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“for evil to triumph”


Sir Edmund Burke is noted to have said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

For twenty years at least I’ve heard this quote and I’ve found it inspirational and highly motivating. In fact, I’m sure it greatly contributed to my zealous Christian activism at times in my past.

I fully believe that the statement is true. However I’m reflecting today on what it truly means and how it is applied. What got my attention was a paragraph in a newsletter sent out by our friends at Casas por Cristo. Here it is:

What is most disheartening to me is that due to the media reports of violence here in Juarez and the reports of the Swine flu in Mexico City (over a thousand miles away from here), the people of Juarez who have little hope to begin with, are being abandoned and left with no hope at all. That breaks my heart.
Let me close with these words from Sir Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for Evil to triumph is for good people to DO NOTHING.”

Doing Something,
David Robinson,
Executive Director

When I read this use of the familiar quotation, it seemed to be strangely out of context.

After all, the meaning has always been pretty clear: “Beware, Christian: evil is going to triumph if we don’t quickly intervene to stomp it out”. This is our rally cry for purging the darkness from the world around us! These are the Christian’s marching orders! Rise up oh church of God! It’s time for a showdown with the forces of darkness! It’s up to us to purge the world of evil before it spreads like a festering cancer ending life as we know it! Evil is infiltrating every element of our society, government, media, schools, etc. Let’s get involved and DO SOMETHING to stomp it out while we still can!

So with that interpretation of the quote in my mind, you can see why I was taken aback by its use in this newsletter. There was no mention of boycotts and picketing. No writing letters to congressmen or attempting to protest gay marriage. In fact, the only action item mentioned in the entire letter was, “please come down and help us build houses for poor people.”

Then it clicked with me. What would happen if instead of focusing our efforts on purging darkness from an already dark world, instead we focused on shining the light of Christ! The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. What if we’ve had it backwards all along? What if by trying to do “something” we were really doing “nothing” other than making the dark world mad at being attacked? What if the “something” we’re supposed to do isn’t about hating and fretting and protesting, but is rather about loving, forgiving, modeling, and caring for lost people? Think how that would change the world!

It’s starting to sound rather Jesus-like don’t you think?
It’s starting to sound like the early Christians, surrounded by a pagan culture in the book of Acts, don’t you think?

We’re going to build three homes for Mexicans a month from now. And I think we’ll be doing that as a true application of Edmund Burke’s famous quote!

1 Comment

  1. Martha Troxel

    June 12, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Perhaps the quote has two sides: the do something to change things side and the model Christlikeness side.

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