Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Modern Saints: Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

On All Saints Day, let's think about the notion of a saint. Auguste Comte thought that while the metaphysical elements of religion would eventually fade away as part of an immature phase of human development, the structure of religious institutions would remain necessary for the majority of people. He proposed founding a "religion of man," wherein we use the Church as a model for secular belief system with rituals and an ethical code. This would even come with saints whom we would use archetypes to hold up as representatives of human greatness. For Comte, these would be scientists of monumental achievement -- Saint Newton, Saint Darwin,...

If we broaden the notion, whom would we hold up as modern saints?

I suppose those who championed justice through non-violence like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez would be the first to be considered. We erect a hall of fame where we make great athletes and coaches into cultural saints -- Babe Ruth, Vince Lombardi, Wilt Chamberlain. Occasionally, the two overlap with folks like Jackie Robinson and Billie Jean King. We have popular art forms like film and music where the work of modern saints allow them to remain forever young -- Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, Madonna.

From all aspects of contemporary life, where do we and where should we look for our modern saints? Or should we at all? Is the notion of a saint harmful? Knowing that all humans were just humans and anyone we elevate, we will be able to find evidence of moral and personal fallibility, is this myth making unfair to those whom we select? Should we create false images to strive for or should we develop our own internal drives based on our own projects and circumstances?