Is anyone beyond the Pale?

The need to restrict immigration, said a politician recently, is because ‘we had a huge number of very low value, low skilled people coming through…’ When I heard this comment reported, I have to admit I felt quite sickened.

I know that the politician was reflecting on a true and justifiable concern for the impact on public services, when the costs of benefits provided start to outweigh the available funding. But to refer to people – to anyone – as ‘low value’ offended every part of me as a Christian. And as a human being.

A starting point in faith, in humanity, is to recognise that we are all valued. Indeed, we are all priceless. That there is no one who is beyond redemption. Not Tories, not Corbynistas, not Brexiteers, not Remoaners. Not even Daily Mail readers!

But, as I reflected on this, I also heard the news that the Moors murderer, Ian Brady, had just died. And the reporter quoted some of the headlines on the front pages of our national newspapers. One of these apparently said BURN IN HELL, BRADY. And, despite the repulsion I feel when I stop and think of the crimes that Brady committed, this also made me feel sickened.

Is it ever right to wish someone would burn in hell, even a murderer?

Is there ever a case for saying that someone is simply beyond the Pale?

This expression is such a powerful metaphor that I have always been intrigued by it.

When I first heard the phrase, as a child, I thought it was something to do with buckets. And then later I thought it was something to do with Procul Harem’s Lighter Shade of Pale.

But the expression derives, of course, from the meaning of a pale as a stake or pointed piece of wood – from which we get the words paling and impale.

In the late Middle Ages, there was an area in Ireland called the Pale, which was the land owned and governed directly by the English king. And everywhere else was beyond the Pale.

In Russia, in the late 18th century, Catherine the Great established a Pale in the western part of the country – a kind of reservation for the Jews - with only a privileged few Jewish people being allowed to live ‘beyond the Pale.’

Today, Donald Trump wants to put up a wall between the US and Mexico – to establish effectively a Pale for Mexicans who might want to migrate to the US.

So, who in your life and perception is beyond the Pale? Who have we ring-fenced as beyond redemption? Maybe there are people in our own families and communities that we have given up on. Maybe there are groups of people we have labelled as outcasts and enemies.

The shocking truth is that there are aspects of every one of us that in some way, for someone, put us beyond the Pale.

The only way forward is to accept the shocking suggestion that Christ presents us with – that absolutely no one is beyond redemption. No one is low value or worthy of burning in hell.

Ian Brady never repented. He never fully co-operated with the police so that the bodies of all his victims might be found.

But he might have done.

As Stan Tookie Williams, a Los Angeles gang leader on death row, did. Williams – although a convicted murderer - wrote a series of books and spoke to students via telephone – urging them to stay clear of gang life. His message resonated. And his work to curb violence was highly effective. But nonetheless he was executed in 2005.

He was beyond the Pale.

So let’s challenge anyone or anything that diminishes our humanity, that evil for evil.

Let’s recognise the Pales in our own lives and communities and do all we can to dismantle them.

Posted by Martine Oborne