Saturday, 28 November 2009

“All Are But Parts. . .”

I was struck recently by this verse from a poem written by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, called “With Either Hand”

The harlot and the anchorite,
The martyr and the rake,
Deftly He fashions each aright,
Its vital part to take.

It made me think once more about there being purpose and reason in everything and that nothing happens by chance. There is no such thing as an accident. It recalled to me these words of Alexander Pope:-

“All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is and God the soul;
That changed through all and yet in all the same,
Great in the earth as in the ethereal frame,
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees,
Lives through all life, extends through all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent,
Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part.
As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart;
As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph that adores and burns;
To Him nor high, no low, no great, no small,
He fills, He bounds, connects and equals all.
. . . Know thy own self; this kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, heaven bestows on thee.”

In our ignorance of the true and complete state of affairs in the matter of life, we apply the adjectives “good” or “bad” to various people and professions. Taking Doyle’s verse for instance, we think the harlot “bad” as we do the rake. On the other hand we are in awe of the martyr and because the anchorite retreats into the world of nature in order to live a life of prayer and meditation, we consider him, along with the martyr, to be “good”.

But what is good and what is bad? I think it is fair to say that our personal assessment of these is highly subjective and is often determined by the prevailing mores of society at the time. What is considered good in one society is sometimes considered bad in another. However, I guess the harlot is considered bad in most societies, but is she so? Pope says later in the same work quoted above, “Whatever is, is right.” Perhaps we should reconsider our moral assessments in this light? It would seem from this and from Doyle too, that everything and everybody is created and designed to fulfil a purpose and a vital purpose at that.

Let us examine the harlot in the light of this. What can be the ‘good” aspects of a harlot? The obvious, though highly contentious one, to most “good” people, is that the services of the harlot may well reduce the amount of sexual violence within society. Secondly, by causing us to examine our own personal morality, she helps us to form through a comparison with her, a moral code that is likely to be best for the orderly conduct of society in general. Last and by no means least, one’s profession, though it is considered “bad” by society in general, is no guarantee that the same adjective should be applied to the individual involved in it. It is possible for instance, that a harlot is a much “better” person at heart than are some priests, or lawyers, or professors, whose professions feature high in the scale of “good” with most people.

I believe the words of both Pope and Doyle are a warning to us to take nothing at face value. Nothing is likely to be exactly what it seems and we are much better employed trying to remove the blemishes in our own nature than in condemning what we see as blemishes in others. Perhaps, because we know of our own imperfections, it somehow brings us comfort to be able to condemn someone else for theirs. How much more praiseworthy that we should recognise the worthiness of all people, even though we may not be able to see exactly where they fit into the plan. Better to try to understand and look for the light of the Creator in everybody, than to pretend hypocritically, that in some way we are “better” because we appear to be part of what society loosely categorises as “good.” Understanding and encouragement will always produce more positive results than condemnation.

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