Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are Your Pants on Fire?

This political season there’s a race in my area that’s quite interesting for the moral lesson it offers. I won’t say who the candidates are nor what party they belong to; that’s beside the point, and I could find another example with the parties switched from the races two years ago, albeit with a slightly different set of accessory circumstances. We’ll call the incumbent in the race “Hal” and the challenger “Stan.” (If you’re smart, and know my area, you’ll get from that who I am talking about.)
Hal has conducted what many from both sides have recognized as a dirty campaign. He’s slandered Stan from several directions, using ads that neutral fact-checking organizations, local news programs, and local newspapers have determined range from incomplete to misleading to outright false. This is in spite of the fact that some of these papers and news organizations would otherwise approve of Hal’s general policy inclinations. My local paper has even endorsed Stan, when they otherwise may not have done.
Stan has refused to descend to Hal’s level. He’s a genteel sort who has decided to keep the focus of his campaign on the issues. He has mostly let third parties answer Hal’s distortions (for example, by linking to third party analyses of Hal's ads on his campaign website).
As of my last check, Stan is a fair number of points ahead of Hal in the race and is likely to win next week. There are many reasons for this other than the above matter. Stan has been a popular politician on a local and state level for many years, with an excellent reputation. He might have just as ably won a race against an opponent who ran a clean campaign as he did.
I will also say that I have seen far, far fewer campaign signs in people’s yards for Hal this year, which suggests (as the media also indicates) that his former fan base has had a change of mind.
But still – Stan’s lead isn’t astronomical. He’s up by less than 7 points. The question I have, in light of Hal’s record of dishonesty above, is – why?
All of us lie, of course. Even yours truly has fallen for that sin. But at there’s a certain level of dishonesty, one that involves an extended time and effort, as well as a refusal to acknowledge error, that deserves stronger sanctions than the everyday lie all humans fall for. In my view, any person who descends to this level ought to automatically be disqualified for public trust in any position. Frequent readers will know one such opponent of mine I won’t name here, but there have been many others, and we have plenty of our own to worry about, like good old Jim Bakker. I can’t imagine how or why anyone has put him in a position of trust, but to this day he still has a ministry with significant trappings. If I had my way he'd be serving no higher than soup kitchen server and would never handle donor money again.
When a person pursues dishonesty to the level of a Hal or a Bakker, we have to ask why anyone at all continues to support them. Here are some suggestions.
1) Such a strong interest in a predetermined agenda that Hal could proclaim for the pedophilia and still get a certain person’s vote. Truth just doesn’t matter. Some people are just too dead set on an agenda to care about the morals of their representative. They even go so far as to say their own candidate is just telling the truth about the other (as Hal himself has also tried to say).
2) Following tradition blindly. Otherwise known as straight ticket voting. You could put down Fozzie Bear as a candidate for this person’s party, and they’d vote for Fozzie over Thomas Jefferson if he was with the other party.
I once knew someone like this, who, though she shared the values of one of the two parties, had grown up in a family that always voted “straight ticket” for the other. So she did – every time. Except once: When her local representative, a member of the other party, did her a good turn, from then on, she voted for him – her one break with a “straight ticket” vote. And she stuck with that candidate from there on.
3) Ignorance. They just haven’t looked up Hal’s record. Maybe because of 1 or 2, they don’t care to.
The lesson for today is that one need not wonder why certain critics of Christianity still make a living these days in spite of being such proven, abject liars. Honor and shame worked as a corrective on this sort of person in the Biblical world, where Hal would have found himself challenged constantly by opponents who would be in his face and shouting him down. Not so much today, where “dialogue” is too often given value of place over the moral character of the presenter.
Naturally, I am not saying a liar cannot still be right in their arguments. But their record means they’d better do a much better job of documentation in order to deserve trust. Nevertheless, I’d still say that extreme abuses warrant their exclusion from trusted circles. They ought to be ignored by publishers, banned from participation in discussions (or else chided mercilessly), and refused any position of authority in any institution of learning. If they are politicians like Hal, they ought to be busted down to dogcatcher. They should never hold any position again in which public trust is required, and that goes for whether they’re a minister or a carpet cleaner.
You may be asking about repentance. Well, Biblical repentance has more to do with personal relationships, as we call them, than with public positions. The Biblical world maintained this dichotomy more strongly than we do; we’ve mixed the two together, thinking that if Hal repents, then he should keep his office. I’d say that it’s more that, if Hal repents, Stan should forgive him. Restoring his office is another matter. I think that would have to involve a lot of hard restorative work, given the level of responsibility involved. After all, nothing in the Bible says to “forgive” criminals by dropping their prison sentences, and we’re still called to maintain and support the social order than governs our nations. To that extent there’s clearly a scale of responsibility and stewardship recognized, and a difference between an offense that is merely personal and an offense that is against the social order.
I’m dreaming here, of course. But at least I’m being honest about it.

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