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[For an audio/vlog version of this story, click here.]

In my early adolescence, I was a regular attendee at mass. Oh, how impressionable the young can be!

I bought into it to such an extent that I used to think that I was on a higher plane than those, such as my immediately older brother, who didn’t follow the masses, as it were. Or at least I acted as if I was on a higher, untouchable plane.

An act of good

‘I go to church, ergo I’m good.’

My mere appearance at a church service meant I would not only be better looked after by the Almighty but any sins I committed — and I may have committed a few small ones — would be more likely to be pardoned than those of the non-churchgoers.

Act up
More precisely, my brother and others like him were infidels and were thus set for eternal damnation no matter what good acts they might do. I could cause treachery yet salvation would be my lot as long as I repented.

The, um, no-nonsense rules of the Catholic Church put paid to such hopes for perpetual bliss. My mother married a man — my father — who had been previously married, meaning that in the eyes of those making things up at the Holy See all my mother’s children — myself included — were (are?!) doomed bastards regardless. Yet even after discovering such a devastating fate, I still played the faithful game for a while longer.

It wasn’t until the end of my teens that I followed my brother’s lead — mostly of my own accord, albeit — and quietly renounced Catholicism and organised religion in general.

That early big-C Catholic indoctrination — much of it was at odds with small-c catholic, as in it wasn’t too liberal in its outlook — isn’t easily wiped from one’s memory and, by extension, behaviour.

Nonetheless, and allowing for the many contradictions and hypocrisies of Vatican rule, in Christianity there is at least a blueprint to live a morally sound life.

Yes, there’s merit to the argument that we don’t need religions to set our collective moral compass, that in a state of nature we’d be more inclined to be helpful to others rather than harmful. Much has been written and debated about that. There’s no need to add to it in this piece.

‘Doing a good act is undermined when it’s only done to buy credit to be less good elsewhere.’

The point here is, to return to my mass-going days (in thought, that is, not for real), doing what one considers a good act is generally undermined if it’s only done to buy credit to be less good elsewhere.

Linked to this are the types who talk up their one good deed to deflect attention away from their many shortcomings elsewhere. Fair enough, it can be beneficial to focus on the positives. But if it’s done to the extent that one neglects the negatives, progress is often hampered.

Good for nothing
This came into my mind, harshly perhaps, when I saw a short video on the BBC’s website about the country with the earliest wake-up time in the world. Who got that label? Why none other than my adopted home for the last 12 years, Colombia.

Across the world, getting up early is generally seen as a good habit. Various sayings extol its virtues: ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’, ‘You snooze, you lose’, ‘The early bird catches the worm’ and suchlike.

Yet, merely getting out of bed early doesn’t in itself mean one is better than those who get up later. Colombians aren’t exactly the globe’s leading lights for efficiency and productivity, are they?

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, there’s a difference between being at work and actually doing work. (I do, though, acknowledge the long hours of poorly paid toil that many in Colombia’s lower classes are forced into.)

In all of these acts of good is the idea of much show but little go. Plenty of style but not much substance.

I’m reminded of the song It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. Those lyrics can be dissected in different ways. A negative one is that style is more important than substance. A more positive perspective is that how you go about your activities trumps what your activities are — the idea of taking an enthusiastic approach to the most mundane of tasks. (Acts of pure evil are excluded here.)

After all, our actions speak louder than our words. And a corollary: When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.

Words wither. Deeds deliver. With that, this is the word of Wrong Way. Go in peace to love and serve him.
Listen to The Corrigan Cast podcast here.

Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan — The Blog & IQuiz “The Bogotá Pub Quiz”.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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