Saints and Sinners

Beryl Gorbman

Exploring the Underbelly

I love that word, underbelly. It sounds like a vast, hidden anatomical expanse of a tremendous person or animal.  A place that is seldom seen. Secret and shameful. And figuratively speaking, that’s exactly what it is.

Cities, families, governments, people, churches, clubs, companies, political organizations – they all have underbellies, or dark sides.  The thoughts and behaviors roiling around under cover greatly affect the superficial surface. It can be fascinating and often confusing to study what lurks beneath.

Much has been documented showing that the more rigid, strict, and rule-bound a person or organization is, the more pronounced the underbelly. No point in belaboring the case of the Catholic church, but there’s an example. Mystical, secretive, bound in dogma, unquestioned and until  recently, inviolate. A perfect nurturing ground for the dark side.

Police departments. They’re there to protect and serve, to enforce the rules. Yet some officers and administrators are egregious criminals who undermine their own stated goals.

The Masons, the Knights Templar, the American Red Cross….

In Seattle last year, the popular hell-fire pastor of a huge four-square church was found to be having an affair with a male prostitute. (His wife stood by her man.)

My friend Alan, a mental health therapist in Salt Lake City has hair-raising stories about his observant Mormon clients.

So often  when some cad is arrested for an outrageous homicide, the neighbors say,  “I can’t believe it. He seemed like such a nice guy.”

My friend Jane the call girl (see her posts on my site) tells me that wealthy, authoritarian, upstanding executives often like to dress in baby clothes and be spanked.

Your wide-eyed mayor in your home town kisses your baby and takes huge bribes which will allow buildings to collapse.

Goldman Sachs.  A company that cultivated a proper, conservative image and knowingly pulled illegal maneuvers that cost millions of people their homes and jobs.

The only surprising thing about any of this is that we are surprised by it. But we see moral dualities all around us all the time.

You Don’t Have to Look Too Far

We’ve been tossing around the idea lately on this site, that Merida has an underbelly. Criminal, sexual, moral, financial, whatever you can think of. Merida is a Catholic city in a Catholic country and of course there are huge dualities. Don’t be horrified. It’s the same in any other city.

Check out the Merida zocalo. In the daytime, it’s a place for families. Children run around eating colorful junk food their parents buy from the numerous vendors. The kids play on the structures and with each other – it’s a huge, innocent playground.

Around 7 p.m. things start to change. The families beat a hasty retreat, as they see the night people taking over the benches and walkways. Young boys approach older men, strike deals, and slither off together. People exchange small envelopes for money. Pimps and shills whisper at passers-by and thieves cautiously display their wares. (Good place to buy a watch.)

Take a close look at historically restored Pioneer Square in Seattle. By day it’s full of cheerful tourist families but after nine p.m. it’s dangerous. Every kind of opportunistic crime you can imagine happens here. Every variety of predator comes out in Pioneer Square after dark. People inflict inexplicable physical cruelties on the homeless, for no apparent reason. They rob and rough up tourists and locals.

How about Boston? San Francisco? Other charming American cities?

The Dark Side in All of Us

Heaven and hell. Devil and angel. Good and evil. We all work like crazy to balance them, all of our lives. But mostly, we’re in denial about this tremendous duality. Why is it our tendency to see only the “cup half full?” And why is that considered a good thing? No matter how we look at things, bad stuff happens anyway. It seems that we would be better served to look at the cup for what it is – partly empty and partly full. Both.

How can we address dualities in ourselves? How can we face our dark sides? I guess the first step is to acknowledge that we have them. Then we can face them squarely, analyze them, and decide whether they make us or other people miserable or not. It’s a starting point. And we might even be able to prevent some horrible things from happening. Being realistic isn’t a bad thing. If we decide our dark sides warrant it, we need to get professional help before we hurt somebody.

The more tightly we hold things in, the more likely we are to explode or act in ways we don’t want to, ways that are out of our control. Or just be unbearably judgmental of other people. Sort of like some countries. And religions. Much of religious practice is based on the assumption that the world is evil but we can be saved if we follow the (impossible) rules.

Do some people pick up and move to foreign countries in an effort to leave behind the things they don’t like about themselves and build new lives as good guys? Or do they move because they’ve always fought their dark sides and are compelled to express them, but they don’t want to do this where everyone knows them. Hmmmm….


Some people are open about elements of their underbellies.

Remember how Bette Midler used to be before she got all married and motherly and proper? Or Madonna? Or Chris Rock? Margaret Cho? They all lost their naughtiness. What a shame.

