Hercule Poirot and the Rule of Law

Following the final tv episode of Poirot last week, I feel now is an appropriate time to share my favourite quote from the little Belgian detective.

poirotIt comes from near the end of Murder on the Orient Express when Poirot is confronting the group of passengers to reveal to them – and to us – who the murderer is. In most Poirot stories this involves a hitherto unknown backstory in which we discover that two of the characters are secret lovers who have conspired to kill the one person standing between them and their passionate love affair.

Murder on the Orient Express is a little different.

It transpires that the murder victim, Mr Ratchett, was responsible for the abduction and murder of a five year old girl many years ago but he fled the country after being acquitted in a trial that he most likely fixed. We discover that each of the 12 passengers on the train had a connection to the murdered girl and had organised this elaborate train journey to avenge her murder by killing Mr Ratchett (they killed him by each stabbing him once so that it could not be determined who administered the fatal wound).

As Poirot reveals these facts and confronts the group of 12, there is a superb piece of dialogue about the morality of the group taking justice into their own hands. The rule of law, argues Poirot, must not be abandoned otherwise we become like “savages in the street”.

The full transcript and video are below. It’s a great quote from a great story, n’est ce pas?


Hercule Poirot
:
[furious] You had no right to take the law into your own hands!

Hildegarde Schmidt: M-m-monsieur Poirot, she was *five years old*!

Caroline Hubbard: We were good civilized people, and then evil got over the wall, and we looked to the law for justice, and the law let us down.

Hercule Poirot: No! No, you behave like this and we become just… savages in the street! The juries and executioners, they elect themselves! No, it is medieval! The rule of law, it must be held high and if it falls you pick it up and hold it even higher! For all of society, all civilized people will have nothing to shelter them if it is destroyed!

Greta Ohlsson: There is a higher justice than the rule of law, monsieur!

Hercule Poirot: Then you let *God* administer it… not *you*!

Greta Ohlsson: And when he doesn’t? When he creates a Hell on Earth for those wronged? When priests who are supposed to act in his name forgive what must never be forgiven? Jesus said, “Let those without sin throw the first stone.”

Hercule Poirot: Oui!

Greta Ohlsson: Well, we were without sin, monsieur! *I* was without sin!

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“Where you live should no longer determine whether you live.”

Bono-GWBushIn February 2006, Bono addressed the 51st National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. What he said – and how he said it – was quite remarkable.

Somehow, I’d not come across this until now (h/t to Matt Ellis who quoted a section of it in a recent sermon). Bono masterfully weaves together religious, political, and historical themes to make his point that the developed West (specifically America) should give a lot more to help the world’s poorest people.

Please do read the whole piece. Regardless of whether you like Bono or you agree with his argument, it’s an excellent speech.

A few notable extracts…

…I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God…”

…God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”

…But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.”

…Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature.” In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

…So on we go with our journey of equality. On we go in the pursuit of justice… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.”

…Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market…that’s a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents…that’s a justice issue…And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.”

…I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did – or did not to – to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.”

Heaven is Real

It isn’t often that one of the world’s leading global affairs magazines publishes a cover story like that. But this week’s edition of Newsweek magazine features, as its lead article, a first-hand account of Dr Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who “experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.

The entire article is worth reading – whether or not you believe in life after death – but here are a few extracts that stuck out for me:

Very early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an extremely intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down…I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain…

While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility…

…as far as I know, no one before me has ever travelled to this dimension (a) while their cortex was completely shut down, and (b) while their body was under minute medical observation, as mine was for the full seven days of my coma…

Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky. Higher than the clouds—immeasurably higher—flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamer-like lines behind them.

A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it…

And the article continues.

Dr Alexander writes as a man still trying to work out the meaning and consequences of his experience. Still battling with reason and science, trying to see how this experience fits in with his understanding of the world.

To me, the most fascinating thing about this story is it’s unlikely hero. Dr Alexander is not a religious zealot looking for validation of his beliefs, he’s not an evangelist, or even a very strong Christian (in his own words, he is a Christian “more in name than in actual belief.”). And this makes his account all the more interesting.

I wish him well. I hope he writes more about it so that we can know how he gets on.

*Update: I notice that the Daily Mail has covered this story today.

*Update 2: And there is a book in the pipeline too.