A March 1960 episode of the classic “Twilight Zone” television series “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” begins on a beautiful sunny day on a typical American street, Maple Street.
The power suddenly goes out. Even lawnmowers and cars are frozen in their tracks. A little boy who reads Science Fiction comic books makes a comment which becomes a seed of panic which grows bigger as the story continues.
The boy suggests that — in the scary stories he reads — the monsters from outer space would be the cause of such a power outage. He further suggests that the monsters would not look like monsters but instead take the form of ordinary human beings, people like those who populate Maple Street. The boy’s suggestion plants a small seed of doubt, and that is all it takes.
Once the seed of doubt is planted, the residents of Maple Street become suspicious of one another. To make a long story short, the residents of Maple Street begin to think of reasons why each of their neighbors could be a scary monster in disguise.
You would be surprised at how many monstrous traits you could begin to see in those around you once a seed of doubt is firmly planted in your mind. The residents of Maple Street begin to see the monster in every one of their neighbors. One neighbor has a shortwave radio in his basement, and he has been quite private about showing it to others.
Another neighbor has the habit of going out at night to look at the stars. Both hobbies — radio communication and star gazing — are seen as habits monsters from outer space would form. Once the doubt is planted, the doubt creates the monsters.
By the end of the episode, all the residents of once peaceful and happy Maple Street are shooting at each other and setting each others’ homes on fire. As Maple Street begins to dissolve in violence, the camera shows a spaceship that has landed on a nearby hillside.
On that hillside, two invaders from another planet are having a conversation. As they watch Maple Street burn, one of these real monsters explains to the other how their strategy will work.
He explains how humans easily turn on one another when the seed of doubt is planted. He explains how easily human beings will target each other as scapegoats and will destroy each other.
The monster suggests that this strategy of planting the seed of doubt will work in the monstrous project to take over the planet Earth. In short, the monster is saying this: “We won’t have to fire a shot. All we have to do is use human mutual distrust and suspicion as a lever. With that lever, we can indeed move the whole Earth.”
There were indeed monsters on Maple Street. They were within each human heart.
My own Lutheran tradition speaks to this situation. Martin Luther developed the idea that Christians are “saints and sinners at one and the same time.” We are forgiven, but we are also always sinful and unclean. Other religious and nonreligious thinkers have made similar observations.
A Russian Orthodox Christian, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, said, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Agnostic Mark Twain said, “Everyone is a moon and has a dark side, which he never shows to anybody.”
We live in a climate where some politicians, radio talk show hosts and Internet web sites make a sport of raising our suspicions and fostering our fears. The seeds of doubt and fear are filled with nefarious energy.
Fear is a weapon of mass destruction. If I can play upon your suspicions and your fears, I can destroy you and your community. All I would need to do would be to plant a tiny seed of doubt.
The seed of doubt and suspicion will flourish until it consumes us — and our communities. All it takes is a kid with a comic book or a man who fails to seriously question what he sees on websites, social media or cable television.
All it takes is one person who has something against an institution or a group of people and is willing to see the entire institution or group in light of his distrust and fear. He can easily plant the destructive seed of doubt.
The trouble is, he can always do it with righteous, pious-sounding language. History shows that righteous speech has often gone hand in hand with destructive behaviors.
Some in our society today are living in distrust and fear. When we hear people raising doubts about whole groups of people, let’s remember there may be monsters on Maple Street.
But they may already be inside of us.
What’s the old expression?
“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
The Rev. Larry Isbell is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Columbus. He can reached at [email protected].