PC 214 Saints & Sinners

In the United States on November 5th last year, the results of their Presidential Election became clear. Most Americans believe they are the focus of the world, so some news channels factually reported that the BBC Evening News showed fireworks displays over London. Surely this was a little over the top in recognition of the Presidential Election result? Fortunately viewers flooded the switchboards with comments that in the UK we celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night on 5th November ….. with fireworks. Whilst there is no reason to export this particular festival, we do seem to have imported an American one, Halloween, with all its attendant party-focus, ‘trick or treat?’ and the association with summoning the dead.

In fact Halloween is short for All Hallows’ Eve and a ‘hallow’ is a saint. So it should be considered as a time of remembrance of individuals whose life or actions were an inspiration and who ‘made a difference’. But all individuals are flawed and have times of both greatness and lapses; what counts is being honest about both – ‘so on balance he or she was ….. ?’ Got me thinking about saints and the opposite pairing, sinners. Bit like those themed parties in the 70s Saints & Sinners, Vicars & Tarts etc.

Sadly, fundamental Christians are taught to believe that all of humanity is born with a built-in urge to do bad things! They believe that ‘original sin’ stems from Adam & Eve’s disobedience to God. The idea of the poor innocent baby ‘born with original sin’? Give me a break! The little mite’s taken its first breath and already it has been infected by the sins of previous generations; if it develops a tendency to commit sinful acts so be it, but give it a chance!

Ah! ‘Sinful Acts’! My last PC focused in part on the number 7 and Simon reminded me there are seven deadly sins. Reading them today you wonder how they could have become such an important part of Christian belief; pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. I guess the problem lies in the translation of these feelings into inappropriate actions. Or do they really believe that thinking in an envious way, for instance, is in itself a sinful act? Only if you tell someone what you’re thinking maybe? Of course Christians have their own set of guidelines in the Ten Commandments, the urging ‘Thou shalt not ……’. So if you can’t ……. what could you do to be saintly?

A Biblical saintly group

I read that if you live in the following way – putting God first, forming a plan for your life, clearing out distractions, living modestly, being humble, avoiding temptation, leaning on friends and family and living in the moment – you could be on the right path! A recent example of the making of a saint is Cardinal John Newman 1801-1890 who, after a period as an Anglican priest, at the age of 44 joined the Catholic Church. He became a cardinal and in October 2019 was declared a saint by Pope Francis; the first ‘saint’ who wasn’t martyred in 500 years. So Catholics have made him a saint, but he admitted to being gay, something the church doesn’t accept! So does that make him a sinner as well? Certainly some Protestants labelled him a sinner for having joined the other side! I think it makes him human. Having never written about saints before, they are obviously a bit like buses, definitely in vogue! (Note 2)

Neither the Catholics nor Protestant churches have an unblemished record, a saintly history. Most recently the Irish State’s report on the way children of unmarried woman were treated over decades is an absolute sin. There are no saints here: how can you hide under the cloth of religion and believe sincerely you are doing good, when it’s obvious to anyone with a degree of common sense and decency you are not?

I said earlier that it’s the translation of emotion into acts that cause the problem. Islam teaches that sin is an act and not a state of being and that God weighs an individual’s good deeds against their sins to see which direction you go at the end! (Note 1)

In the run up to Christmas there was a huge effort on a radio station Classic FM to find by popular vote the most loved carol. For most it’s a mixture of memory, of tune, of ability to sing (too high, too low), of words that resonate and are memorable. Drawn to the predictability of the well-known, whether you necessarily agree with the words, the whole experience can be uplifting. For me, “For All the saints, who from their labours rest, who thee by faith before the world confess” to the tune Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams ticks all the boxes.

It was recommended we should watch a Netflix series called Fauda; so being an obliging couple we have started Series One and are now midway through series two. Made in the Middle East it’s a story of conflict as old as the sand; the fight by Palestinians for a ‘homeland’ and of Israeli resistance. It’s badly dubbed from its original Hebrew and Arabic – but you get used to that. What I find amazing is, if the translation in the subtitles is reasonably accurate, the constant evoking of God to help whoever is making the plea. I am beginning to wonder whether this is a cop-out for personal responsibility.

You want to get hold of this man and ……?.

And in the fight against the pandemic, today’s saints must be those health workers, the doctors and nurses, the care workers and ward cleaners who work on our behalf. Conversely the sinners must be those who protest, who create and broadcast conspiracy theories and argue against vaccinations; particularly those who harass and abuse those NHS workers as they come into the hospital. They need to be taken in to the ICU ……. and have their faces shoved into the exposed virus fight.

I read the other day that there are no saints in Judaism but a similar recognition of special individuals. These 36 special people, the lammed vavniks (literally ‘the thirty six’), sustain the world through their righteousness. What I adore about this tradition is the fact that no one knows who they are, not even those who belong to this elite group, and when one of them passes away, another arises to take their place and keep the number at 36. (Why 36? Why not?). So you could be one of ‘the 36’, given that those who are don’t know they are and don’t recognise others of this select band. All very magical and delightfully intangible; almost saintly!

Richard 22nd January 2021

Note 1 After PC 213’s focus on the number 7, Meryl told me that Muslim pilgrims completing the Hajj must circle the Ka’aba seven times in a sign of completeness.

Note 2 In TODAY’s Times, two stories about saints!! First the announcement that Elizabeth Prout, a Manchurian Victorian nun, has been given the title ‘venerable’; this is the third step out of five on the road to sainthood. Another chap being made venerable today is Jérôme Lejeune for his work on the genetic basis for Down’s syndrome and especially for his anti-abortion stance. He died in 1994.

4 thoughts on “PC 214 Saints & Sinners

  1. Brilliant!!
    Jeremiah 31:29 …..we are all born with original sin are we not?!
    Love the reference to saint and sinner themed parties of the 70’s!!


      1. Yes, not only sad but it’s the root of quite a few issues!!
        Old Testament prophets had a certain remit for sure!


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