Fight the devil! Or not.

Should the Amish males have tried to fight the Pennsylvania shooter before he killed their sisters and friends?

The community is pacifist, so the males did not fight on principle. Had they broken principle they might have only increased the death toll.

But should they have tried?

We are frequently confronted with stories of people in difficult circumstances who choose to either fight to prevent evil or refrain from fighting to prevent evil. I propose that we promote a type of society and world that shuns evil before fighting becomes necessary.

In the film “Kingdom of Heaven,” Orlando Bloom’s character is offered the crown of Jerusalem to preserve peace in Palestine. In order to take it, he has to allow soldiers to kill the rightful heir to the crown. He refuses the proposal on the grounds that killing is evil. He is confronted with the question, “Is not committing a little evil right to prevent great evil?”

As a result of his decision, he leaves Jerusalem with a clean soul, but thousands die gruesome deaths because he would not consent to the death of an evil man.

A new biography of Chairman Mao, founder of communist China, points out that from the very beginning of his career, leaders of the Chinese Communist Party despised Mao. He was hated and feared for encouraging torture and executions but never removed from the party or leadership. It appears that his rival for “evilest man to ever live,” Joseph Stalin, liked Mao and encouraged party leaders to give him power.

The author points out several situations in the 1930s in which earnest revolutionaries could have killed or arrested Mao. But lacking his lust for power and blood, they left him alone.

Shouldn’t someone have put a knife in his heart?

The Book of Mormon contains several similar scenarios for readers to ponder. In the first few chapters a righteous man believes God tells him to cut off the head of a wicked man for the benefit of his posterity. Halfway through the book, however, a repentant people submit to being slaughtered by an attacking army because they refuse to kill.

In the second story, the conviction of the martyrs inspired people who would fight to come to their aid. For these people, refusing to fight was not at all the same thing as surrendering to evil. The modern examples of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. have allowed us to see that this strategy works.

But for that strategy to work, society must unite in support of good. There’s another story in The Book of Mormon of a controversial preacher whose followers stir up conflict. During one of his traveling ministries he visits the descendants of the martyrs mentioned above and they arrest and expel him from their land. As a society they refused to tolerate the evil they believed he brought with him.

Our best means of preventing evils like the shooting in Pennsylvania is through our government. During election time it is easy for our society to disagree about the definition of evil. Some say it is to allow pornography; others say it is to limit free speech. But instinctively all human beings can agree on some evils: hurting the poor, weak and young; greed; violence; etc.

Everyone should remember his or her duty to shun evil up front so we are never faced with the kind of decision Orlando Bloom’s character had to make.

And if we do disagree about what is evil, hearty debate never hurt anyone.