Religion

The Tribute That Virtue Pays to Hypocrisy

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David Frum rises to the defense of  "a major American religious figure" (Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals) facing "a sensational but to-date unsubstantiated allegation" (that he enjoyed the services of a male prostitute with a side order of methamphetamine), making an argument like the one I suggested the other day: Better a hypocrite than a thoroughgoing sinner. But that argument assumes gay sex and drug use are sins. (Frum goes further, suggesting that anyone who thinks prostitution and drug use are wrong must, to be consistent, think they should be illegal; presumably he must also support a ban on gay sex.) One could argue that Haggard's extracurricular activities, combined with his fundamental decency, weigh against the idea that having sex with other men or using methamphetamine recreationally is inherently wrong.

If it weren't for Haggard's belief that homosexuality is a sin, perhaps he would have been openly gay and never would have married his wife (in which case he would not have committed adultery). If it weren't for his belief that drug use is a sin (combined with the legal prohibition of the drug in question), he wouldn't have had to buy methamphetamine surreptitiously. He could have been a model citizen who happened to be gay and who liked using stimulants occasionally. Would he be less moral in that case, or just more consistent?

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  1. As Michael Novak so brilliantly showed in the Corner the other day, he’d have been amoral – as only right-wing Christians are capable of having any standards at all…

    “In order to be a hypocrite, you have to hold to standards higher than your own behavior….

    “Being a liberal means having a right to do anything that you want sexually anywhere, anytime, and with anybody.

    “Thus, there is no way for liberals to be hypocritical about sex. Except by being chaste.”

  2. If he were single, I’d think this was unfortuneate but not a big deal. I generally agree that the reason Vice pays tribute to Virtue is that Virtue deserves it, and that keeping one’s vices quiet is a good thing. That position, however, assumes that no one else gets hurt. Pastor Ted, however, broke his most solemn promise to his wife and kids, and probably put his wife at risk of contracting a fatal disease. This is a bit worse that ordinary hypocrisy. You don’t get to hurt other people with your vices.

    As for whether such things should be illegal, no. Banning stuff obviously doesn’t make people stop doing it, it just makes it possible to jail or fine those who continue. That said, I still don’t think prostitution or recreational drug use, or drunkeness or promiscuity in general are good things, just a great deal less destructive to society than any attempt to ban them could be.

  3. “Thus, there is no way for liberals to be hypocritical about sex. Except by being chaste.”

    Um, how exactly does that follow?

  4. anyone who thinks prostitution and drug use are wrong must, to be consistent, think they should be illegal

    The list of things I think are wrong is longer by orders of magnitude than the list of things I think should be illegal. For that to make any sense one must read on to find:

    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?

    So in Frum’s mind cheating on your wife and living a lie to your children makes you honorable and moral. Wow. Talk about loving the sinner.

  5. “Frum goes further, suggesting that anyone who thinks prostitution and drug use are wrong must, to be consistent, think they should be illegal”

    After that, we can also make premarital sex and divorce illegal, since a lot of them think those two are wrong…well, maybe not so much the second one.

  6. I just feel sorry for his wife and kids. They didn’t ask for this.

  7. Wow, Frum’s argument would surely make Marvin Olasky and Rick Santorum proud. The conflation of homosexuality and prostitution is just weird. Like Jacob Sullivan, I think it’s at least as plausible to suggest that the reason that the Haggards of the world do the stealthy things they do, is that they can’t do them in the light of day.

    Because homosexuality was traditionally forced underground (and still is in many places), it should come as no surprise that other underground activities (like drug use and prostitution) sometimes accompanies gay encounters.

    BTW, it should be obvious to any reasonable person that there are many homosexuals that believe in faithfulness, monogamy, forgiveness, courage, love, etc. It’s just that they believe that they are naturally gay and that other adults are naturally gay and they consent to be with one another so what the hell is wrong with it?

