Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Fall

There is nothing like the spectacular fall from grace of a politician known for being tough on the very sort of activities in which he is eventually implicated to bring out the best--and worst--in journalistic commentary. Perusing articles about Eliot Spitzer today I read everything from well-written and thoughtful examinations of the man and his conduct (hat tip: Crunchy Cons) to ridiculously written essays in postmodern values, and just about everything in between.

Granted, there are many things about Spitzer and his present reality that are tailor-made for comments and speculation. It seems almost Gothic for a man in his position to have paid for a certain sort of companionship that, one would think, is only too readily available in this world for free--and that presumes that Mr. Spitzer wanted the company of women other than Mrs. Spitzer, which is sadly something that all too many husbands want, in regards to their wives. But to purchase the bored but probably efficient company of women who in all likelihood found him tiresome, demanding, pitiful and dull seems not tragic but pathetic, and pathetic in a way that creates a vast roaring smallness in a man, as if he has revealed to the world that his soul crawls the earth on its belly, consuming dust.

But such is it always with sin. There is no sin, however grand and dramatic it may seem to the sinner, that is not tiny, weak, sniveling and mean. Sin is lowness; it is common, in more than one sense of the word. It is the selling of a precious birthright for pottage; it is the retailing of the image and likeness of God Himself for the traitor's thirty pieces of silver.

The 9/11 hijackers were not great tragic figures; they were cowards. All terrorists are; there is no glory in fighting people who can't fight back, and no honor in deliberately killing innocent people for the sake of a twisted worldview. The various school shooters have all been cowards, too, cowards with delusions of grandeur and such petty smallness in their souls that they lacked the imagination necessary to live and let live. Murderers of every sort are cowards; they choose that someone else must die in order to keep on living the way they want to live--and whether they're offing Grandma for the insurance money or getting an inconvenient wife out of the way or targeting random strangers to feed their monstrous egos, the same cowardice underlies all of their actions. Theft is cowardice, too; it is not grand if we call it a heist and involve flashy cars and staggering sums of money in our illusions. Adultery and the other varieties of sexual sin are cowardly, in that they promise something valuable for a very cheap price, and actually give the adulterer something worthless and tawdry at a staggering cost.

The fact is that all sins are acts of small, mean, cowardly, weak, and impotent natures. And this is equally true when we're the ones committing them.

We blind ourselves to this at the time, of course. We reason eloquently that we are justified in this one little sin, this lie, this neglect, this failure, this betrayal. We play with fire, placing ourselves in the proximate occasion of sin with depressing regularity, as if we can somehow hold flames next to our skin without being burned. If we are caught out, we are angry--not with ourselves, but with those "judging" us or making us feel bad for what we've done. We follow Eve, and try to place the blame on others; we plead "Not Guilty!" when we know we are.

Eliot Spitzer has been caught in his sin, and the ugliness of it is magnified in our sight. But how ugly our own sins would appear to us, if for a day we had journalists and news personnel and professional pundits dissecting them in the public view!

As the first essay I linked to points out, Spitzer has not been an especially good man up till now; in addition to his current problems and his perpetually rabid pro-abortion views, he has apparently been involved in many other questionable activities. God may be calling him to true repentance, and we can and should pray for that.

But the truth is that since the Fall of Man, we've all been prone to these sorts of evil. Perhaps one person is beautifully chaste, but practices the gentle "art" of character assassination; perhaps another avoids both of those sins but delves into enthusiastic gluttony; perhaps yet another is good in both of those areas, but harbors hatred and contempt for his parents, whom he places in a nursing home and never visits. It should be no particular point of pride to any of us that we've never sinned as Spitzer has; we have done exactly that--we have forgotten that we were made a little lower than the angels, and have sought to be beastly.

That Spitzer's particular beastliness is more extreme and more visibly ugly than most of ours has ever been is not as comforting as it ought to be. We carry that same propensity for beastliness in ourselves, and have also fallen. However much the temptation might be to look at Spitzer's actions with condescending pity as if he were a breed apart, it is fundamentally dishonest to do so. The thing of darkness that precipitated Spitzer's fall can throw us down from the highest parapet, too, if we allow him to take us there in the first place, and listen to his evil whisperings about everything that will be ours if we only bow down and worship him.

At the Fall Eve listened to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and Adam listened to Eve. The same seductive voices of temptation swirl around us, and thanks to our first parents our nature, alas, is prone to heed them. Damaged by sin, we sin without ceasing; we would be hopeless indeed, had not the new Adam come to suffer and die for us, shattering the death-grip the chains of enslavement to sin had on us. Without His help we would never be able to break away from the ugly cowardly smallness of sin; but with Him, we can transcend our fallen natures and learn to be better than we are.

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