrous (evil?) consequences. Some of these are based upon religious beliefs and others upon strong secular ideologies. Refusal to immunize against polio has led to a resurgence of that disease in some Moslem countries. In recent years many diseases in the first world have been all but eliminated due to immunizations. Yet, more and more parents are refusing to inoculate their children based upon irrational belief systems. As a result serious childhood diseases are making a comeback. I also believe that the doctrinal prohibition against the use of condoms helped to foster the spread of aids. The religious proscription against contraception and family planning has resulted in grinding poverty and death in many parts of the world. All of these problems seem to have arisen out of the good intentions of well meaning people with rigid beliefs. Placing ideals and philosophy over the value of human life can lead to truly horrendous results. Hitler’s destruction of the Jews, Stalin’s elimination of the Kulaks and Mao’s great leap forward exemplify the results of such twisted ideals.
Allow me to mention two shocking examples of how beliefs triumphed over the value of human life. During World War I the bane of existence in the trenches was the body louse. Often typhus resulted from such infestation. Fortunately this problem did not surface during the next war. A miraculous chemical had been developed that killed the parasites. It was DDT. In the post war period it was discovered that DDT was effective in preventing malaria by killing the mosquito vectors of the disease. However, environmental groups coerced nations to enact a world wide ban on its use. It is estimated that banning this insecticide resulted in up to fifty million deaths from the resurgence of the disease. African children were especially targets of this scourge.
An equally egregious example of good intentions gone awry is the opposition of the environmentalists to genetically modified foods. Rice is the basic dietary staple of many Asian children. Unfortunately rice is deficient in vitamin A. As a result of this deficiency millions of children go blind each year and many die. The correction of this problem is simple, cheap and readily available. Rice can be genetically modified to add vitamin A to the native strains. The use of this life and health saving genetic modification frequently has been opposed by environmental groups who generally disapprove of genetically tampering with natural foods. These policies may have led to as many deaths as caused by Hitler, Mao and Stalin combined. Unfortunately, they were instituted all by well meaning people in the pursuit of good motives.
In summary, I am an enthusiastic supporter of attempts to improve our environment. However, I have problems with placing philosophies and belief systems above the value of human life.