November 15, 2012

Adultery, Unemployment and the Moral Law

Okay, so let me get this straight. Retired Gen. David Petraeus, the director of the CIA (married with two children), had an affair with Paula Broadwell (married with two children), a journalist, academic, anti-terrorism expert and Petraeus’ principal biographer who was sending anonymous threatening emails to Jill Kelley, socialite and self-appointed “social liaison” for military brass in Florida. Kelley reported the emails to the FBI, and the FBI agent handling the case responded by sending her photos of himself sans shirt. Meanwhile, Kelley had been pen pals with General John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to the tune of more than 20,000 pages of email. (How did they generate that much email? Didn’t the general have anything else to do in Afghanistan?)

My suggestion is that the FBI turn this whole sordid mess over to TMZ and the supermarket tabloids. Having covered the inane coupling and uncoupling of celebrities for years, they alone have the expertise to sort this out.

Any way you look at it, though, we have a scandal of epic proportions. Or do we?

Marina Ein, in a letter to the Washington Post, argues that all we have is a useless relic of a bygone era. “It is time for Americans to get out of each other’s bedrooms,” she writes. “While these scandals ignite media and political hand-wringing, they are the pathetic artifacts of a Puritan era that long ago should have been shown the door.”

She notes that we have a “seemingly endless fascination with affairs.” Careers are ruined, she laments, and our national attention is distracted from issues that matter. It’s all the more tragic since “whatever betrayal occurred was personal, not professional.”

The root cause of our prurient fascination with the sexual misadventures of public figures, she says, is the Puritans. “We are now nearly 400 years beyond the arrival of the Mayflower. But, in matters private and sexual, we might as well be under the direction of Capt. John Smith.”

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I guess the Puritans seemed like a good news hook. And, after all, ignorance about what the Puritans actually believed about sex, marriage and just about everything else make them easy targets.

But Ein could have just as easily faulted the Anglican colonists, the Catholic colonists or the Quakers. She could have blamed the Lutherans or the Moravians or even the Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus immigrating in recent years. The last I checked, all of these have strong beliefs in marriage and equally strong strictures against adultery — particularly adultery by leaders. Even the Soviet Union, not exactly a bastion of religious fervor, criminalized adultery. Could it be the fault of the Communists?

Read more here.

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