Friday, September 25, 2009

Day Two-Hundred Fifty-Seven: Born to Cheat??

Okay, I know I don't post a lot of "relevant" stuff on here, but last night's Nightline got the wheels turnin' and I wanted to see if I could write out my thoughts.

First off, this girl here got me to watch Nightline last night, which had been filmed at her church. Apparently, the show is starting a new series of discussions on whether the Ten Commandments is still relevant. (The actual commandments, not the Charleton Heston movie nor the Val Kilmer musical) First up for debate was, naturally, commandment #7: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. The question: is adultery really wrong? Or are we genetically predisposed to adulterize.

The 90-minute debate was cut down to about 20 minutes of airtime, and I didn't watch the whole thing, so this'll be my response to the little bit that I did see.

First off, I want to give kudos to Nightline. When you're chopping down that much discussion (rhetoric) into that little time, some parties can really be pretty poorly represented, but it felt like they did a pretty good job of getting all the sides fairly stated, and they did offer the whole debate on their website. (I didn't partake, because I could have pretty much predicted most of what was said before the discussion aired, and so I've got a pretty good idea of what the rest of the time was likely devoted to) I didn't perceive a Nightline bias through the program (though I was mildly concerned when they showed the Dallas-area church and started playing some old-school sounding country and western music in the background. "Great, here comes the Bible-belt backwood hicks sterotype," I thought. They avoided this, though, and even avoided oversimplifying things like "so-and-so is on the Right and such-and-such is clearly Left)

Their were four panelists for the discussion: first was pastor Ed Young of the megachurch that was hosting the event; second was a woman who said she was happily married to a wonderful man she absolutely adored with a 10-year-old girl while maintaining a relationship with another girlfriend whom she equally adored; third was a man who described himself as a recovering sexaholic, who had cheated on his own wife "hundreds of times" and had since had a change of heart and mind and was working to reconcile to his wife and to God; and finally, the CEO in charge of Ashley Madison, an e-harmony blind date type site specifically for married people who are looking for someone to cheat with.

Ding ding! Round one.

Actually, the clips they showed managed to stay very civil. The hostess did a phenomenal job of keeping the atmosphere from getting too touchy.

The first item, as is always the case in a "debate", was the definition of "adultery." The moderator turned to Pastor Young, who stuck with Jesus' definition in Matthew 5: anyone who looks at another woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery. As the moderator pointed out, you can't help notice an attractive person of the other sex, and Young agreed. He stated that he didn't believe that first look was sin. That second one, though...

Here is where the woman with the husband and girlfriend asked if he believed that this standard was only for himself and fellow Christians, or whether it applied to all. Young replied that he believed God's standard as written in the Bible applied to everyone, to which the woman gave the reply that it was ludicrous to believe that one person's faith has to dictate another's behavior. There were hundreds of churches in Dallas alone, she said, because people believe different things about the Bible.

This, here, is why I personally dislike debates about the existence of God or the validity of scripture or whatnot. I know a great many people who love those discussions, and I'm glad for that, but it is utterly unsatisfying to me because the idea of God is not one that can be either proved or disproved through testing, evidence, or rational thought if the concept is that God is the creator of all forms of observation and thought and is therefore Himself not only above them, but the Standard against which they are measured. For example, it's hard to debate what is right or wrong, because we have human standards which, while valuable, cannot be the universal factor because God has in Himself the definition of right and wrong. (Alister McGrath explores this idea a little in his book The Dawkins Delusion? in which he addresses the questions others ask him about how he can believe that all other religions are wrong. His answer is that he does not need to believe all other religions are wrong; rather, he need only to believe that Christ is the one truth, as He says He is, and therefore he doesn't need to ponder Hinduism vs. humanism vs. agnosticism, because they are mutually exclusive to the teachings and person of Christ)

For this reason, the question of whether adultery was right or wrong couldn't really be debated to a conclusion, because the definitions of "adultery," "right," and "wrong" could never be agreed upon. Mr. Ashley Madison thought that it was wrong that a man should be sexually unsatisfied in his marriage and that it was wrong for anyone to deprive him of the right to seek that happiness elsewhere. In this case, the standard for "wrong" was the individual's happiness. To the woman with the complicated marriage, it was wrong for one pastor to try to impose his ideas on others. For Young, thinking lustfully about anyone other than one's spouse was wrong because God had said it was wrong, because it then led to continued thought, which led to action, which led to infidelity, which was against the seventh commandment, which was at the core of the debate.

I don't know how long that discussion may have lasted in the actual debate (on the show it was only a couple of minutes) but I've heard it before and am sure it went around in circles a time or two.

