Pie in the sky when you die

18 August 1978 | Catholic Herald (Heading by Catholic Herald)

Telling people what’s right and what’s wrong is a thankless vocation, and yet it has a curious attraction, so that most of us feel we are called to it from time to time. That we have our critics was brought to my mind by your leading article of July 28 in which you use the phrase “pie in the sky when you die”.

I have seen the full quotation only once and that many years ago; but, from memory, and to show the effect that moralists can have, I quote the whole passage, with apologies for mistakes to Joe Hill the reputed author.

When preachers come out at night
To tell you what’s wrong and what’s right
And you ask them for something to eat
They reply with voices so sweet:
There’ll be food bye and bye
In the glorious land beyond the sky
Work and pray. Live on hay.
There’ll be pie in the sky, when you die
It’s a lie.

This is not the reaction which Christian moralists aim to produce in their audience. And yet we now do on a world scale that which this verse describes happening on a small scale.

We preach on the evils of contraception and abortion, apartheid and racism, but we fail to feed the hungry. Perhaps the hungry – and they now number almost half the world – will react to our preaching by concluding that we are untrustworthy.

Can we avoid this reaction? Perhaps not. But it would help if we turned not to the scholastics, or the liberals, or even to Joe Hill, when we wanted to know what was wrong and what was right, but to the Gospels.

(Dr) Gerald Danaher