NEW YORK, May 19, 2013 ― So much of religion is about having a touchstone for how to live a moral life, but an interesting question is, what exactly is morality?
For some, morality is the Golden Rule: doing unto others as you would have done unto you. For others, morality is more stringent: an idea of perfection, a life without vice or even the fantasy of vice.
In New York City, former Congressman Anthony Weiner is romancing a mayoral run. For those who don’t remember, two years ago Weiner uploaded a photo of his crotch to Twitter. It was intended to be sent to an individual in a private message, but technology beat him that day. Of course, like anything that involves politicians and sex, the incident went beyond scandal, to sensation and late-night joke fest.
Weinergate was reminiscent of Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The media and members of the opposing political parties take these so-called “sex scandals” and turn them into circuses that involve angry charges of immorality. But there may be a reason that people like Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner behave in what many people consider immoral behavior: They’re super stressed out.
In the last few months, my career has required a previously unmatched amount of work, and while my work in a creative field is not life or death or in any way as pressure-filled as a career in upper-level politics, it’s become clear that high levels of stress can turn anyone nutty. My response so far has not included the urge to text message anyone a nude picture, but it I can see how a frivolous distraction can be a healthy and welcomed relief to the high level of stress brought on by one’s profession.
Sending pictures of your privates to women who are not your wife, or having affairs with interns in oval offices isn’t admirable, and the behavior will not be tolerated by a spouse, but it doesn’t make an individual “immoral.” Should Hilary Clinton and Huma Abedin have been angry, even furious at what their husbands did? Of course. But why do they need the rest of the world to comment? Let’s not forget that Hilary and Huma, intelligent and impressive women in their own right, really may not have cared all that much to begin with. After all, politics is a team sport, and let’s not assume that women can’t handle an understanding in the same way men can.
If a crotch pic or an affair in the Oval Office keeps someone from starting a war with a country that never had WMDs, then bring on the immoral behavior. We forget that the word “morality” encompasses much more than sex. Morality is the totality of who you are and encompasses all our treatment of other people. We all do things that are wrong, even shameful, but where in that realm does consensual sexual misbehavior fall relative to abuse of power or starting a war?
People in high-stress careers need sanity-preserving distractions, or need to let their normal human irrationality be expressed in relatively benign ways. There are far worse things in life than sexual misbehavior. Sex with your of-age intern and Twitter lust can cut the tension of having the fate of the free world in your hands. Their families may be furious, and we need not condone it ― I don’t ― but put it in the context of a war or the economy. We judge Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower on defeating the Great Depression and the Third Reich, Thomas Jefferson on helping to create a nation. We don’t admire their affairs, but we admire the men. They were fundamentally moral, even though they lived morally imperfect lives. We can’t judge people until we see the totality of their work and their lives. Let’s leave judgments of morality to God and history.
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