These people told it all. They extolled their dark sides, they flaunted them, they sold them. You could pretty much bet that what you saw was what you got. That they couldn’t have been much worse than they themselves were saying they were, so it was all out in the open. Exposing their underbellies and laughing at them was a relief to all of us who listened to them. Hey, we could say. Maybe I’m not so bad after all.

They say good comedians operate out of pain. Real fat guys talking about how gross they are. Women with unattractive features talking about how it feels to be ugly. They are making a living at NOT pretending that everything is okay. I admire that.

On a positive note (oh my god – she’s going to say something cheerful), I think there are people who do not have significant underbellies. Some of you might remember Jeannine, from Belgium who lived in Merida and died a few years ago. Then, there is Jimmy Carter.

But for most of us, it’s an uphill battle.

Looking Up

I know several people who don’t seem to have much of a dark side, but I won’t embarrass them. And there are millions throughout the world who we never hear of because they have no ambition to be known. People who know their flaws and do their best to channel them positively, or give in to them in ways that don’t hurt other people. People who walk through life making the world a better place, quietly.  I think of them as people of light.

Here’s someone I’d like to meet.

Global Guru Amma

The Hugging Saint Mother!

By Subhamoy Das, Guide

The Hindu spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, lovingly called ‘Amma’, and known globally as India’s “hugging saint mother “, Ms “Amritanandamayi”, which literally means “Mother of Absolute Bliss”, was born to a low caste Hindu family in a poor fishing village in Parayakadavu, Kollam, in the southern Indian coastal state of Kerala. Amma began hugging devotees at an early age, and is said to have hugged at least 21 million people over the past three decades. In the 1980s, Amma founded her ashram to receive followers and offer them her healing hugs. There have been times when she has hugged over 20,000 devotees in a row over 20 hours at a stretch. Devotees find it blissful and soul-soothing, and Amma says her hug is her character and “karma to console those who are sad.”

There are no charges for Amma’s hugs.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
This entry was posted in Merida Expat Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Saints and Sinners

  1. Alinde says:

    As always, Beryl, you are thought-provoking. A friend of mine once commented that a blog of your style “takes a lot of courage.” This article exemplifies that.

    But I will add that it is not an easy entry to which to respond, intelligently. There are so many themes involved:

    the word “underbelly” itself
    why we moved here
    the underbellies of our former homes
    our own hidden underbellies
    the validity of the assumption that a “revealer” has revealed it all.

    So, if you don’t receive a lot of quick replies, maybe this is why. Or maybe we just aren’t courageous enough.

  2. BG says:

    The article confuses me too.

  3. Christofer says:

    Good and bad. Right and left. Christian and heathen. Beginning and ending. Muslim and infidel. Churched and unchurched. Clean and dirty. Black and white.

    The Mayan beliefs before the arrival of bearded invaders saw existence as a continuum that repeats, not as a line that starts and ends. Perhaps they saw morality and judgment in the same way? Varying shades of gray? Or perhaps not.

    But there is no purely good and purely evil. We’re all living a blend. And often the bad has some good in it.

    Sickle cell anemia is a bad disease, but carriers are resistant to malaria. And if they contract malaria, the course of the illness is often limited and less debilitating. There are other disorders that carry other benefits.

    Some of the most brilliant scientists, musicians, artists led tortured lives at home, harboring secrets, bad habits, something disapproved by society. Yet their works benefit us today.

    Maybe we have to just accept the whole person, because we never know which side of bad or good will be of benefit in the next moment or the next decade. Taking the good with the bad is the only way to become close to someone. Building a relationship is often one of the most liberating acts in terms of personal development that many people may see.

    Or, as a popular phrase goes: You are another me. We are all brothers and sisters.

  4. As long as it is not violent, a bit of an underbelly is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s my overbelly I am getting worried about.

  5. Rainie says:

    1. The glass is half full.
    2. The glass is half empty.
    3. Who in the hell drank my water?

  6. I have been fortunate enough to be hugged by Amma, the Hugging Saint, several times. She come to New York City every July. She is so powerful. I felt completely comforted in her loving arms. Definitely a person of light.

  7. Hugo De Naranja says:


    Believing that there’s no radical distinction between good and evil, or that all humanity lives a “blend” of same, is a luxury of the privileged who’ve never met evil in its less ambiguous forms.

    Since you would seem familiar with Maya civilization, you ought ask a few locals if they think there’s “no purely good and no purely evil,” and whether their opinions were informed by any of the dozen or so rebellions that have erupted in the peninsula since 1546 CE.

