Sunday, June 12, 2011

At least I didn't...

The scandal surrounding Rep. Anthony Weiner has been a great boon to late night talk show hosts. Conan, Leno, Letterman, et al. have generated countless laughs at Weiner's indiscretions and won't probably end any time soon. Now, I'm no fan of Anthony Weiner's, not his politics and certainly not his moral character. At the same time, I really couldn't care much less than I do now whether he remains in office or resigns. Politicians, by nature, are less than reputable creatures and if their existence doesn't show everyone else just how tolerant Americans really are, I don't know what will!

Weiner has not exactly had a chorus of defenders. He has had a number of people saying that he should resign, but have come short of actually condemning what he did. That is a non sequitur--if he did nothing wrong, then why resign? Doesn't resigning at least give an impression that what you did was wrong? Of course, everything in Washington is viewed through the myopic and opaque lens of political expediency.

Weiner has generated one supporter, fellow New York Congressman, Charles Rangel. Rangel himself hardly contributes any kind of moral fiber to bolster Weiner's defense as to why he should stay. Many would argue, rightly in my opinion, that Rangel should also have resigned after investigations uncovered that he was a tax cheat. Rangel was censured by Congress but not expelled and there few calls for him to resign by members of his own party. Rangel has now come to Weiner's defense with the resounding "At least he didn't do x" defense. Rangel himself used this defense when under fire to resign so now he's using it for his friend and colleague. Here is precisely what he said: "I know one thing: He wasn't going out with prostitutes, he wasn't going out with little boys, he wasn't going into men's rooms with broad stances."

This is what our society has degenerated to. Nothing we do is to be censured or blamed or deemed wrong and especially not considered sinful because at least we didn't do x. "I'm a good person because I don't murder or steal. All I do is have extramarital affairs but at least it's not murdering or stealing. So, we're cool right?" And this type of justification has entered into how we evaluate our Christian lives. "I'm a gossip and love to spread rumors at church, but at least I don't (insert excuse here)." I'm sure this has even permeated confessions to the priest. "Bless me father for though I did x, y, and z, at least I didn't do a, b and c. So, can I get my absolution and go now?"

The Christian life is not about "at least I didn't." Just recently we concluded the Paschal Season where we almost ad nauseam chanted the troparion: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." The life bestowed to the ones in the tombs refers to US! Yes, we are in tombs. Our sinfulness has created tombs with us for a very long time. In a sense, we are already dead. The wage of sin is death, so writes the Apostle, St. Paul. It is what we have earned. But, Christ in his munificence and compassion has done great things for us so that though we still will die, life awaits us as true human beings, made God like by Christ's Resurrection and bestowing of life. But if we persist with our sins and justify them by "at least I didn't" then Christ's victory is only symbolic and metaphoric. If Christ's Resurrection is merely a symbol, then there is no point in even believing in Him as the Way, the Road, the Bread of Life, the Resurrection and the Life, etc..

The sad thing is that many churches are actually enabling this track of thought of "at least I didn't." Too many churches, mainline Protestant churches in particular, have long ago abandoned any kind of teaching and preaching about sin and its consequences. There are sins, mainly intolerance and not being an environmental extremist, but the virtues are given mere lip service and any betrayal of those virtues is justified by "at least you didn't murder." Sins are now ranked according to degree, not just mortal or venial. Most sins are considered small trifles, if that. Virtue is a forbidden topic because that would be intolerance towards those who are not virtuous. On the other hand, in the more conservative Protestant/Evangelical denominations exists this phenomenon of "once saved, always saved" which is predestination, an heretical teaching. No matter what you do, your salvation is always assured. Yes, there is sin and yes it is condemned, but this track of thought excises repentance from the Christian life. There is no need to actually do anything about the sins since you are still saved. It makes the Christian into a passive observer. How does one live life, let alone the Christian life passively? Impossible. Let us not forget that the word "repentance", metanoia in Greek means a "change of mind." That requires action. It's not something that comes to you when you sleep. Let us also not forget that both St. John the Forerunner and Christ began their ministries with that same word: REPENT!

Whether Weiner's actions deem him to be expelled from Congress or for him to resign from Congress or even to invite legal action isn't up to me. His defenders coming to his rescue with the justification of "At least he didn't do x" is what really troubles me. Though the existence of such justification is present in the slimy sewer that is Washington D.C. is not surprising, it should be all the more appalling that it has become commonplace in the churches throughout the world.


  1. You got it exactly right...people lie to justify thier bad behavior by saying At least it isn't something worse....without an admission of guilt there can be no forgiveness.

  2. Thinking about this further, Jim,you are right; by saying "at least I didn't do x" is not even a start towards repentance. In fact, he compounds his sins further by adding to it a heavy coat of judgmental-ism. By saying "at least I didn't do x" the sinner then becomes prideful and ranks and exalts himself above all other sinners.