By Anne F. Glauber and Steve Klausner
The very moral—some would say puritanical—Presidential candidate Jimmy Carter raised a philosophical conundrum in the pages of Playboy Magazine when he famously told the interviewer, “Christ said… anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery. I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”
Fast forward to May 2011 when, according to The New York Times, “a photograph of a man’s torso wearing gray boxer briefs and an obvious erection appeared on (Congressman Anthony) Weiner’s official Twitter account…accidentally Tweeted to all 45,000 of his followers.” In perhaps the understatement of the year, Weiner later told The Times, “I knew it was bad.”
His punishment was both digital and biblical. Weiner was shunned, mocked on TV, in newspapers and late-night talk show monologues, and ultimately forced to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives. His career in tatters, he had no choice but to embark on a self-imposed exile to save his marriage and rebuild some semblance of a reputation.
Recently, Weiner has begun an effort to rehabilitate his public persona and return to public life. Quite candidly, he admitted that there may be even more embarrassing digital photos in existence. “If reporters want to go try to find more, I can’t say that they’re not going to be able to find another picture.”
The media response was immediate and virulent. The intensity of the response has encouraged us to pose our own question: Have bad intentions become the moral equivalent of bad behavior? When all is said and done, did Weiner, like Jimmy Carter before him, merely lust after another woman in his heart? Or did he commit the sin of adultery? Is an errant Tweet the same as an adulterous affair?
And yet, in a world where we all live in glass houses, where every mobile phone comes equipped with a video camera, ready to capture a public figure in a private peccadillo, where social media afford anyone who can turn out 140 characters a global platform to moralize or demonize, just what constitutes actual sin? And when private misbehavior is played out on the public stage, just where does redemption take place: in the heart and mind of the offender, or amid the screaming headlines of the tabloid newspapers next to the supermarket checkout?
In colonial America, those who flouted the criminal and moral laws of the days often found themselves put on display in the public square, locked in wooden restraints, with a sign hung around their necks attesting to their heinous misdeeds and base moral character. The good citizens of the town were then encouraged to mock them, to fling mud, garbage, or worse at those poor souls. Reflecting on that sad chapter of American history, we ask the final question: given the state of digital media, how much has our culture really changed?
In response, Dr. Michael DeMeo made these comments:
President Carter repeats what many biblical scholars opine is a misinterpretation of Matthew 5:27-28. Although used by many religious groups to reign in horny adolescent boys and shame them about having human emotions and instincts, this passage is not a condemnation of lust, sexual desire or men having emotions and acknowledging them. The emphasis should be on the “will,” or the question more focused on “What is the proper response to sexual desire?” There are proper outlets for sexual desire within the confines of shared moral and ethical behavior that is the basis for our social contract with others – partners/spouses, family, friends, and constituents if we are an elected public official, etc.
Weiner’s sin or violation of the moral/ethical contract with others was to photograph himself and send the photo to other women. That was illicit behavior and I do not think that I am being unfair to conclude that his “will” had turned towards other illicit behaviors by sending it.
The requirement set forth by Jesus and the social contract is to decide to not do “wrong behaviors” as a result of our emotions and instincts. That is, to surrender our “will” to the social contract of “right behaviors.” This requirement is neither impossible nor unreasonable. Jesus does not require that we lose our drives or emotions or even our “bad” thoughts. He does not shame us or suggest we should have any guilt for having them. As it has been explained to me Jesus “forbids fixing one’s desire upon a woman (or man) that is not rightfully one’s own.” Weiner chose to be married and to make a career out of representing constituents in Congress, so he should have kept his private parts to himself and an appropriate few.
Lust is not a sin or violation of trust in relationships with spouses, family, friends and constituents. It is the covetous look and acts to have our “will” that is forbidden, not lust or desire itself. Of course, Jesus does not require that we are perfect. In fact, he acknowledges that as human beings, we have to be imperfect. He offers redemption as the solution to the fact that we have to sin. He promises God will forgive us if we admit we are sinners and try to not sin to the best of our ability. We humans offer others forgiveness.
I agree that Weiner should not be condemned for having an adulterous affair because we have no evidence he did. He should not be pilloried in the media or demonized. However he did break the shared moral/ethical contract he had presumably with family, and certainly had with his constituents. We are right to not trust him to act responsibly to represent our interests as constituents when he acts so impulsively and irrationally. I do not judge him for his emotions and thoughts; I do judge him for his behavior.
I hope he honestly seeks redemption and human forgiveness. That is, to honestly acknowledge what he has done “wrong,” that it has hurt others, and that he is committed to not violate the shared social contract and try “to the best of his abilities” to not do “wrong things” in the future. If he surrenders his “will” to the reasonable and achievable moral/ethical rules of the social contract he will be redeemed.