Here's something for believers in sainthood and heroic human perfection to reflect upon: Hampton Sides' "Shattered Faith" in Newsweek.
On some level, we still subscribe to the myth of the man in the white hat. We yearn to believe not only in his good deeds but in his inherent goodness as a person. Perhaps it’s something rooted in our Puritan past, but we seem to have a monochromatic view of heroism. We have a hard time believing that the doer of a heroic deed could have serious defects or even be rotten to the core. Heroes are supposed to be heroic—period. We prefer to take ours neat.
Yet all heroes and saints are imperfect—even the greatest ones. Mother Teresa, Mortenson’s professed role model when he was growing up, was widely criticized for the deplorable condition of her clinics—and for accepting large sums of money from mafia dons and Third World dictators. Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized parts of his Ph.D. thesis and engaged in marital infidelities. Gandhi had a decidedly weird habit of sleeping beside naked young women to test his vow of celibacy—and, according to a new biography out last month by Joseph Lelyveld, may have had a homoerotic relationship with a German-Jewish architect in South Africa.
So what? Their accomplishments seem all the more heroic for their having been complicated, multidimensional, flesh-and-blood human beings.