I had not reacted to Sister Jesme’s Amen ‘cos it was not worth reacting to. The book has no literary value – at least that’s what I think. It’s a very pedestrian forgettable piece except for the sleaze and scandal about convents. To tell you the truth, the book bored me to death.
I’m glad that the Nuns and the Church did not ask for the book to be banned. I’m glad that the Catholics did not go on a book-burning spree. The truth is, the book is not worth the trouble.
So, why do I choose to write about it now?
Well, The Hay Festival is happening in Trivandrum. A few of my friends who attended it called to find out from me if it was true if all nuns were liars and lesbians or practicing heterosexuals.
They told me that Sr. Jesme, in her talk, said something to the effect that all nuns lie in both sense of the word. 1. They utter falsehoods and 2. they are lying with someone or other all the time. It is to this that I am reacting.
Strange that a person who was a nun for 30+ years should come out with something like this. Does it mean that she was doing this for three decades?
Regarding the book Amen- There may be some truth in it. There may not be any truth. I do not know. But common sense tells me that every organization has a bad apple or a few bad ones. But to say that the entire bunch is rotten is to miscarry truth.
Now, I have a reason for sticking up for the nuns. I am a beneficiary of the service they have been traditionally rendering to society.
All my education – from Baby class to Masters - was in convents. They were a great influence on me in my formative years. (I guess I owe my prudishness to this influence J.)
I learnt a lot from them, and I’ve had to unlearn some of what I learnt from them too. But the gains are greater – the loss, negligible.
The education they imparted to me gave not only knowledge and skill, but wisdom too.
They taught me the virtues of love and forgiveness.
They taught me to value human life, human rights and human dignity.
They taught me that honesty is a virtue that cannot be compromised, no matter what.
They taught me to stand firm in the right , and to ask God for light to see the right.
They tried to make a disciplined human being out of the total disorganized person that I was. They succeeded enough in this effort so as to enable me to get on with this business called life without much hassles.
I know that I’m not the most virtuous person on earth or the best specimen of our species. Those who know me will agree wholeheartedly to this admission. I do fall. Often. But each time, the values the nuns imparted to me and which I have internalized, set afoot a correction that, I hope, has stemmed me from stooping to irredeemable depths.
Isn’t all this reason enough for me to stand up for the nuns?
And I have always been most comfortable with most of them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that those I am not comfortable with are liars and lesbians and highly libidinous people, as Sister Jesme claims. Just as I am comfortable with some human beings and not with some, so too with the nuns.
The point I’m trying to make is nuns are human beings. And you find all types.
They too fall like all human beings. They too try to correct themselves like all human being do, though their benchmark, which is unrealistically high, makes the task difficult for them. It makes the fall appear greater – and our criticism too.
But then who are we to judge?
Enough that they contribute substantially to the well being of human beings.
Enough that their level of commitment to the service of mankind is very high.
Enough that society has benefited hugely from them.
One rotten apple does not make the whole bunch rotten.