Sunday, November 05, 2006

Monday's post

I'm putting it up a bit early because I would like very much to go to bed, so here you are. It will appear as though produced on Sunday, and I suppose, technically, it was, but it is to serve as material for Monday. It's all very trivial, of course, but I like to nail such things down. Which is itself ironic, however, for what follows is somewhat unfocused.

The recent history of the religious world, both at home and abroad, appears to be one of scandals and intrigues separated only by brief flirtations with apathy. We can look forward to fresh uproar among Certain Types in the next few weeks if the Indult really does play out the way it looks like it will, and, of course, the Holy Father strides boldly into Turkey at the end of the month. May he give a good account of himself, no matter what he finds there!

For the moment, however, we have the sad, sordid affair of Pastor Ted Haggard. Haggard, as many of you have no doubt already read, was forced to resign as head of the evangelical New Life Church recently after he was accused by a former homosexual prostitute of soliciting that very man for drugs and sexual favours. Haggard initially denied all of the accusations, but in recent days has confessed that they are substantially true. I won't go into the details, anyhow; you can read all about it in the newspaper that sits on the table where your children eat their breakfast.

The point, anyway, is that the affair is causing a lot of talk about hypocrisy in some circles, and rightly so. It is important to remember, however - as so many seem to have forgotten - just what it is that hypocrisy does and does not indicate.

First, hypocrisy on the part of an idea's proponent is only (and at best) tangentially related to the legitimacy of the idea being put forth. That James Smith speaks passionately against the evils of drug abuse and is yet himself addicted to heroin does not give us license to say that drugs are probably just fine. To say it thus seems absurd, I know, but this is precisely the sort of thinking that seems to have affected so many modern commentators. If something difficult is being proposed, and those who propose it are discovered themselves to have difficulties in implementing or upholding the idea, then apparently nobody has to. There is no reason why Haggard's own apparent struggle against homosexual tendencies should make a general stance against homosexual marriage any more implausible than it is already considered by many to be, but I can assure you that this is precisely the sort of suspicious and scornful reaction that those who were already Haggard's opponents are certain to have, and that those who had not yet made up their minds will be inclined to exhibit themselves.

As I am not an evangelical megachurchgoer, and certainly not a member of the New Life congregation (enormous though it most certainly is), I am not losing much sleep over the situation. Haggard's legitimacy or lack thereof as a spiritual leader does not concern me any more or less than does such a capacity in any other modernist protestant type. I will say, however, that the sentiments involved in praying for him were very interesting to examine as the prayers transitioned from wishing him rescue from a life ruined by slander to wishing him peace in a life ruined, essentially, by him.

Were it simply a matter of a man making his own mess, there would be little more to it than to wish him the best and ask for intercession on his behalf. However, in this case there's also the matter of the 14,000 churchgoers who, as recently as last week, looked up to Rev. Haggard as an unparalleled modern avatar of holiness. We of course are quite aware that even the Church's leaders, being human, are sinners, but somehow that never quite takes the sting out of it, does it? When it's just a matter of Fr. John having an expansive sweet tooth or Elder Fred being perhaps more vulgar than he ought to be, we dismiss such vices as quirks rather than sin, for gluttony and sass really are vices, after all, and quite pleasurable. But when it's a matter of real sin, like the Scandal, for example, it's not so easy to smooth over with the "they're just human" response.

Some sin - most of it sexual, actually - is superhuman, or is at least functionally and usefully treated as though it were. People are restrained about sex because it is something bright and shining as a sun, and to stare into it with all the wide-eyed candour of the morbid modern is to be addled, blinded and hurt. There are afterimages that become burned into your mind, heart and soul, lingering obstructively before you no matter where you turn your eyes or how furiously you clench them shut again. It unsettles us more to hear that a cherished figure of authority has been conducting an affair - or something like one - than it does to hear that he stole a firetruck or got into a fistfight, for example, because we know, deep within ourselves, that this great man of renown, having sampled the forbidden fruits, really is changed, changed utterly.

There is nothing small or trivial about sex, and no matter how casual we try to make the subject we will forever be incapable of diminishing the effect it has upon us. This is well and proper, of course, but it can be a highly destructive thing in cases like Haggard where tens of thousands of people have received a heavy shock to their established order of reality. This mood of dazed dismay reverberates out across communities all over the country as spirit touches spirit and doubt touches doubt. A man in Cleveland is hesitant in his prayers; a woman in Baltimore is short with her friends. These are small things in a global scheme, but not in a cosmic scheme, if you can accept such a statement. Lots of people are hurting today because one man in a position of authority had a problem. Such is the danger of the great man, but it is a danger we must accept and guard against rather than complain about. The great man is a wholly necessary creature - much like God - and the only alternative to such an aristocracy is mediocrity, which avails no man.

There is a point in there somewhere, but it abides for now. I will close simply by saying, plainly enough, that I pray that Ted Haggard may find peace in his life, reconciliation with God, and the forgiveness of those who love him.

And finally, today (or yesterday, depending on how you're taking this post) is (or was) the fifth of November, so rightly remembered in song and story. I won't even dare to comment on the tangled politics of the affair, as frankly I can't say for sure where my sympathies lie. Just shed a tear for old Guido Fawkes, who was, whatever his moral legitimacy, quite undeniably tortured and led to the gallows for a crime he did not, in fact, manage to commit.

1 comment:

UltraCrepidarian said...

Absolutely brilliant bit, that. "Wide-eyed candor of the morbid modern." Chesterton himself would be proud of that bit.