Sandusky is not only guilty, he's wrong | A repost from the Catholic World Reporter

The CWR Blog
If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything.
June 27, 2012 11:10 EST

There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky is guilty, the real question is why? Why is it that we, here and now, would send a man to prison for molesting boys? Why is the public reaction one of both deep disgust and quite visceral anger? Just canvass a few opinions about what people would like to be done to punish Sandusky if they were the judge.

But why? What is the cause of this deep disgust? This seething anger?

There is only one cause: Christianity. We still have minds, consciences, and hearts, and hence a legal system, historically formed by Christian moral principles. There is no other reason. Allow me to explain, beginning first with the “that” of his guilt.

Jerry Sandusky has been declared guilty of 45 of 48 counts of child sexual molestation. The coaching hero of Penn State used his status to draw in young boys through his Second Mile charity, “a statewide, nonprofit organization for children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact” (so the website maintains). The “positive human contact” Sandusky had in mind occurred in locker rooms, motel rooms, his basement, and who knows where else. He molested (at least) one of his adopted sons.

This is 2012. Turn the historical clock back 2000 years, and find yourself in the pagan Roman Empire before Christianity arose, i.e., before the Christianization of the West. In Rome, as in ancient Greece, homosexuality was completely acceptable. To be more exact, homosexual activity was frowned on (but not very diligently) when it occurred between two free-born men, but it was cheerfully affirmed between a master and his slave, and even more, a man and a boy between the ripe ages of about 12 to 17—just the target age of Sandusky. The man generally presented himself as a kindly benefactor to the boy, taking him under his wing, so to speak, and (in return for sexual favors) helping him up the social ladder. Just like Sandusky.

If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything. He would not even have been noticed. His actions would have been entirely unremarkable. There would have been no disgust, no anger. The verdict would have been innocent, and in fact, the notion that he was guilty of anything would have been unintelligible.

There is one and only one reason, 2000 years later, that Sandusky is guilty now. Unlike everyone else around them, Judaism rejected homosexuality, including man-boy sex. Christianity came from Judaism, and carried that moral rejection forth amidst the pagan Roman Empire, the Greek East, and everywhere else its missionaries roamed in search of converts. Today, there are about 13.5 million Jews, but over 2 billion Christians. Christians are demographically responsible for carrying forth the Judeo-Christian moral view, and with it, the moral disgust and anger—and guilty verdict—at what Sandusky did.

That is the why of Sandusky’s guilt. Our consciences, our minds, our hearts, our legal system in America have been formed by Christian moral teaching about sexuality. Subtract Christianity from history, and we would be back in Rome. In pagan Rome, Sandusky would be innocent.

To make the point even more pointed, no other attempted modern substitute for Christianity could find Sandusky guilty without surreptitiously borrowing from Christianity.

Thomas Hobbes’s invention of modern natural rights, set forth in the mid-17th century, declared that by nature there was no right and wrong, just or unjust; all moral and hence legal rules were artificial.

Utilitarianism declares that morality must be reduced to what provides the greatest pleasure for the greatest number—not exactly a strong defense against pedophilia.

Darwinian evolutionary ethics doesn’t distinguish between right and wrong; notions of right and wrong are simply effects of ingrained responses that are somehow calibrated to the survival of a particular human population. As long as that population continues to breed successfully, particular sexual actions are not “condemned” by natural selection.

Democracy itself can’t rescue us. The notion that the majority determines the moral outlines of the legal system doesn’t help much, given that the majority of Greeks and Romans affirmed Sandusky-like behavior, and since we ourselves are in a period of secularization with the Christian moral hold on society becoming ever-weaker, it is unclear how long our majority will continue to feel either anger or disgust. Many things used to fill us with moral disgust—e.g., abortion—which we now regard with a live-and-let-live attitude, or even affirm as a right.

Freud thought that the desire for incest was natural, so there’s little help there either. Contemporary psychologists following Freud, don’t talk about something being wrong, but about the ill-effects of repressed desires. Sandusky’s defense was toying with the possibility of getting him declared not guilty through claiming he had a mental disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder.

Even the stern philosopher Kant would be of no service. He tried to root morality in the so-called categorical imperative:  “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Here’s the problem: if I’m an ancient Greek or Roman, I want everyone to affirm pedophilia. I want it to be universally accepted. A modern pedophiliac wants the same thing—just ask the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

So we’re back to—or backed into—the conclusion that the only reason Sandusky is guilty, the reason we feel anger and disgust, is the historical influence of Christianity in forming our consciences, our minds, our passions, our laws. Christianity is “guilty,” we might say, of finding Sandusky guilty.

