"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why it's good that sin makes us stupider

I say 'stupider' only a bit tongue-in-cheek because, of course, we're all stupid enough to sin once we're old enough to be capable of it. But every day, smart, accomplished people throw away all that they've worked very hard for simply because they couldn't resist doing a wrong they rationalized as an entitlement, or at least as an ultimately victimless indulgence. I know because I did that myself, in particularly self-deceptive form, and gradually ruined both my career and my mental health in the process. But sometimes the mind has to cripple itself before one can do the smartest thing: letting God back in. That also happened to me. I hope it's what will happen to now-former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Despite all the crowing in the conservative media, I cannot feel contempt for Spitzer, who was a Harvard-Law classmate of a couple of Catholics I know personally. That's not to deny that he was a rank hypocrite as well as an enthusiastic supporter of baby-killing. We hated his being governor. And I agree with his erstwhile professor, Susan Estrich—another liberal Democrat and Clintonite whom I cannot abide politically—when she argues that Spitzer's fall, and the reasons for it, merit the adjective she uses: "insane." But I strongly suspect that, for the sake of his immortal soul, his fall is probably the best thing that could have happened to him.

Why, Estrich rightly asks, would a highly successful and not-bad-looking man like Spitzer pay handsomely for sex and, at the same time, leave his tracks uncovered for the very sort of zealous prosecutor he once was? If it was just that he couldn't resist adultery, plenty of attractive women would gladly have obliged him for nothing; and he knew perfectly well how not to get caught cheating in any case. Estrich is probably right that the prostitution ring's name says it all: "The Emperor's Club." Once a man gets rich and/or powerful enough, he inhabits a world where he could, if he chooses, get away with a lot more than an ordinary schlump could. Spitzer thought of himself as an emperor and acted accordingly—even going so far as to do, and get caught doing, what he had once jailed others for doing. He should have been savvy enough to realize that, with all the enemies he had made, somebody powerful would be out for a "gotcha." But he wasn't. He had become an emperor, governor of "the Empire State," and in so thinking of himself made himself stupid. As they say, pride goeth before the fall.

This is why I have no trouble believing the teaching of the Church that even original sin, which we inherit but do not commit, "darkens the intellect." And actual sin reinforces that darkness. The whole cycle of sin makes us need special revelation to learn things that we ought to know by nature. That in turn is why we can be justly held guilty for acting according to a bad conscience. We can ruin our consciences by sinning inveterately, and thus make ourselves guilty no matter how sincerely we act according to conscience. And sometimes the only way that can change is to find ourselves completely humiliated by the consequences.

That's what gives Spitzer his chance for salvation, if he's willing to take it. It's not a good sign that he trotted his wife out to the podium to share the humiliation with him. But we shall see. I'd love to see where he's at five or ten years from now.
blog comments powered by Disqus