"too fine to be perceptible"

David Pryce-Jones now has a blog at NRO. It is well worth the time. Today’s entry concerns the just-departed Abbé Pierre, an acclaimed holy man of the Christian persuasion.

Perhaps he was holy, that is. As is sometimes the case, what you see isn’t all of what you get. in Pierre’s case, this is apparently the case. From Pryce-Jones:

Abbé Pierre who has just died at the age of 94 was perhaps a good, and even a saintly, man. Certainly he looked the part, a white-bearded sage, habitually wearing a comforting French beret and a dramatic black cape. He started Emmaus in 1949, a movement to provide shelter for the homeless, and now an organisation in some 30 countries. That is to his credit. Hearing of the death, Jacques Chirac called him, “an immense figure, a conscience, a man who personified goodness.” And that’s quite enough to make anyone have second thoughts.

Beware of holy man wearing sackcloth and ashes, he could have written. So, why think that this Pierre fellow was anything other than a good and holy man? Just this:

…in 1996 he came out to endorse a book called “The Founding Myths of Israeli Policy.” Its author was Roger Garaudy, a veteran Stalinist, who after the Soviet collapse converted to Islam (what else?), moved to Cairo, and became a Holocaust denier. Nobody who had ever saved Jews from Nazism could conceivably have come to the support of the disgusting Garaudy. But the Abbé did. Proud to claim fifty years of friendship with Garaudy, he compared the Holocaust to what the ancient Israelites had done, and referred to Zionism as an American-based worldwide plot.

Well, guilt by association, and, by their friends ye shall know them. God will judge Abbé Pierre. In the here and now, I’ve my doubts about anyone who is called “good and holy.” Yes, that very much includes Mother Teresa and Gandhi, both of whom I suspect of being not quite as good as their publicity would have us believe. But Pryce-Jones nails it about Pierre:

Perhaps he was in his dotage. And perhaps in his case, as in so many in a century that smoothly converted morality into a branch of public relations, the distinction between a good man and a charlatan is too fine to be perceptible.

I suggest that this is a subtle way of saying that Abbé Pierre may not be very comfortable when he comes before the throne.


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