    I know this isn’t what the article was about but I can’t help but conclude that in order for Frum to write what he did, he must on some level think that homosexuality is like, inherently in conflict with the virtues I’ve mentioned above. And he must on some level, equate homosexual activity in general with prostitution, drug use, immorality, etc. First, gay prostitution wouldn’t be as necessary if homosexuality were more socially accepted, and second, I see no reason to believe that drug use, prostitution, or any of those kinds of things aren’t supported in large measure by the purchasing power of heterosexuals.

    There are no universally accepted virtues that can’t be upheld also by homosexuals and Frum’s comments about encouraging people to live stable lives is just dumb, unless you’re bigoted enough to think that homosexuality prevents a person from being stable.

  8. As far as I am concerned the only “evil” Haggard has done is his hypocrisy. His list of “wrong-doing” include demonizing other people (gays, “sinners” of various stripes) and other behaviors (drug use) and leading others to do and think the same.

  9. Mr. Frum seems to miss the point. It’s not just that Ted Haggard preached that straight marriage was better than being gay, he worked really hard to pass laws making his own behavior criminal. Well, more criminal than in fact it already was, what with the prostitute and the meth and all. It’s one thing to struggle with an inclination or habit that causes yourself and your family pain and misery. That much anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking can tell you about. It’s another thing entirely to do something and later argue that other people who do that thing need to be jailed.

    And yeah, I really feel for the wife, and, especially, his kids. They didn’t ask for this. Which brings up another thing Frum gets wrong. Christian forgiveness doesn’t mean the sinner escapes the worldly consequences of sinning, just that he doesn’t go to Hell for having done it. Frum seems to argue that we should commend Haggard for being a lying adulterous bastard.

  10. In every other avenue of life, we praise people who rise above selfish personal wishes to champion higher principles and the public good.

    If Haggard engaged in homosexual affairs and illegal drug use while condemning them, he didn’t “rise above selfish personal wishes.” He tried to have both.

    We admire the white southerners who in the days of segregation spoke out for racial equality.

    Sophistry. White southerners didn’t have to rise above being white or southern.

    We admire the leader of a distressed industry who refuses to ask for trade protections and government handouts.

    Who are those exactly? Name one. Airlines? Textiles? Mining? Steel? Really, I’m coming up empty there.

    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.

    I don’t think most people – even Republicans – ‘admire’ Joe Lieberman.

  11. “Being a liberal means having a right to do anything that you want sexually anywhere, anytime, and with anybody.”

    Being liberal may mean having the right, but it doesn’t necessarily mean porking every gay meth dealer that comes along.

  12. I don’t know why anyone pay any attention at al to David Frum after that stupid “Axis of Evil” line.

    The guy might be able to string words together in a clever way but to me the actual content has always been vacuous dreck.

  13. “Frum goes further, suggesting that anyone who thinks prostitution and drug use are wrong must, to be consistent, think they should be illegal; presumably he must also support a ban on gay sex.”

    More to the point, rather than worrying about whether pundits are being self-contradictory or hypocritical, I just can’t seem to get my head around the idea that what pundits say in the run up to an election is important.

    …and the idea that what pundits say is important seems to be a very common presumption right now, but I don’t understand why I’m supposed to be interested.

    “If it weren’t for Haggard’s belief that homosexuality is a sin, perhaps he would have been openly gay and never would have married his wife (in which case he would not have committed adultery). If it weren’t for his belief that drug use is a sin (combined with the legal prohibition of the drug in question), he wouldn’t have had to buy methamphetamine surreptitiously.”

    Ever had a conversation with someone who did something to you, something you didn’t like, and when you confronted that person, the person seemed to think the problem was with the way you felt about what was done rather than what that person actually did?

    Fundamentalists don’t construct God based on their own personal feelings of what they think will be most desirable considering their own proclivities to sin. …and projecting this on to them seems counterproductive.

