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November 28, 2013

Question: Can we learn more from the lives of the righteous or the sinners?

My caveat would be to question the sharp distinction that the question makes between sinners and the righteous. If we use a strict divine standard, be it legal, moral or spiritual, aren’t we all sinners either in thought, word or deed?

Anyone who has read Dostoevsky, whose literary world is peopled with the sinful righteous and the saintly sinners, is reminded that the “sinners” often perform more goodly deeds than the “righteous.”

Although moral rectitude is a desirable quality in spiritual life, and much needed in today’s morally bankrupt world, nothing is so unappealing as self-righteousness. The self-righteous are those who have forgotten that whatever they have achieved spiritually depends, not on their own efforts alone, but on the grace of the Divine Source. As a result, the self-righteous have forgotten humility and gratitude.

If sinners have been reborn, reformed, revived, awakened or illumined, or what have you, and if they haven’t forgotten their low estate, they should be able to empathize with and serve as examples for those who are suffering from the ill effects of immoral living. Truly reformed sinners can act as wise counsellors and physicians from those who may be seeking their advice.

I fear the too often true stereotype of the “righteous.” We have seen enough of the “plaster saint,” the bland, humourless, devitalized, sanctimonious types who pride themselves on being closer to God than thee. Goodness must appeal.

Attractive righteous living shows proof of full, rich, joyous lives and fundamentally happy, balanced humans. The spiritual lifestyle of the righteous aims to be natural, winsome, and approachable.

Nothing is more depressing or divisive than to concentrate on sin in ourselves or others. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), who remains the unique model for the pattern of Baha’i life, who was the son and successor of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), said to one of the Baha’i communities during his strenuous eight-month travel-teaching journey across the U.S. and Canada in 1912: “Have you noticed that I have not drawn attention to any of your faults?”

We cannot build love and unity in our communities by criticizing others or dwelling on their faults.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen November 28, 2013
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