(Editor's Note: In UTW's Dec. 6-12 issue, Ted Rall wrote a column criticizing the scandal over former CIA director David Petraeus' extramarital affair. In the process, he referred to monogamy as an outdated concept and called for a high-profile "slut" to question it. What follows is a response to that column. As always, we invite you to sound off in Letters.)
Syndicated columnist Ted Rall recently opined that what our culture really needs in order to progress properly is for one of our heroes, celebrities, or role models to gloriously cast off convention and thereby grant us commoners permission to do the same.
I was genuinely surprised at the logical deficiency of Rall's argument. His position can be summed up in his statement, "When anywhere from a quarter to three-quarters of a population does something, it's not a moral failing. It's standard human behavior." Try telling that to your mother. I know that even now, you can hear her saying, "If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do the same?"
Your mother, his mother, and mine are all pretty sharp. They know what apparently Ted Rall has forgotten or ignored: morality and decency are not defined by the behavior of the majority.
"What is wrong with our values?" Rall asked us.
"Why don't you have any values?" I would ask him. Most Oklahomans I know, whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, or atheist, would be appalled by Rall's supposition that we should embrace infidelity. Even those who completely reject the idea of "sin" would agree that behaviors harming another person should be fundamentally opposed.
Surely Rall is aware of the deep pain caused by the betrayal of adultery, not only to the spouse, but also to the whole family structure. Infidelity is perhaps one of the most damaging offenses because it undermines the family and thereby corrodes society at large.
There are numerous sociological studies that show children do better when raised by married parents. A 2010 study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies stated: "Marital partnerships are more stable, even when other factors where taken into account." And a 2003 study from the Center for Law and Social Policy noted that children who lived with both biological parents were half as likely to be poor or have behavioral or psychological problems. Put simply, strong families are the core of society, and faithful couples are the core of strong families.
We don't need a Slut Moment, as Rall suggested. Frankly, we've seen enough of our heroes fall. Instead, what we need is a Saint Moment.
A Saint Moment is an unsung instant when someone we admire chooses to sacrifice the pleasure of a fleeting indiscretion for the long-term benefit to his or her family. We need someone willing to ignore the clamor of their own temporary selfishness, for the lasting effects it will have on their spouse and children.
There was a time, not terribly long ago, when it was a societal expectation that the stability of one's family was more important than any immediate itch. It was a time when men and women lived sacrificially for one another and for the betterment of their children and grandchildren.
Then, as now, the ideal was not always met. But isn't that what values and ideals are for? Values give us a target to aim for, a perfection to obtain. While the whole of our society seems to lean toward self-fulfillment, this has not always been the case. Our parents, grandparents, and their parents made do with less so that we could have more. They likely were not always happy, but they remained steadfast through the momentary unhappiness so that they could find longstanding fulfillment and so that we all could have a better life.
Now it is our turn. We face the choice daily. Will we seek to satisfy our own desires without regard to how it might affect others? Will we abandon ourselves to hedonism and revelry? Or will we learn the lesson from history, that those who gave themselves to hedonism were never satisfied? Will we learn to be happy with what we have, rather than trampling those around us to get what we don't have and can't really reach?
We need a Saint Moment, and you're just the person we need it from.
You, gentle reader, can rise above the cacophony to sing a better song. Even if you are in the percentage of those who have already been unfaithful, you can live out the Saint Moment today, and tomorrow, and one day at a time from there. And if you need help, you are not alone. Others have lived through pain and hardship and even betrayal, and have watched it turn around into beautiful, vibrant, culturally relevant, never-outdated monogamy. If you need help, visit helpourmarriage.org or familyandlifesolutions.com.
Maybe one day, we'll awake to the reality that living for others is infinitely more satisfying than continually straining for selfish ambition. Maybe one day, we'll all be striving for the higher ideal.
May that day arrive soon.
Timothy L. Putnam is the director of the Marriage, Family Life, and Respect Life Offices for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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