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An unlikely topic for advanced practice nurses the reader may thin [horizontal ellipsis] how can self-righteousness be dangerous? How could it inflict harm? Examples of the suffering caused by the self-righteous abound. These are individuals who believe that their judgment is infallible, even virtuous, and yes, pious, and therefore the suffering they inflict is justifiable. Their affliction lies in the confusion of religious dogma with psychological narcissism, an unnatural obsession with purity that throws every good intention into misdirection.


O'Flaherty's puritan is Francis Ferriter, a deeply disturbed young man who misinterprets Catholic dogma and convinces himself that it is only through the violent act of murder that he will be able to cleanse the world around him of its sin.1 He is convinced of the rightness of this act because of his own personal suffering through childhood abuse and perceived neglect. His personal anguish has purified him. He cannot understand why his employer and the local priest do not believe his thoughts and intentions are reasonable and sound but think him disturbed. At times he has deep sympathy for his victim, a young woman who has been led into a life of prostitution. But when she resists his attempt to reform her he believes his only recourse is to end her lif [horizontal ellipsis] that this act will cleanse him and those around him. He also wants his employer, family members, and those close to the young woman to feel responsible for her murder since he is convinced that it was they who were entirely responsible for the woman's life of prostitution. In his mind he wrestles with guilt and betrayal obsessed with the narcissistic belief that it is only he who can rescue himself and others. While claiming to be deeply religious, he has, in fact, despaired of the source of hope.


O'Flaherty, the noted Irish novelist and essayist, is perhaps best known for his The Informer, which was subsequently made into a feature length film. In all of his novels he wrestles with deeply moral and political issues. His suspicion of institutional religion and human self-righteousness is offset in his novels by his passionate love of nature and his loving grace and gentleness of capturing it in his fiction. His message is vivid, powerful, and relevant to all in any professional and personal context: avoid at all costs any form of self-righteousness and seek through compassion the restorative power of nature.




1. O'Flaherty L. The Puritan. London: Jonathon Cape; 1932. [Context Link]