    More to the point, you ought ask where they locate the “shades of grey” in, for example, the events that occurred in Maní in June and July of 1562 CE.

    Or, taking a tip from Beryl, should you happen to be hanging out in Merida’s central plaza on December 14, you might ask any of the little brown-skinned people on hand if the name “Jacinto Uk” rings a bell and, if so, whether they feel his death serves as proof that “often the bad has some good to it.”

    To assert that there’s a silver lining inside every cloud isn’t merely a failure of moral imagination, but a knowing and willful and deliberate subversion of the very idea of justice itself.

    And justice is something which all of us, privileged or not, are commanded to pursue.


    I’m with Hugo. I know there is such a thing as pure evil. When it occurs, it is not an underbelly. Everything else about the person or entity is a cover for the basic motives.

  8. Alinde says:

    Well, I’m with Christofer on this one, Beryl. I have never believed in “Evil” as a real thing. Bush and his ilk like to invoke it as a means of avoiding more difficult discussions. People (or the other animals, for that matter), do really bad things for a complex set of reasons. Mental illness is a prime motivator, I’m fairly certain. Or alienation, depression, hopelessness.

    Interestingly, timing-wise, my Amazon order of the book TERROR IN THE NAME OF GOD: WHY RELIGIOUS MILITANTS KILL, by Jessica Stern, just arrived. I cannot go into the whole background of this book, but it can easily be found. In any event, this author has refused to fall for the “evil” label as a way to simplify one’s moral superiority.

    It reminds me of the plight of Bill Maher after he objected to the labeling of the 9/11 bombers as “cowards.” Again, oversimplification inhibits further intellectual inquiries, such as WHY did someone do such and such a thing. Or, HOW could it have been prevented?

    In fact, such labeling probably perpetuates the “evil-doing” by setting up barriers to such communication.
    Oh Alinde, I wish I could agree. I wish I could feel empathy for all who do evil in the world and try to explain it in terms of their childhoods, religious orientations, or states of mental health. However, if you’ve ever worked in or around law enforcement, you know this isn’t true. Sociopaths (is that a mental illness?) who see themselves as center of the universe are capable of doing anything at all to get what they want – money, sex, or your life. People who victimize very young children, who form organizations to justify thier habits, and who are in positions of power, are my least favorites. Then there are people who kill others because they are inconvenienced by them, or people who stalk and terrorize others. On and on. Or how about large banks and corporations who cause millions to lose their homes because they want to make more money. And then, of course, there is Idi Amin. And Hitler. And Mao.

  9. Hugo De Naranja says:


    “For we have destroyed by our evil behaviour such a government as was enjoyed by these natives…When they discovered we had thieves among us, and men who sought to force their wives and daughters to commit sin with them, they despised us. …

    “But now they have come to such a pass in offence of God, owing to the bad example we have set them in all things, that these natives, from doing no evil, have changed into people who now do no good, or very little…

    “I beg God to pardon me, for I am moved to say this, seeing that I am the last to die of the conquistadores and discoverers…”

    The above is an excerpt from the last will and testament written and signed by Pizarro’s homeboy Mansio Serra de Leguizamon, who seems to have departed this world somewhat unconvinced that the Conquest of the Incas was, for all parties concerned, a win-win situation.

    When reading this document, one can’t but recall obliquely similar misgivings voiced by German soldiers who helped the Romanian army transport Jews east across the Dniester River and into Nazi control.

    The Romanian soldiers so sadistically brutalized the Jews that even the German soldiers complained about it to their superiours…because they were worried that, “The behavior of certain representatives of the Rumanian army will diminish the respect of both the Rumanian and German armies in the eyes of public here and all over the world.”

    What’s perhaps most notable in these instances is that neither the repentant conquistador nor the jittery German soldiers identify painful, difficult childhoods, or clinical depression, or even “alienation,” as likely root-causes for the unfortunate events at issue.

    Moreover, in their studied refusal to engage matters on that level, both conquistador and German soldiers seemingly make no effort whatsoever to imposture “moral superiourity.”

    As for your perhaps utterly plausible contention that frank, robust interpersonal communication is often overlooked as prophylaxis against things like the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants, we need to ask ourselves if fireside chats, role-playing games, or other “icebreakers,” would have effectively dissuaded Bishop Diego de Landa from his mischief. Or Pol Pot from his.

    Are we to believe that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Siege of Leningrad would have been much improved socially, if not revealed as altogether unnecessary, had the parties involved simply sat down together in the presence of a really great psychotherapist and worked through their fear of intimacy and feelings of low self-esteem?

