Friday, November 03, 2006

Context and the Culture of Corruption

There's a story Aubrey Menen tells in his book Art & Money that I was reminded of when thinking of all the political scandals that have broken in the past year:

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, [Rome] was a squalid city, with narrow, insanitary streets, rat-infested medieval houses, and moldering ruins. Although it was the seat of the papacy, its moral vices were notoroious. The situation was summed up in a famous story, much quoted. A Jew was brought by a Christian to Rome. After a year, the Jew became a Christian. Asked by the astonished citizens why, he replied that if God permitted the things to go on that he had seen, then Christianity must be the true faith. [Menen, Aubrey, Art & Money: An Irreverent History, 1980, McGrawHill, p. 115]

Indeed, context can define "corruption" and our response to it. I came to recall this story when thinking that at least a few of the "scandals" that have broke would not truly be all that scandalous in another time or place. By that I mean that because our current public arena has been so dominated by the moralizing rhetoric of the social conservatives who have direct influence at the White House, the context, like that of the seat of the papacy, contributes to the collective shock at such revelations that might not be there, were the ambient political rhetoric less holier-than-thou.

Take the example of Ted Haggard, the very powerful, virulently anti-gay Evangelical leader who quit his post because an male escort has asserted that he's had a three-year relationship with the Reverend and that their party favors had included methamphetamine (don't miss this wonderful bit on Tyler's blog about the homoerotic art in Ted's church). The Reverend insists he's not gay and that he's been faithful to his wife, and that he's stepping down only until this is all cleared up, but my gaydar goes off the charts when watching this video of him lecturing his audience about why he knows gay sex is wrong (scroll down a bit). Not that my gaydar should be entered into evidence in a court of law, mind you, I'm just saying....

But if the church-led anti-gay rhetoric were not at a fever pitch in this country, then, to me at least, this would essentially be a story about a closeted homosexual minister who cheated on his wife and had to get really high to overcome the guilt of doing so. In that context, I might actually feel a bit sorry for him (and his wife, of course). In the current climate, however, this represents a hypocrisy of epic proportions, and it's the blatant duplicity that is so hard to stomach, not just the cheating (hey, the gay part of it is just fine by me). Had the political atmosphere been less toxic (i.e., had the Fundagelicals not constantly beat the anti-gay drum over the past decade), then Ted's congregation might be more willing to see this in a less limited, more open-minded context, as well. A more human context.

The ultimate irony for me here is just how unChristian the context has become now that the Religious right has ascended, how unforgiving. Having cast his fair share of stones, Reverend Ted can hardly insist he be spared by all but the totally sinless, should this story turn out to be true. He's personally responsible for creating the mindset that will condemn him, without mercy, I suspect. Again, I almost feel sorry for him.

Unbelievable Update: OK, so via Sullivan we can conclude that should you be an Evangelical minister accused of having 1) hired and had sex with a male prostitute and 2) bought crystal meth, and evidence indicates that you most likely did one or other other, you admit to having bought the illegal susbstance:
Haggard told reporters that he bought the methamphetamine for himself. He says, "I was tempted, but I never used it." Haggard told reporters he bought the meth because he was curious - but that he then threw it away.

He also says he never had sex with Jones. He says he received a massage from him after being referred to him by a Denver hotel.

"Twisted" doesn't begin to cover it.


Anonymous ml said...

As I've said before, those who scream loudest against homosexuality would do us all a favor if they would just come out of the closet.

11/03/2006 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

The fact that he paid for the sexual encounters brings up a basic conflict within the Republican ideology. He was torn between being anti-gay and being pro-business.

11/03/2006 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Oh David. LOL.

11/03/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Hmm, I can totally see these two men in bed together !

They're not ugly, so frankly they should just be thanking God for that and get on with their lives.

Sorry for the wife, though.

Sexual repression is devastating.
I hope the church, any church, can realize that.

Cedric Caspesyan

11/03/2006 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Wait a minute...He could also simply be bi, so maybe the wife is just in a half desperate situation.

I got caught again in society's will to put everyone in precise molds. I hate when that happens.

I think the guy did ok but he should have gone and tell the wife first.

Cedric Caspesyan

11/03/2006 01:46:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

It's so juicy............

Can't wait to hear for more to come out

11/03/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

He says he received a massage from him after being referred to him by a Denver hotel

There was something in today's LA Times about it. Jones is quoted as saying "No concierge in Denver would have referred me."

11/04/2006 01:40:00 PM  

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