Friday, November 03, 2006
A sensational but to-date unsubstantiated allegation has been hurled at a major American religious figure. On much of the left, the reaction is gleeful delight: See! He is no better than anybody else!
In my mind, however, this story highlights a widespread moral assumption that I have never been able to understand.
Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse.
One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives.
The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution.
Which man is leading the more moral life? It seems to me that the answer is the first one. Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue - or at least as a mitigation of his offense?
After all, the first man may well see his family and church life as his "real" life; and regard his other life as an occasional uncontrollable deviation, sin, and error, which he condemns in his judgment and for which he sincerely seeks to atone by his prayer, preaching, and Christian works.
Yet it is the first man who will if exposed be held up to the execration of the media, while the second can become a noted public character - and can even hope to get away with presenting himself as an exemplar of ethics and morality.
How does this make moral sense?
Let me put it another way:
In every other avenue of life, we praise people who rise above selfish personal wishes to champion higher principles and the public good. We admire the white southerners who in the days of segregation spoke out for racial equality. We admire the leader of a distressed industry who refuses to ask for trade protections and government handouts. We admire the Arthur Vandenbergs and (someday) the Joe Liebermans who can reach past party feeling to support a president of the opposing party for the sake of the national interest.
If a religious leader has a personal inclination toward homosexuality - and nonetheless can look past his own inclination to defend the institution of marriage and to affirm its benefits for the raising of children - why should he likewise not be honored for his intellectual firmness and moral integrity?
"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self."
11/03 01:34 PM