"No, I suppose not."

I’m re-reading Ludovic Kennedy‘s book All In The Mind: A Farewell to God. Many of the childhood experiences that Kennedy writes about in the first chapter remind me of my own formative years. For example:

Another puzzlement was the assertion in sermon after sermon that Jesus had died for our sins. Although my mother had proved something of a broken reed in my previous enquiries, I decided to tackle her again. For whose sins, I asked? She looked pole-axed. “Well,” she said after a long pause, “everybody’s, I suppose.” I said, “Yours and mine?” and my mother said, “Well, yes,” so I then said, “What would you say yours were?” She gave a little embarrassed laugh, a pause for thought and then with an air of triumph said, “As you know, I’m very unpunctual.” I said, “That’s hardly a sin,” but my mother insisted it was. “You see, it’s being very inconsiderate of other people, making them wonder if you’re coming or not.” I said, “Hardly something Christ died for?” She looked deflated. “No,” she had to agree, “I suppose not.” And as she presumably had no major sins in her locker like defrauding the railways or grievous bodily harm, and wasn’t going to admit to any other minor ones, that was really that.

I had a similar conversation, though not with my mother, and I remember that it all seemed rather silly. Soon afterwards I learned the official explanation, the “original sin” nonsense concocted by Ambrose, Augustine et al. That idea wasn’t just silly, it was offensive. This happened while I was growing up in England, just 12 years after the end of the Second World War. Anti-German sentiment was still a staple of English culture, ((perhaps it still is)) and I remember that a German boy came to our school one day. Our teachers emphasized that we were to treat him politely, because it would be unfair not to: children aren’t responsible for the actions of their parents. I agreed – it was “obviously” a matter of natural justice.
A few years later I would cite this issue of the fundamental injustice of the core of Catholic dogma during my farewell conversation with my parish priest. And like Ludovic Kennedy’s mother, his relectant response was embarrassment. “No, I suppose not.”