Sunday, March 27, 2016

Are Saints Bad For Us?

Are saints really good for humanity? Or are they just salespeople for an afterlife they cannot truthfully guarantee? In selling the afterlife are they, in more practical terms, supporting the ungodly selfishness of the powerful here on earth?

Here's a good article about the problem of saints, published in the Daily Beast. (Lest you think the Daily Beast is somehow connected with the satanic beast of Revelations, the paper's name is borrowed from the satire of Evelyn Waugh, who was a profoundly Catholic author.)

Philosopher Susan Wolf wrote a more profound and influential essay on this conundrum in 1982.

Christopher Hitchens (who had his own contradictions) subjected the next saint-in-waiting to this harsh accounting in 2003.

As unhelpful as she could be to the earthly human being, she was far from the worst thing that could have happened to the people she helped. She could have been better, or worse. This is where pure ideology parts company with practical good, with help that actually helps.

Catholic as she was, there is something dolefully Calvinist about the helping done by missionaries. Calvinists put the highest priority on an afterlife not on this one. Self denial is the holiest way to live. Meanwhile the whole idea of delayed gratification is so harmful to the world’s poor. The rich delay satisfying their appetites and are guaranteed immense gratification at a later date.The poor's delayed comfort accrues immediately to those who live in luckier places and circumstances, it bolsters their profit margin, it enhances their market advantage, and their piddling donations to the global mission absolve their far greater selfishness and the way they rig the global economy to keep billions conveniently in poverty. This is why Mother Teresa was the perfect saint for our capitalist world.

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