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That perilous first stone

A little finger-wagging can do some good, as long as it doesn't get out of hand.

September 09, 2007|Andrew Klavan | Andrew Klavan's most recent novel is "Damnation Street."

As a rule, I don't do sex scandals. Bill Clinton or Larry Craig -- I don't care. I don't follow them. It's not a matter of high-mindedness. I'm as willing to be amused by other people's libidinal pratfalls as anyone. But after a schadenfreudian chuckle or two, my attention wanders. I find I'd rather hear the latest on sub-prime mortgages or even listen to some unhappy alcoholic columnist explain why I too should not believe in God.

Possibly I'm missing something. The media tell me sex scandals are important. Sex is a character issue, they say. But I don't know. Stories about sex sell, and this "character issue" business seems like an awfully convenient way of attaching a serious-sounding rationale to what's really voyeurism. I want to believe that I'm watching a sex scandal unfold because it matters, but I can't help suspecting it's all just a cheap turn-on -- which, frankly, I can achieve more efficiently by other means.

My fellow Republicans urge me to high dudgeon as well. Moral standards have to be maintained. Family values are a linchpin of our society. All of which I suppose is true. Still, I can't help thinking: How about reducing this tumor of a government that's eating away our liberties? How about enforcing the law of the land at our borders? How about fighting our enemies with rules of engagement that weren't written by Miss Manners? Then maybe we can talk about the whole rumpty-tumpty of it all.

Then there are the Democrats. It's not about the sex, they say, it's about the hypocrisy, the gall of high-sounding conservatives caught out in low shenanigans. And, you know, nice try, guys, but that's just a little too self-serving to really play. I mean, this is the party of Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton. What's your argument exactly? "We may be drunks and adulterers and liars -- but at least we're not hypocrites"? You're going to have to do better than that.

Finally, there are my co-religiosos. Charitable as they usually are, they can get very tense about this sort of thing. Commandments are being broken. God is being mocked. Homosexuals are running wild in the streets committing mindless acts of musical comedy and interior design. One minister even told me sodomy was a sign of the End of Days -- to which I could only respond, "Uh oh."

But, in fact, in matters of sexual impropriety, Jesus, for one, always seemed far less interested in damning the fallen than in tempering the voices of those who condemned them. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," was the money quote, as I remember.

That first stone -- that's where my problem lies. It creates a genuine dilemma for me. Because speaking strictly philosophically, I side with the finger-waggers. I agree that people should exercise probity in their intimate relations. It's good for them and for the people around them, and it sets a good example too.

I'll go even further. I think the lax sexual mores we've adopted since the 1960s have been a disaster for society at large. Disease spreads on the wings of promiscuity. Illegitimacy condemns the children of the poor to poverty. The abandonment of feminine modesty leaves young women more prone to depression and self-loathing. And divorce hurts our kids deeply and scars them forever -- and people who say it doesn't are lying to themselves and the rest of us.

So, in fact, I think a little guilt and shame when it comes to sex turn out to be good things. And how else can we reinforce guilt and shame without occasional public exposures and forced resignations and outcries of disapproval?

Still -- still -- there is a difference between the utilitarian ethos of sexual propriety and the deeper morality dictated by our common humanity and a compassionate heart. Which is why, no matter how much I may deplore our sexual culture in general, I find myself shrugging off individual instances of misbehavior. I hear commentators use words such as "despicable" and "disgusting" and "reprehensible," and I wonder: Are they really that lofty-minded?

Man, I know I'm not. If I've never cheated on my wife or propositioned a man in a bathroom, it's mostly because I fear the consequences of the one and have no predilection for the other. Believe me, if I could be hanged for my dreams, I'd be a dead man.

The truth, I'm convinced, is that -- given the right moment, the right temptation -- we're all playthings of our desires. We're none of us qualified to cast that first stone.

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