Updated: Feb 6, 2021
This post is Part 1 of a 3-part series. If you haven’t yet, make sure to subscribe so that you won’t miss the rest of the series.
It seems that no matter how many superhero movies are made, people will flock to the theaters in droves to watch them. In 2017, 2.1 billion dollars were spent at the US box office on superhero movies. What is it about this genre that appeals to us so deeply? I think that it stems from a deep desire to see good defeat evil. It’s so easy to become emotionally invested in a storyline where a valiant hero is fighting to protect innocent people from an evil villain. Our thirst for justice is quenched when the good guys destroy the bad guys and save the world.
This idea of good guys vs. bad guys seems very appealing. We all want to believe that we are the “good guys” and that anyone who comes against us must be the “bad guys”. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple in real life, and there are some serious dangers to believing that myth.
First of all, it fosters division. It forces us to choose sides. While we might feel safe knowing who is on our team and whom we need to fight against, the reality is that this division is not beneficial for anyone. Division creates a false narrative where there can only be one winner and one loser. In this narrative, if we want to succeed or even survive, we must fight to win. We must destroy the competition to ensure that our needs are met and our values are upheld. This eliminates the possibility of working together to find a solution that benefits everybody and leaves us living in a constant war zone.
When we place others in the category of the “bad guys,” it allows us to reduce them to a faceless group. We fail to see their humanity and their inherent value. We ignore their stories, their needs, and their concerns. When we have stripped them of their humanity, we release ourselves from the need to care, to seek understanding, or to show compassion and empathy. Instead, it fuels a need to eliminate the threat. This is a dangerous place to be. Dehumanizing others makes way for us to commit atrocities against the other, whether by outright violence or through oppression, which may be less visible but still extremely damaging.
As Brene Brown points out in her book, Braving the Wilderness,
We must never tolerate dehumanization – the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history. When we engage in dehumanizing rhetoric or promote dehumanizing images, we diminish our own humanity in the process.
We have seen the effects of going after the “bad guys” throughout history. It has led to genocide, war, slavery, and mass incarceration because when we see ourselves as the “good guys,” we believe that the ends justify the means. We are the heroes of the story, the ones who have been wronged, the ones responsible for making sure that the “bad guys” do not prevail, whatever the cost. It no longer matters what happens to our opponents because they have no value or dignity in our eyes. In the process of seeking to eliminate the enemy, we become what we have been trying to fight against.
Another danger of the myth is that it allows for evil to be committed not just against those we consider the “bad guys” but also against the innocent. We let evil prevail when we fail to see the offenses committed by those on our side. If we have such a binary view of who is good and who is bad, then our minds will struggle to believe that someone we have deemed as good could possibly commit an act that we deem as evil. We will be forced to ignore, to justify, or to explain away the evidence of wrongdoing. Haven’t we seen this over and over again throughout the last year? Stories have come out of people in prominent positions – people who were highly respected for what they had achieved or produced – who have spent years victimizing others and yet were protected and defended because they were seen as good people. Consider Larry Nassar who was allowed to sexually abuse more than 150 girls and women for years because he was supposed to be a “good guy.” He was a respected and skilled doctor. He was kind and friendly. He was known and trusted. So when the abuse that he committed was experienced or reported, people struggled to believe that this “good guy” could do something so evil. The reality of the abuse was either denied because it didn’t seem to make sense or it was hidden because it would break down the illusion of the “good guys.”
This myth of good guys vs. bad guys is not compatible with the gospel. The gospel tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and yet salvation is available to all of us through the blood of Christ. If I believe the gospel to be true for me, I must also believe that it is true for those I see as my enemies. This does not mean that we ignore or condone evil. Rather we must call out the evil that we see, and each person must take responsibility for the wrong they have done. We must be strong and willing to engage in the battle against evil, but as Ephesians 6:12 tells us,
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
The enemies that God calls us to fight against are not fellow humans, those who have also been made in the image of God like us, but the spiritual forces of evil that are present in our world. We all have a common enemy, but when we lose sight of that and instead begin to see each other as the “bad guys” that we must destroy, we will lose the battle that God has actually called us to. It is possible to confront evil in the form of harmful actions committed against others or entire systems that have been corrupted without destroying the people involved in the process. It is possible to seek restoration of all rather than destruction of those who oppose us. It’s a more complex approach that requires more time, creativity, and effort, but it aligns much more closely with the gospel that we preach.
Questions for Reflection:
Who have you considered the “bad guys”?
What is the threat that they pose to your well-being or the well-being of those you care about?
Ask God to begin to reveal to you his heart for those you have considered the “bad guys”.
Check out Part 2 here.