    And in response to your remarkable final sentence, I’d be tempted to wave my tiny paws in the air and squeal “Affirming the consequent!”, but in just a few words you manage not only to dismiss all empirical understanding of causality, but also to breach spooky new dimensions in logical fallacy as yet unexplored by those rhetoricians supposedly in the business of exploring such things. Mazel tov!

  10. BG says:

    In my book, 2012: Deadly Awakening (that’s on Amazon as an ebook and will soon be available in print) one of the themes is the concept of evil. Although most of the book is a tongue in cheek commentary on the various predictions for 12/21/2012, the book is a mystery and the anti-heroes are BAD. The “good” characters have dark sides, but not evil. Or they are just plain stupid. It’s so different.

  11. Alinde says:

    First of all, my main objection is to sloganeering and labelling, which I see as counter-intellectual, and lead us as a people to making unintelligent choices, such as election the last Bush TWICE! At the risk of engaging in the practice to which I’m objecting, I will nevertheless add that there are many peoples in the world that see him as a “terrorist.”

    So, what is the difference, Beryl, between one’s “bad side”, and “evil.” I still don’t see it. The “Evil” is still the “evil” of Bush’s “Axis of Evil”–name-calling. Even “stupid” falls in here.

    A “sociopath” is just a legally culpable for a crime as many others, but there have been advances in understanding of such disorders since the 15th Century crimes of Bishop Diego de Landa, or even the last century crimes of Hitler. But what MAKES a sociopath does deserve understanding (I did NOT say “empathy”) so that we can learn how to better protect ourselves from others or even avoid enabling others. (And we might learn how to better screen law enforcers, to make sure some of the recently publicized crimes against detainees are not recommitted.)

    If we as a public were more educated about these matters, and quit relying on labels or religious dogma, we might do better.

    In preparing for this post, I ran across this blog. It’s quite good!

    Finally, I want to quote from the book I mentioned in my last post: page 281, the author speaks of the terrorists seeming to be “spiritually intoxicated.” This reminded me of a movie I have not yet seen, THE HURT LOCKER. The reviews
    of this film comment on the addictive nature that the acts of war seem to have on the soldiers. Although this movie won the last Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, evidently it was not a really popular movie. I’m not surprised. The USA public is not being bred to think.

    We are becoming a nation of sheep.

  12. Christofer says:

    If there is any true evil in the world, it certainly dwells in sociopaths and psychopaths. There is no argument there. And yet these are people. They had a beginning that may have been at least somewhat innocent.

    The other true evil that I believe in is those people who are so firmly convinced that they and only they “hold the truth” to all things. As mentioned by others, various dictators, fanatics, zealots of all stripes perpetrated evil. And so do those who haughtily denounce others with disdain, with snide criticisms, with arrogance, so certain of their words and righteousness that they feel licensed to trample on others’ thoughts and beliefs because they, and only they, hold the key to “truth.”

    So, yeah. Evil. Evil is as evil does. Dontcha think?

    A man was put to death in Texas recently. By all accounts he was a rough, irresponsible, even brutal at times character. He was convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three daughters. The prosecutor and even the judge (elected by popular vote in Texas) believe fervently that he was an arsonist.

    A number of arson experts across the nation – is it five or are we now up to six? – reviewed the reports of the fire investigators and criticized them as severely out of date with modern science and not evidence of arson at all.

    The man is dead. The children are dead. The judge and prosecutor are dead certain they saw the “right man” die, but the science says it was not arson.

    Was evil committed? By the convict? Or by the Judge and Jury? Or only by the prosecutor? Or the governor who permitted the death penalty to be carried out in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary?

    That’s the gray. Who is right and who is wrong? Can anyone be certain? Is there punishment in the afterlife for those who are certain and learn they are mistaken, perhaps at Judgment’s Door?

    Justice is practiced by the winners: of the trial, of the battle, of history. The single-minded pursuit of Justice changes with the tides of history, of popular belief, of science.

    Evil dwells amongst certitude, arrogance, disdain and zealotry. Evil is their big brother, their uncle. Yet the many cousins and nephews perpetrate the familial traits throughout the world. Practice them in your life and see evil come home to roost.

  13. BG says:

    For Christofer -
    Your comment made me think of The Innocence Project, an organization that uses DNA technology to prove innocence of prison inmates incarcerated, before DNA analysis was available. The Project started in 1992 at Yeshiva University and now is in, I believe, all the states of the USA and several foreign countries. Law students work on the projects, guided by professors. The Yeshiva Univ. project has found 255 incarcerated inmates innocent and they’ve been released. So yes, although there is evil in the world, and psychopaths are all around us, let’s not rush to judgement about who they are. Our criminal justice system is great, but we make big mistakes sometimes.

