When I was a young man (a long, long time ago), I was sensitive to many arguments against belief in God. I didn’t become an atheist, but I probably became something of an agnostic – at least in my head, if not in my heart. What brought me back to an intellectual conviction that God exists was, more than anything else, the example of the saints (if I may call them that). The morally best people in history were all, it seemed, believers in God. I was thinking not just of Jesus, but of the likes of Socrates and Marcus Aurelius and Francis of Assisi and, in modern times, the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
How shocked I was, then, when I later learned that MLK had been far less saintly than I had imagined. He had been a serial adulterer. Now I personally am not entirely shocked when I encounter cases of unchastity, even though I belong to a religion (Catholicism) that rightly warns about the dangers of unchastity. I don’t mean that I approve of fornication or adultery or homosexuality; I don’t. But in most circumstances, I probably wouldn’t disown a friend because he (or she) was guilty of one or more of these sins. When informed (as I often have been) that a friend is guilty of one of them, I tend to shrug my shoulders. I don’t expect my friends to be saints. I just expect them to be relatively decent people, and I can admire them despite their moral failings.
But when I heard about MLK’s sexual sins, I didn’t shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, nobody’s perfect,” because in Dr. King’s case I thought we had an example of perfection – of a genuine saint. But though a basically good man can be an adulterer, a saint cannot.
But now that I could no longer think of King as a saint, how was I to think of him? For one thing, I could still think of him as a great man, for he was certainly that.
Read more at The Catholic Thing.