“I pity you, you poor bastard !” Even out of context, that phrase reeks of contempt, scorn and a complex of superiority. One could imagine it being said with a misguided intention to express sympathy, accompanied by a certain helplessness and fatalism. But more often than not, pity is … pitiful, and meant to belittle, degrade and dominate. Asking for pity is perhaps even worse, a pathetic expression of total dependence on the whim of the cruel and powerful. You are about to be beheaded by a masked terrorist. You have nothing to offer, nothing to negotiate. Your last resort is to beg – you are already on your knees – that your life be spared. You try to appeal to whatever humanity, not to say milk of human kindness, he has still left in him. You sacrifice your dignity – and you grovel. Understandable but dehumanizing. Not everybody can be a hero.
How often do believers reflect on the image of the God they have imagined when they implore Him to pity them ? “Kyrie eleison !” : “Lord, have mercy !”. Whether in Greek or in English, what they are implying is : “Tyrant that you are, you want your pound of flesh”. What they are saying, with the others in the congregation, is : “We know that we deserve to be punished, but could you, just this once, see your way clear to giving us a break ?” The Catholic Mass and Christian prayers and hymns are full of this expression of belief in a God who expects His terrified children to grovel. They have it coming to them, they admit that they deserve the full impact of His righteous wrath, but because they are on their knees, begging forgiveness, crying their eyes out, promising to walk the straight and narrow, He may be prepared to consider going easy on them. Or maybe they get a little help from their friends, the Saints, and especially His Mother, the Mediatrix of All Graces, Our Lady of Perpetual Succor (no puns please), to whom they have prayed all their lives : “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour or our death. Amen.”
“RIDENDA RELIGIO” is not appropriate here; there is nothing to laugh at – although it is ridiculous to believe in, and beg for the remission of sins and the annuling of eternal punishment from, this non-existent Monster whose praises they sing as a God of Mercy ! “Faut-il pleurer, faut-il en rire ?” Jean Ferrat’s song suggests a choice which is inapplicable here : to laugh or to cry. If the sentiment were not so despicable, I would pity the poor bastards.