But again, here’s the problem. Our society is being successively and successfully de-Christianized. The moral formation is wearing off rapidly. Now that we’ve answered the why of Sandusky’s guilt, we’ve got one more question to ask: How long will we continue to feel guilty?

Here’s the solution. We must recognize that Christianity was and is right. There is something fundamentally, morally disgusting about a man who would sexually molest boys, whether anyone happens to feel moral outrage or not. It is not just disgusting, but evil, wherever and whenever it occurs. It was evil in Greece, whatever the Greeks felt about it. It was evil in Rome, whatever the Romans believed. It was evil when Catholic priests did it, who had every reason to know it was evil.

And it was evil for Sandusky. Christianity is right. Sandusky is guilty.

Bad Religion

The following is an interview at the National Post and may be read here.

I am anxious to read this book, as I think that the author has hit on something. I wonder though, if he will give due credit to theological liberalism that has done more to destroy the European and North American church than any other force. If one considers the role liberalism has played in the dismissal of Biblical authority on matters of life (abortion and euthanasia), sexuality, marriage, economics, politics, etc., it becomes clear that religious liberalism is the problem of the 20th century in the Western Church.

 Q&A: Author Ross Douthat says the U.S. is turning to ‘bad religion’

  May 11, 2012 – 9:21 PM ET | Last Updated: May 12, 2012 8:03 AM ET

Lucas Jackson/Reuters files

Lucas Jackson/Reuters files

Ross Douthat writes that after the decline of mainstream churches, the U.S. turned to extreme spiritual philosophies, such as those espoused by Oprah Winfrey.


Ross Douthat

There was a time when institutional Christianity was at the centre of American life because it stayed above partisan politics. A Christian leader could be a Republican or a Democrat, conservative or a liberal. A Martin Luther King and a Billy Graham could both promote civil rights and appeal to those of all political stripes. Religion provided a check on personal behaviour by promoting prudence and a moral compass that helped keep the nation healthy. But in the past several decades something went wrong, writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in his latest book, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. The centre began to crumble as the sexual revolution, globalization and increased wealth led to the decline of the mainstream churches. In its place emerged a nation that turned to the extremes: from Glenn Beck to Oprah Winfrey. Yes, that Oprah. The queen of self-actualization, says Mr. Douthat, preaches a brand of spirituality that is self-centred, destructive and parasitic. National Post religion reporter Charles Lewis spoke this week to Mr. Douthat, who was in his office in Washington.

Q: What is your definition of “bad religion?”
 Bad religion may actually seem more logical than traditional Christianity because it does away with some of the paradoxes and mysteries inherent in the faith. It takes one element of the traditional Christian synthesis and promotes it at the expense of all others. But it ends up failing to do justice to the complexity of human existence and as a result having unfortunate consequences for the way people live their lives and for society as whole.

Q: You say Americans are “God haunted.” Are you saying that even in an era of bad religion, people feel God looming over their shoulders?
 I think that’s true. One of the underlying themes of the book is because man is by nature a religious animal the decline of one form of religious faith is not necessarily doing away with the religious impulse. It ends up finding expressions in other ways, some of it exclusively religious and some spiritual and some political.

Q: What about when that impulse moves to politics?
 When religious institutions are weak, as they are now, people with strong religious impulses are more likely to pour that fervour into politics. I argue that this take two forms — messianic and apocalyptic. Both are mirror-image heresies. It can take a messianic form where you assume that politics is the mechanism for bringing about the kingdom of heaven on Earth. This has always been the liberal temptation: to basically assume you can overcome human nature through political reform and bring the New Jerusalem down to Earth yourself. Look at the Barack Obama campaign in 2008 and its quasi-religious air: Magazine covers showed Obama with halos on his head and you had celebrities singing for him on YouTube. He had a messianic style.

Q: What is an example of the apocalyptic style?
 Glenn Beck. Obama’s messianic campaign prompted an apocalyptic backlash and Beck’s popularity was the most obvious expression of that form. The apocalyptic temptation is that the kingdom of heaven has already been brought down to earth and it’s your political enemies who are taking it away. And that’s what you saw from Beck. He went beyond a healthy Christian patriotism to an almost idolatry of the American founding and this became part of his broader narrative in which his political opponents were not only wrong but evil.

