Because the issue is so important, I have decided to respond to critics of my last column on adultery, politics, and character.
As any reader of my columns or books knows, I am a religious conservative, and my primary concern is morality. By morality, I mean issues of good and evil. I am also concerned with the issue of sin, but sin and evil are not identical. All evil is sin, but not all sins are evil. For example, religious people regard saying the word “God” for no religious purpose (“taking God’s name in vain”) as sinful, but to regard saying, for example, “goddammit, I stubbed my toe” as evil is to trivialize evil.
Above all, I seek to clarify moral issues. It is the duty of everyone, religious or secular, to strive for moral clarity.
That is what I tried to do in my last column in examining two questions: Does adultery disqualify a presidential candidate? What does adultery tell us about a person?
To the first question, my answer was: sometimes, but not usually. And to the second question, I responded that, in general, issues related to others’ marriages, divorces, and infidelities are too complex an arena in which for outsiders to draw immediate conclusions about a person.
Most readers who commented on websites or who wrote to me directly agreed with me, but a significant percentage did not. And some of them attributed a host of motives to my writing on this issue — from personal to political. But the fact is the column had nothing to do with my life or with support for any particular politician. I wrote the column in order to try to provide clarity on a very important issue that is too frequently relegated to emotion rather than reason.
Allow me to share two e-mails sent to me.
The first is from a friend. She and her husband are religious conservatives who have three young children. They are so traditional in their values that they homeschool their children and do not allow TV watching in their home:
“I completely agree with you. A woman I know well had an affair that ended her marriage. Yet, I trust this woman implicitly, and to this day we are very close. I know two other women who have been (to my knowledge) faithful as daylight in their marriages, yet I do not trust either one because they are emotional, insecure women, and I have to walk on eggshells when I deal with them. If the only fact you know about a person is that she has been unfaithful to her spouse, it tells you nothing about her trustworthiness in other areas, in my experience.”
The second is from a listener/reader whom I do not know:
“My wife has dementia, with no intimacy for over a decade. My eight-year affair has kept me sane. It also kept me there to be sure she has the best care (living now with her sister) without divorcing her because of issues with regard to health insurance. I am not proud of it but I feel I handled it the best I could. Surely it has been better for her than divorcing her and letting her be a ward of the state. A person’s character is important, but we need to be sure we are using good standards when we judge it.”
What do those who are so certain that adultery tells us “all we need to know” in order to judge a person’s character say to these two people?
I am incredulous at the callousness of those who would counsel the man who wrote the above that if he “cannot control himself,” he should divorce his demented wife. Those people embody my fear of those religious people who make snap judgments of all sexual sin. It actually makes them meaner people. If everything the man wrote to me is true, I salute him. Beyond that let God judge him.
As should be obvious from my work, I am a big believer in making moral judgments about good and evil. And in my view, the good this man did for his wife by not divorcing her (if he had divorced her, most would agree that his affair would not have been adulterous) far outweighs the sin of his staying married and committing adultery.
Now, of course, regarding this man’s case, some who condemn all adultery may find it in their hearts to be more understanding, even forgiving, since the ill spouse is no longer functioning as a spouse. But, they would likely add, that is not the situation of the “average adulterer,” whose spouse is not suffering from dementia or some other degenerative condition.
I have two responses to this. First, whoever makes this argument is tacitly acknowledging that not all adultery is equally sinful (before God as well as man). Second, just because a spouse does not suffer from dementia does not mean he or she is functioning as a spouse. Plenty of mentally normal people cease playing the role of husband or wife in anything but name. And yet the husband or wife may choose not to divorce for reasons similar to the man who wrote to me: to provide a home with both a mother and father for young children, to fulfill a fiduciary duty that could not be sustained in a divorce, etc.
And what about Oskar Schindler (who was immortalized in the movie Schindler’s List), the German Nazi party member who saved the lives of over 1,100 Jews? He was a married man who had a mistress. He was a “serial adulterer,” as many respondents would characterize him. Yet, he was a moral giant — at a time, moreover, in which many religious and secular men and women who kept their wedding vows did nothing for their Jewish neighbors as they were all sent to their deaths.
Finally, for those still wondering why, aside from a desire for moral clarity, I am so passionate this issue, I call their attention to 1992, the year I first wrote and spoke about this subject. That year my dear friend, Bruce Herschensohn, one of the finest, kindest, and most honest human beings I have ever had the honor of knowing, was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. By the weekend before Election Day, he and the Democratic candidate, then-representative Barbara Boxer, were in a virtual tie. The California Democratic party, spearheaded by a man named Bob Mulholland, whose vocation was to dig up dirt on Republican candidates, sent him to disrupt a Herschensohn campaign appearance, shouting that “Bruce Herschensohn frequently travels the strip joints of Hollywood.”
Apparently, on one occasion, Herschensohn, an unmarried man, had lunch with the woman he was dating and another couple at a strip club. As a result, Herschensohn lost the election and Barbara Boxer has been a senator from California for the last 18 years.
The Left and the Democratic party know how to play many social conservatives like the proverbial violin. As a result, thanks to those who equate sexual sin with character, America lost a truly great man, conservatives lost one of their most eloquent spokesmen of the last half century, and America got Barbara Boxer.
That event scarred me. I do everything I can to see that what happened in California doesn’t happen to America.
Adultery is indeed a serious sin, often with terrible consequences. But I can think of at least two more serious sins. One is character assassination. And the other is electing people who ruin the greatest country in history.
— Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. He may be contacted through his website, dennisprager.com.