Mr. Ashley Madison and Mrs. Complicated (I'm so sorry that Ed Young is the only name I can remember of these people) cited studies and statistics that one in ever three men cheat on their wives and one in every four women cheat on their husbands, so clearly there's a biological predisposition toward cheating. All animals, even mate-for-life swans, cheat, and we are animals. (This led to that "We are just animals," "We are more than animals because we can choose to resist our instinct" discussion for awhile) These were generic quotes ("There are studies that say..." "Some psychiatrists believe that..."), and then Mr. Pastor (I felt guilty letting him be the only one with a real name) pulled out a bit of a shocker, citing a study from the University of Chicago (possibly TMI ahead, but we're all grown-ups here) that stated that evangelical women were the most sexually satisfied of any demographic they'd studied, and that they had more orgasms than any other group of women. (This after the claims from Mr. Ashley Madison that people having affairs were having more exciting sex lives than those trapped in stale marriages) Mr. Pastor also mentioned that he deals daily with marriages that are struggling and ones that have been torn apart through infidelity, and that most couples who are failing in their love lives have relationship issues that can usually be worked through, and once their love for one another is rekindled then the wild nights come back. (This is the pastor who challenged all of the married couples in his church to have sex every night for a week and see what happened in their marriages, by the way)

At one point, Mr. Ashley Madison said that he believed his adultery improved marriages, and so his website was a social service. Most men cheat, he said, when they are sexually unsatisfied. In helping them find a place to satisfy their desires, he was allowing married men to return to their families happier and healthier than if they stayed home every night and stayed frustrated.

Finally, some words were spoken by Mr. Penitent (the former sexaholic who was now working to heal his own life), who talked of all the time he thought he was filling his own needs and desires while his wife was unaware of what was going on, and how much hurt and pain he now knew he'd caused her when she learned of his infidelity, and how empty all of those encounters had really left him.

At this point, Mr. Ashley Madison changed his tune somewhat: he stopped trying to make the case that cheating was a good idea and instead said, rightfully so, that people shouldn't blame his site that others are having flings. "We have witty commercials," he said, "but no one decides to have an affair because they saw a commercial." He went on to state that he shouldn't be blamed for others' choices, and that he is merely helping them to do something they were going to do anyway. (I noted at this point that his discussion was no longer on "Is adultery wrong" or "Are we born to cheat" but rather "Hey, I'm not doing anything wrong here. It's not my fault these people don't have their acts together.") Now, really, I think it's true that you can't blame a spike in affairs on Ashley Madison. People are going to find ways to sin. We've been doing it for centuries, and we'll continue doing it until we're done here. So that was a pretty good argument. It was just a tad irrelevant to what was supposedly the question at hand. The question to Mr. Madison was posed, "You said you have a wife and son. How would you feel if you knew your wife was using your service?" "I'd be devastated," he said. "But I would not blame a web site. I'd want to know how I had failed, what aspect of my relationship with my wife had led her to look elsewhere." (That's not an exact quote, but it's close. So he was asked how, knowing his service ultimately brings immense pain to others, he could in good conscience continue to run it. His reply: "Because I am in the business of making money."

In the space of ninety minutes, he'd gone from Mr. "Adultery isn't that bad" to "I'm doing this to help others" to "It's not my fault" to "I'm a greedy jerk." Bad night for Mr. Madison, but I'm pretty sure his business won't suffer for it.

Finally, the question was asked, "Are we born to cheat." Mrs. Complicated said "Yes, I think so." Mr. Madison agreed. Mr. Penitent said, "I know this will probably surprise a lot of you, based on all I've said tonight, but yes. I think we are born to cheat, because we are born with a sin nature. However, we are not destined to cheat." Quote of the night.

Some questions came from the audience afterward. Keep in mind, this was a church audience, and Mr. Pastor's church audience, so you know it was going to be unfriendly for Mr. Madison and Mrs. Complicated, but I think this was an important part of the night, because it was no longer about studies, statistics, or theories, it was about people. Specifically, it was about people who'd been there, or who were there. Kids from broken homes asking why it was all right for them to hurt so that their dad could have a little fun. Parents who'd managed to make cheating work for awhile, but had since lost their families and their kids and wished they could take it all back. (Of interest, one woman asked Mrs. Complicated what her ten-year-old daughter thought of her complex relationship. Since Mrs. Complicated was so open and direct with Mr. Complicated, it was assumed that Little Complication was in the know as well. Mrs. Complicated's reply: "Well...she's only ten. I don't know what she knows, exactly...")

The debate wrapped up a little later with the last question of whether or not the seventh commandment was right; whether adultery was wrong. Mr. Pastor said yes, unequivocally. Mrs. Complicated said that the lying and the deceiving part was wrong, but the sex with other partners part was okay as long as your spouse knew and was supportive. (I'm guessing this doesn't actually happen too often) I don't remember Mr. Madison's reply.

So that was that. It was actually a much more interesting half hour of television than I thought. Again, it wasn't really a "debate" because to have a true debate you have to have a clear definition of terms or ideas, but the discussion was good. Topics like this one are tricky; it seems like everyone's ideas about marriage and infidelity are pretty set in stone until it hits them personally. When questions became personal, panelists started to waver in their steadfastness. When confronted with people rather than statistics, confidence appeared lost. I don't think, if really pressed on all angles of the question, anybody would up and say that adultery is "right". I also don't think happiness should be the standard by which we define right and wrong, because happiness is fleeting. I don't think adulterers are wicked people, and I think we married folks have probably all committed some form of adultery according to Jesus' words: words meant not to demonize us, but rather to show us that we are fallen, all of us. That no one is righteous, not one. That we are all equally in need of a Savior. That the only One who is right, who is good, who can make us better than we are, has come and is come for all who will come.

Relevant? I don't think that relevance is the issue. Are we born to sin? Duh. But I don't think that's really the issue, either. As is always the case, Christ is the issue. And if anybody hears that at any point, then I think the Nightline series is totally worth it, even if I find the premise a bit frustrating and unsatisfactory ;-)