In the media accounts of Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley’s resignation from the House over allegations of sexually explicit e-mails between himself and House pages, one frequently encounters the word “disgraced” modifying Foley’s name and “scandal” to describe his behavior.
These are moral words, created for the purpose of labeling aberrant (and abhorrent) behavior. To show how far we have drifted from any sociological, not to mention theological moorings, consider these definitions from dictionary.com: “aberrant: departing from the right, normal, or usual course”; abhorrent: “causing repugnance; detestable; loathsome.”
Right? Normal? Detestable? People who mock such notions ask, “According to whom?” Public schools, popular culture and editorialists at major newspapers have hammered into us this aversion to trans-generational morality. They proclaim that one person’s concept and definition of “right” is as valid as another person’s and to assert that there is only one right, one normal and one course is to be “judgmental” or “bigoted,” attitudes modernity considers a worse “sin” than the behavior that used to be called sinful.
Our sophisticated age demands we not recoil at aberrant behavior, or call it abhorrent. The anti-moral wrecking ball has caused enough damage to our foundations that what remains of a structure is no longer recognizable. NBC edits positive references to God before broadcasting “Veggie Tales,” but refuses to edit Madonna’s blasphemous depiction of herself on a cross. These decisions are made by the network’s “standards and practices” office, which mocks the words because clearly there remain few standards to which practices may be conformed.
Behavior once thought shameful is now paraded openly and promoted proudly to sell books. Former New Jersey Democratic Governor James McGreevey tours the talk show circuit. His presence dares anyone to question the legitimacy of his dumping two wives and having sex with men. He apologizes for his extramarital sexual relations and for putting people on the state payroll that didn’t belong there, but he has no intention of changing his behavior.
Bill Clinton has recovered from sex with an intern in the White House and impeachment. He doesn’t suffer for having practiced aberrant behavior. Few see him as having disgraced himself. Clinton takes in six figures on the lecture circuit and enjoys rock star status wherever he goes.
Former Congressman Gerry Studds (D.-Mass.) may have started this decline (or did he merely reflect declining morality?). Studds had an affair in the early ’80s with a 17-year-old male page. Studds was censured by the House, but famously turned his back to the Speaker in an act of disrespect and rejection of the judgment by his colleagues. He refused to resign and was re-elected to several more terms. A homosexual organization donated $10,000 to his campaign.
Rep. Daniel B. Crane, (R.-Ill.) had an affair more than two decades ago with a 17-year-old female page. After apologizing, he said he hadn’t violated his oath of office, hoped his wife and children would forgive him and announced plans to run for re-election.
We all have what theologians call a “fallen” nature and no one should judge himself (or herself) morally superior to others. But that does not mean the standard for “right” behavior should be eliminated simply because many appear unwilling to conform to that standard.
In his classic, “The Abolition of Man,” C.S. Lewis observed three generations ago that we are engaged in a type of tragic-comedy: “…we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. … In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Scandal? Disgrace? I think not. Foley and others could only be so labeled if popular culture condemned, rather than promoted, immorality. Oh, sorry, there I go again, appealing to a discarded standard.
We do laugh at honor and as a result we do find traitors in our midst. We also mock conventions and then are surprised when some take us seriously and respond as if there are none. Congressman Foley can look forward to talk show fame and a lucrative book deal. Welcome to America, 2006!