    They believe in a God who, to them, is quite real, and they believe he defines what sin is quite definitively. We should keep that in mind… Talking past each other isn’t likely to help.

  14. it’s the shadenfreude thing.

    plus, every time a proponent of value X is caught violating (in his own behavior) the same principle, he is seen as a hypocrite, and the piling on begins

    no proponent of any moral principle that I am aware of claims to be perfect, free from errors in moral judgment (some call it sin), etc.

    that this guy transgressed his moral code does not say anything about whether he is right in his views, or whether he should change them, etc.

    it just shows that people are fallible.

  15. “every time a proponent of value X is caught violating (in his own behavior) the same principle, he is seen as a hypocrite, and the piling on begins”
    Uhh, by definition, he/she would most certainly be a hypocrite, not just seen as one.

    “no proponent of any moral principle that I am aware of claims to be perfect, free from errors in moral judgment (some call it sin), etc.”
    Which is why they shouldn’t be publicly condemning people who they disagree with. We’re not talking about stealing bread for your family. We’re talking about people who want to amend the United States Constitution to take rights away from gays, yet they are themselves — GAY! Why would a self-hating, closeted preacher have any credibility on this issue?

    “People are fallible.”
    And Haggard’s big sin wasn’t stuffing his monkey hole while getting zinged on meth. His big sin was living a lie and passing his self-hatred off as biblical truth.

  16. Hypocrisy is not really about being fallible.

    To be a hypocrite, one must simply assert that people must follow some particular virtue that they do NOT follow.

    When they go further and either hold themselves up as paragons of this virtue (they’re not following) or judging others for not following said virtue…well, all I can say is “buddy…you reap what you sow.”

    Does that make the virtue wrong (or right)? Of course not. No one has said it does. But it does make you a hypocrite.

    Hypocrites provide us with very good opportunities to re-evaluate our virtues and re-evaluate the credibility of people we allow to influence our lives.

  17. Either Frum is too busy falling over himself to defend one of his own, or he is fucking moron if he can’t see why some would find Haggard’s action’s repugnant and no, it’s not that he’s had gay sex, or that he used meth.

    Here you have a man who, by playing on the fears, ignorance, and bigotries of others has amassed a great deal of wealth and power. He uses that money (after taking a little off the top for himself–that was a sweet pick-up he was chasing Richard Dawkins around in) that power to influence politicians and voters. From the pulpit he gets people to vote against gay marriage, against drug legalization, against the individual rights and freedom that conservatives like Frum claim they support. He holds before us the ideal vison of how “good” people are supposed to act and behave and rains fire and brimstone reputiation upon those who don’t tow the Christian line.

    Then we find out that this man who would deny gays the right to… well… the right to breath if he had the chance, not to mention the freedom to experiment with drugs himself indulges in those “sins.” That’s worse than “hypocrisy. It out and out arrogance. (Weren’t you warning someone against that flaw not too long ago, Ted? Or was that only for “godless scientists?”) Apparently, in Haggard and Frum’s world, as long as you vote the right way, there is one morality for them and another for everyone else.

    It isn’t just that Haggard didn’t practice what he preached, it’s that he and Frum demands that everyone practice what he preached too… or else.

  18. Lamar & Akira have pretty well summed up my views.

    Just to add a bit to the ‘piling on’ [hmm – an ironic metaphor in this situation], Haggard was willing to ‘pile on’ to those he condemned in his preaching. He did his best to make their lives miserable. He deserves far worse than he is likely to get – as is evidenced by Frum’s willingness to forgive Haggard his transgressions, but not the transgressions of those Haggard condemned.

  19. Of course, maybe a year from now, Haggard will come back on the scene saying that’s he’s come to terms with his gay (or at least bisexual) tendencies and claim that Christianity is all-wet on the the issue of homosexuality.

    Yeah, and maybe Rush Limbaugh will come out for drug legalization.

  20. I’m glad Aresen could translate my little rant. I certainly can’t.

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