Monday, March 10, 2008

The First Deadly Sin

The Ten Commandments pretty much laid out the concept of sin for me. With every "thou shalt not" I heard as a child, a new way to be be "bad," or more appropriately "evil," was made evident. When it came to foreign terms like "adultery" or "covet," I was simply told they referred to wanting things that belonged to others and that was good enough for me. Later, as a student studying Dante's Divine Comedy, I became acquainted with the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments and the Church's concept of the Seven Deadly Sins. This seemed a rather slight list, but I recognized the concept as similar in design to that of the Hebrew Ten Commandments. For the record the list in order is lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride. Lust was a fairly well known term by the time I was in high school and college. As a teenager growing up in the Sixties, lust and coveting was about as close as I would ever get to adultery. This was made all the more upsetting to me because I was living in the so-called Sexual Revolution. The fact that the revolution had started without me was not lost on yours truly. But I digress. To commit adultery was specific to breaking marriage vows on either party's side. That meant to me that two unmarried partners were free to go at it as long as they could stand it or each other. Yet, the concept of lust didn't distinguish whether a marriage was involved in reckless sexual promiscuity. It said too much of a good thing was evil, pure and simple. I was glad that I wasn't Catholic, because I was sure that I would be committing more sin by volume lusting than I ever could as an adulterer or a coveter. When Jimmy Carter announced to Playboy Magazine that he had "lusted" in his heart for women other than his wife, I thought to myself "how refreshing" that a politician was admitting to his capacity to sin. The fact that he didn't act on his impulses qualified him as a person of the highest moral order in my book. Later, though, when the White House sexual romps of JFK and Bill Clinton were revealed to me, Carter seemed to be a Johnny-come-lately, if you will excuse the pun. Sexual indiscretions have been practiced by many of our top leaders beginning with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but to their credit Franklin was a confirmed bachelor and Jefferson was indecent primarily after the loss of his wife. More recently, Louisiana had two Republican politicians involved in trysts with women other than their wives, to wit, Bob Livingston and David Vitter. Livingston, a dead-on favorite to be named Speaker of the House, resigned in disgrace when details were revealed about his indiscretions. Vitter, on the other hand, has escaped major fallout when his dallying with madams and prostitutes in New Orleans and Washington was revealed. Then again, this is Louisiana after all, and New Orleans in particular. Aside from Amsterdam and several small towns in Nevada, what other place could boast a Storyville, a "red light" district specifically sanctioned by the government for the practice of prostitution? Yet, for all of our history, it is particularly disturbing when a politician is literally caught with his pants down, especially if he is swept into office as a reformer and a person pointing accusing fingers at deviants. Eliot Spritzer, a man who should have been imbued with the Hebrew 10 Commandments as a child, seemed to be incapable of this kind of sin. As New York's state attorney general, he regularly prosecuted people of high and low stature who broke the law and seemed a clear choice to be governor just two years ago. The devastating news yesterday that Spritzer couldn't keep it in his pants prior to testifying to Congress last month seems all the more disappointing to me when one considers his past as a vigorous prosecutor of similar offenses. The question that remains is whether he will be able to save his political neck now that he has Clinton was impeached, but escaped conviction, following the details of his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. Livingston became a powerful Capitol Hill lobbyist and is making more money legitimately than he ever could while in Congress. Vitter has held onto his office, although some say his influence has diminished because of the controversy. Yesterday it was Spritzer's wife of 20 years, Silda, who took her place next to her husband in the manner that Wendy Vitter, Bonnie Livingston and Hillary Clinton had done previously. It is a shame that the wives have to shoulder the guilt of their husbands' gaffes. Perhaps this shared blame is why adultery is considered such a major sin. There is no doubt that Spritzer was guilty of both lust and adultery. Whether he will pay the price of his high office is in doubt, but he has unquestionably disappointed his family and his electorate. At present, he is a veritable glass house waiting on a shipment of fresh stones.

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