You may be wondering, “How can good intentions be dangerous? After all, good is the very opposite of evil, and goodness is the very essence of morality and virtue.” But consider the old adage, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” which Aldous Huxley argued is not an exaggeration but an understatement. As he put it, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.” And T. S. Eliot agreed, noting that “most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”
To appreciate Huxley’s and Eliot’s perspective, we need only realize that intentions are merely what we want our behavior to bring about, and often bear little resemblance to what actually happens. This realization is rare today. Wishful assumption is considered a more positive, hopeful, and satisfying habit of mind. In fact, many people believe their good intentions are the most meaningful expression of love of God and respect for His commandments.
The Bible says otherwise. For example, Isaiah 55:8 tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” Proverbs 14:12 adds, “There is a pathway that seems right to a man, but in the end it’s a road to death.” And in Corinthians 5:10, Paul says, “We must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.”
Jesus Himself advised us, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit . . . So then, you will know them by their fruits”; also, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:17-23)
These passages confirm that how pleasing we are to God is not determined by our words, wishes, or intentions but by the quality of our actions, as measured by the consequences they produce. Failing to consider consequences on the assumption that good intentions guarantee good outcomes can do great harm. Here are some timely examples:
The Good Intention: Stopping the spread of Covid19. The action: Closing restaurants and other businesses indefinitely. The Unfortunate Consequences: Increased bankruptcy and unemployment.
The Good Intention: Easing the burden of the unemployed. The Action: Providing benefits that exceed prior earnings. The Unfortunate Consequence: Undermining the desire to work and be independent.
The Good Intention: Alleviating the hardships of the poor in other countries. The Action: Relaxing border security and encouraging migration into the U.S. The Unfortunate Consequence: A border crisis that hurts both migrants and U.S. citizens.
The Good Intention: Making it easier for transgender people to function in society. The Action: Opening women’s athletic teams and facilities to transgender people. The Unfortunate Consequences: Unfairness to women and the creation of animosity.
The Good Intention: Eliminating police mistreatment of minorities. The Action: Defunding or eliminating police departments. The Unfortunate Consequences: Increased crime and decreased protection for minorities.
The Good Intention: Improving the integrity of the voting process. The Action: Eliminating voter identification. The Unfortunate Consequence: Increased likelihood of voting fraud.
The Good Intention: Kindness and compassion toward the homeless. The Action: Allowing the homeless to gather and live on city streets. The Unfortunate Consequences: Increased health and sanitation problems, loss of businesses, decline of neighborhoods.
The Good Intention: Achieving racial justice and social harmony. The Action: Teaching Critical Race Theory in schools and colleges. The Unfortunate Consequences: Persuading the young that racism is systemic and irreparable, thus deepening mutual suspicion and increasing disharmony.
In all of these examples (and innumerable others), Good, and even Noble Intentions have led to potentially disastrous consequences for the same reason—failure to consider various actions, compare their likely consequences, and choose the most helpful and least harmful ones. To correct the problem, end the social turmoil that besets us, and hopefully save our civilization, we need only restore to our homes, schools, churches, and general culture two practices of very ancient vintage—“Think before you speak” and “Look before you leap.”
Copyright © 2021 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved