Letter to a Friend


Dear S

It is strange that we spoke today after so long and ended up fighting over Mother Teresa.

But maybe not that strange after all. Most conversations these days are combats. It’s the new form of meaningful social engagement, duels in which one person has to walk away a winner.

Gone are the days of poetry and music; of banter and elegant, “I have to think about that one”, or “we have to agree to disagree.” We fling words like weapons. Hypocrite. Liar. Middle class. Tyrant. Dictator.

The gentler, more long winded, more lyrical phrases of yesteryear are too much for us. Easy with the truth; privileged; toff; For if you were by my unkindness shaken, As I by yours, y’have passed a hell of time.

It is strange, if not ironical, that such an uncharitable spat should happen in the defence of charity, which I’m told begins at home.Though I know not of such things. Charity is not something I’m accustomed to – either in the giving or taking.
Respect, now that I understand. I have had too much respect for my fellow beings, in the specific and largely in the general, to consider them in need of charity.

And that really is my whole offence with your beloved St. Teresa. I respect your love for her, but alas, cannot get myself to respect her in person.

Taking her entirely at her word, and hearing no one else, I cannot get myself to agree with her love of suffering as Jesus loved suffering. Not because, in this instance, I have a grouse against Jesus, but because I have a grouse against suffering. I would hurry the poor sufferers to a hospital, rather than to a place that just presided over their long wait to death.
It is a banal sentiment I know, entirely without romance of any kind. But are banal thoughts like mine not deserving of charitable consideration?

Having known a certain ailment myself, I oftentimes think a quick and horrible death is infinitely preferable to a slow, painful and long life. I state it is an observation. Not a mournful plaint.

Yet, I am no one to decide for everyone.

Am I grateful that she did, at least, provide a roof over peoples’ head and a clean bath every day? If indeed that is what they wanted – I am.

She did more than most people have done.

Does that make her a Saint – either literally or figuratively? Alas, no, I believe.

While I respect your love for her, my respect must end at the door of sainthood. Unlike you, I do not consider it the “internal matter” of the religion she belonged to.

To accept her sainthood without protest would be to accept the matter of miracles. To accept miracles would be to deny science. That is no internal matter of any religion. It is a matter of grave concern to any secular humanist.

To accept that anyone of any faith, however nice that person maybe, has caused a miracle to happen, is to allow for the possibility that such miracles can happen again. This time perhaps by a more militantly religious regime.
Imagine an ISIS friendly mullah claiming a miracle. Or an RSS friendly pandit.

To stand by silently for St Teresa and cry foul for the mullah or pandit– now that would be hypocrisy to my sadly, logic-driven mind. In retrospect, I believe the word pseudo-secularism was invented for behaviour like this. For the lack of a better phrase, perhaps the phrase Alt-Left, could also do?

If she is not literally a saint, is she figuratively a saint? I think for many people, including you, she is. I understand that and can respect it.

I take my heroes unvarnished though. Thomas Paine is one of them. His Common Sense helped kick off the American Revolution. He too can be accused of being anti-semitic. But he was what he was. I see him for who he was, in his time. Respect him for what he did, when he did it.

It is enough for me that he was a man.

If you need your heroes to be saints, I will argue with you no more. I will pretend it is innocence that drives you and we shall not wage war any more.



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