Moral Compasses of Clay

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"We all have to be humble and recognize that people — even our leaders — have feet of clay," the Reverend Richard Cizik, VP of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, announced a few days back. Even our leaders? What an audacious thought! "So we love. And we forgive," Cizik added. One has little doubt that the mega-flock of Ted Haggard’s Colorado Springs mega-fold will spend the coming months in a paroxysm of loving and forgiving. Hats off to them, even though I tend to feel it might be more efficient to get a case of beer, reread Elmer Gantry, and start looking around for a fresh shepherd.

As the follies of clay-footed leaders go, Haggard’s do not seem all that troublesome. He’s told lies and failed to practice what he preached — but such behavior has become as familiar as flies round a latrine. If you want to be shockingly deviant in Washington D.C., for instance, your best bet is to go around telling the truth and practicing what you preach. Even Haggard’s "sexually immoral conduct" seems a bit moral by Washington standards. Rent-boys? Drugs? Ho hum. Surely Haggard could have managed worse (or better, depending on your point of view).

He might have lied his country into one of the most foolhardy wars ever schemed into existence. He might have thrown away billions of dollars of other people’s money, and thousands of lives and limbs belonging to other people’s children. He might have played a central role in bringing death to hundreds of thousands and disruption and destruction to millions in order to indulge a personal fantasy about taking out Doctor Evil. He might have declared the "right" to wage pre-emptive war and endorsed the "right" to torture out of one side of his mouth while This Country Does Not Torture was coming out the other. He might have resurrected the spectre of a nuclear arms race. He might have bullied his public into a state of political paralysis, while alienating an astonishing share of the rest of the world. He might have stained an already bespattered election process and spat on an already bespittled Constitution. He might have treated one of the most traumatic events in the history of his nation as an occasion to advance a crass political agenda. But Ted Haggard did none of these things — beside the clay-footed calamities of the Bush Administration, his dabbling in drugs and prostitution looks like community service. At least the pastor’s mistakes led to an immediate dismissal, and a frank apology. "I am a deceiver and a liar," Haggard said. In contrast, presidential mistakes seem to bring consequences down on everyone save their perpetrator.

One wonders whether President Bush and Pastor Ted are still holding their weekly moral-compass-synchronizing chats on the phone. If not, it is comforting to reflect that the President doesn’t really need Ted Haggard, as he enjoys direct access to both Higher Father and Favorite Philosopher Son. It is less comforting to recall the cartoon published a few years ago in The Spectator, depicting Satan holding a telephone receiver to his mouth, hellfire and imps in the background. "Hello, George?" Satan says, with evident satisfaction. "It’s God again."

The same day we were reading of Ted Haggard’s dismissal, we were reading as well that Saddam Hussein’s verdict had been delivered, and that he is to be hanged. President Bush openly hoped for as much when the trial began, and according to the New York Times is "trumpeting" the verdict to "rally support" now that the trial is ended. This seems to be a week for audacious thoughts; several have crossed my mind. One involves a central teaching of the President’s favourite philosopher: "You have heard that it was said, u2018An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, u2018Do not resist one who is evil…." It’s a pity the President didn’t philosophize a little longer over such words before unleashing more evil on Iraq and its people than Saddam had yet found practical to manage unassisted. "Love your enemies," Jesus said. "….For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?" The first modestly audacious thought of the week is a twofold proposal: a) that the mega-Christians of Colorado Springs try loving and forgiving Saddam Hussein according to the precepts of their master — Ted Haggard is too easy; and b) that the megalomaniac Christian in the White House either refrain from gloating in public over the death sentence of an enemy, or find a favorite philosopher whose teachings are not patently and passionately against violence and revenge.

Saddam is accused of signing execution orders on at least 148 "enemies of the state," and of other horrible, vindictive, sadistic crimes against humanity. These include "acts of murder, forcible deportation, wrongful imprisonment, torture, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts," according to the LA Times. Are we not fortunate to have a leader whose moral compass is so unswervingly infallible that it has kept him above such dirt? One wonders. The question leads to the other audacious thought of the week. And much of the world is wondering it openly, crudely. If Saddam and a few henchmen are to swing for crimes against their nation, will there be any rope left over for the Bush Administration? The President may regard the hanging of this despot as a "milestone" for the Iraqi people. One suspects that the Iraqi people (minus the half a million, give or take, that Bush’s war has subtracted) may come to see it as a vindication of little beyond the Czech proverb: "The big thieves hang the little ones."

John Liechty [send him mail] currently teaches in Muscat, Oman.

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