Goodwill toward men

Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men. That’s not just a hopeful prayer, it’s a formula. Peace cannot be long sustained without goodwill.

The third ingredient in the formula, according to Luke, is “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” That’s unfashionable to mention these days. The critic of religion – all of them in general, or specific examples – will rush to point out that all sorts of non-peaceful behavior has been conducted in the name of divine glory. Not to denigrate anyone’s religion, or lack thereof, but I find a great deal of wisdom in Luke’s construction. I guess I should also say I’m not trying to hijack the Gospel and roll it into some kind of thin non-denominational multi-purpose paste. I merely observe that history provides a great deal of evidence to demonstrate that acknowledging authorities higher than human will and passing desire is essential to lasting peace. American law was founded on such an understanding.

But let’s talk about goodwill toward men, because it’s in painfully short supply this Christmas. We never have enough, but the acute shortages are very noticeable.

Goodwill is an elusive resource. It is easily mistaken for unity, especially by those who believe themselves anointed to transform consensus into unity. People can strongly disagree with each other without sacrificing goodwill. Actually, goodwill is what makes robust disagreement possible. When you think only the worst about those who offer opposing arguments – when you claim the power to see into their hearts and declare what they really feel, or scan their minds for the true hidden meaning of their chosen words – the result is not a competition between ideas, but warfare that can only be settled through submission.

Goodwill is gracious and charitable. It is a form of love, and as we are elsewhere told, love is patient and kind. People who feel goodwill toward one another extend simple courtesies with cheer. On the other hand, those who deliberately seek to antagonize or intimidate others, declaring themselves hostile to society through dress and behavior, are clearly not interested in tending any deep reservoirs of goodwill. It is drained away when respect is demanded as an entitlement, rather than earned through action. It evaporates when insult is deliberately sought and aggressively prosecuted. You have to work pretty hard to …read more    

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