  14. Christofer says:

    Hi Beryl,

    I think a couple of us were simply talking about how to approach our neighbors, new acquaintances, subjects of gossip and humanity in general.

    Of course, the general principals applied to our neighbors never work when applied to despots but another commenter took exception to the concept of being more generous and less judgmental.

    For example, we won WWII and see Hitler as an abomination. What if Hitler had won? (who cares to consider the horror?) The firebombing of Dresden and incineration of tens of thousands of civilians would likely have been declared a war crime.

    Today, we (generally speaking I suppose) side with the Mayans against the horrors visited upon them by the Conquistadors, but in-depth study of the Spanish shows that they were *certain* they were enacting the will of God.

    Yes, the situation with convicted criminals is, again, horrific. In Dallas County alone, nearly 30 men have been released from prison. Convicted of the crime of rape – frequently with no other crimes in their history – DNA evidence has proven they were not the rapists. A uniform characteristic: all are black.

    Dallas County is often held up as a “bad example” of the justice system, but the ‘truth’ is that Dallas County preserves evidence much longer than many other Texas counties. Thus, the DNA is available for testing. In the rest of Texas, the percentages are likely equally high for false convictions, yet there’s no way to prove it.

    At any rate, there are levels of discussing things. A couple of us are talking (it seems) here about inter-personal relations. Others are talking about the weight of history and our current ‘judgment’ of the past. Not at all the same thing.

    Yours was a great article on a controversial topic. Certainly got the conversation going! ;-)

  15. BG says:

    It boils down to the same thing, though. What is truth? Or, is there real truth? Things are different seen from different perspectives. Michael Jackson said he loved children and would never hurt them. I’m sure he meant that, from his own perspective.
    But DNA is absolute. It’s comforting to know that something is.

  16. Hugo De Naranja says:


    “Today, we (generally speaking I suppose) side with the Mayans against the horrors visited upon them by the Conquistadors, but in-depth study of the Spanish shows that they were *certain* they were enacting the will of God. …”

    This is not true.

    Even casual familiarity with widely available, popular histories of the Conquest reveals that there were more than a few Spanish who were absolutely certain that the Spanish were*not* doing the will of God, and were horrified and disgusted by what they saw.

    In fact, their complaints were so famous that, THREE HUNDRED YEARS LATER, African-American former slaves commented on these complaints when writing tracts aimed at abolishing slavery in the American South.

    Let’s consider that 300-year interval, shall we?

    For former slaves in 19th century America, the obstacles before literacy were considerable, and access to books, even greater.

    And yet in 19th century America there were former slaves who so overcame the obstacles to literacy and books that they were conversant in 300-year old complaints made by Spanish eye-witnesses to the Conquest’s violence.

    Why is this?

    For these former slaves, history was not abstract.

    History wasn’t something that happens only to other people.

    For these former slaves, “general principles” applied to neighbors were no different from those applied to despots, and “general principles” applied to despots were no different from those applied to neighbors.

    Only very, very privileged and fortunate people, you see, regard history only in the abstract.

    Only very, very privileged and fortunate people, you see, feel no particular need to make the inductive leap from the particular to the general.

    You’re entirely welcome to live in this neck of the woods and locate your moral reference point in the deficiencies of Dallas County criminal justice, but I gotta ask, in the politest way possible, what “living here” means to you.

    For some reason, my gut tells me that many gringos here are only nominally engaged in, say, the wealth of information to be gleaned from mass-market Mexican newspapers and magazines available at such subversive under-the-radar locations as Sanborns.

    I mean, do these people have even the vaguest idea of where they are?

  17. BG says:

    Nazi prison guards at Auschwitz who gassed and shot small children and old people, among others, were evil. The holocaust brought out their dark side.
    KKK murderers who hunted down black men and hung them from trees like strange fruit, were evil and the attitude of the times allowed them to express their darkest sides. And that also goes for bringing slaves to the USA crowded into the holds of ships and then auctioning them, naked, in public.
    American soldiers who face-to-face wiped out villages in Cambodia still have nightmares because they know what they did was evil.
    And how about American INS officers who get carried away and shoot people in the back, killing them?
    And look around you here. Do you see many Maya bank officers? Or white street sweepers? Or, for that matter, Mayas dining in good restaurants? The Conquest continues.
    Yes, perspective has something to do with these things because it gives excuses for abominable acts.

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