Q: Why did you choose Billy Graham and Martin Luther King to write about?

Files; Getty Images

Previous U.S. religious leaders like Martin Luther King and Billy Graham could both appeal to those of all political stripes.

A: One of the criticisms made of the book is that people say I over-romanticize the era of King and Graham. And clearly there was polarization in that era as well … not every religious group was holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Graham did some courageous things on integration but he also said some evasive and cowardly things. Certainly he wasn’t always on the same page as King in that era. But that being said, I do think in the civil rights movement, religion related to the culture as a whole and there was a sense that it was easier in that era for religious figures to be influential in a way that transcended partisan divisions. Look at today when the [Roman] Catholic bishops come out against abortion. The assumption is they are siding with the Republican party. At mid-century it was easier for religious figures to present a message that was Christian first and then liberal or conservative second.

Q: How important was it that neither man had political ambition?
 Even though Graham was more associated with a more right-wing politics and King with a more left-wing politics, they were different figures than say, a Pat Robertson or Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. It’s important to imagine how different mid-century would have been if Graham had tried to win America for Christ by running for president as a Republican, as Robertson did, or if King had repeatedly challenged for the Democratic nomination, as Jackson did.

Q: You say the sexual revolution was one of the triggers that helped erode the mainstream churches as more people became uncomfortable with Christian teachings about sex. Most people will get that. But you also cite the increase in personal wealth as a factor, too. But isn’t upward mobility part of the American dream? How did it become a factor in eroding mainstream religious institutions?
 I’m a political conservative and a defender of capitalism. Of all the arrangements that we can make in a fallen world, capitalism is the one that has generated the most freedom and wealth. But it’s important for Christians to recognize that capitalist culture and the words of the New Testament rub against each other in sometimes uncomfortable ways. In an era of great wealth I don’t think it’s surprising that the message of an orthodox Christianity resonates a little less strongly than in eras of greater material privation. The idea that it’s harder for a “rich man to enter heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” and “blessed are the poor in spirit” can seem less relevant in a time of great personal wealth.

Q: Is that what divides a Billy Graham from a prosperity gospel proponent like Joel Osteen?

AP files

Joel Osteen

A: Graham was able to combine a spirit of inclusion with a spirit of judgment, which obviously is a very tricky thing to do. The genius of Graham was he could stand up and preach a very stark simple Christian message, emphasizing his audience’s sinfulness and the need for repentance and the need to turn to Christ. Osteen’s genius is purely inclusive. Osteen’s message can be very inspiring and sometimes you need to hear that God loves you. But for Osteen that’s the entirety of his message. And there’s no room in that message for the possibility of real human sinfulness and real repentance. There’s no room in that message for the existence of suffering. Osteen’s message is that all people have to do is pray a little harder or have more faith in God and he will take their suffering away — and then also bless them with a big car and big house. That’s the point of having a cross hanging over a church: to offer a reminder that Jesus himself suffered and there are ways to live with suffering that don’t involve waiting for God to take it away.

Q: A chapter in Bad Religion is called “The God Within.” You describe it as a movement whose practitioners, like Oprah, stress that feeling good and self-actualization is the most important goal in life. It is also the furthest thing from orthodox Christianity. What is the problem with this kind of spirituality?
 It’s the idea that you need to encounter God primarily within yourself and the highest form of your self may be actually identical to God. Elizabeth Gilbert popularized this in her book Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. So the only God that matters is the one you encounter within and you don’t have to consider other authorities, you don’t have to listen to a church and you don’t have to test your own experiences against scripture, religious authority, dogma and tradition. But it’s very tempting to listen to the voice within and assume that it’s God when really it’s your ego or libido.

Q: Are spiritual philosophies like Oprah’s dangerous to the nation? Is there a link to the risks Americans took on mortgages they could not afford?
 The religious figures most people are likely to listen to today are not providing a check on people’s worst impulses that a better form of religion would provide. [It became OK] to elevate one’s short-term happiness at the expense of long-term interest of their families and communities. The problem for Americans was that we were trying to get rich and made foolhardy decisions along the way. And that’s where I think the Christian emphasis is most important for the wellbeing of society: it’s good to have a certain suspicion of material ambition and a knowledge that material ambitions often come to grief.

National Post

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