It is easy to understand why we hear so much more bad new than good news. It’s not that there is so much more more of it than good. It’s that mostly bad news sells newspapers, increases website traffic, and television ratings better than good news. Then religion, along with some people’s natural pessimism, often slant the picture further, seeing more of what is selfish, stupid, short-sighted, and irrational in the human species and less of what is generous, courageous, ingenious, and innovative.
I personally think there is as much reason for hope as there is for despair in the human condition, however, if we look for it. Often the good, the heroic, the creative and generous emerges side-by-side with what is the worst in us.
So here is a true story. In 1557, the Catholic Queen of England known as Bloody Mary was presiding over one of the savage reigns of the century during which either the Protestants or the Catholics were furiously and self-righteously burning each other at the stake. In a little village called Laxfield in Norwich, England, a shoemaker expressed the view that the host at Communion was not literally the body of Christ. Unfortunately, he had the temerity to express a Protestant view during a Catholic reign. 300 people were burned at the stake for far less so it was an extremely dangerous time to be out of step with the powers then wielding the fire lighters.
But the villagers disagreed with the authorities. It was not just the Protestants who dissented; so did the Catholics. They disagreed with this kind of intolerance, and so every house in the village put out their fires, with the hope that the execution team would be unable to be able to light the fire to burn the convicted heretic. In the end, an executioner was able to light his faggot from the smoldering embers of one house, and the shoemaker was burned alive.
But 450 years later, Laxfield still holds a Festival of Tolerance every year. All the burning and the killing never convinced them that intolerance was closer to God than tolerance.