Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Idols and their Moral Consequences

At least two sex scandals have reached the surface of the mainstream press and the entertainment world lately – Roman Polanski’s drugging and rape of a 13-year old and David Letterman’s multiple affairs with staffers. What is most telling about these scandals is not necessarily that they happened, but that those who come from inside the media and entertainment swamps are nonplussed. Not only that, but many of them are finding ways to excuse the adulterous, manipulative, and vile behavior represented in these two cases. Whoopi Goldberg defended Polanski’s pedophilic sodomy as not being “rape-rape.”

How is it people can stare blatantly immoral behavior in the face and shrug their shoulders? At least in part, it happens when people have replaced their natural moral core with the idolatry of image. Certain people who represent certain ideologies become more important than moral truth. So as a result, moral outrage is reserved for people “on the outside” of a political and cultural system while genuine immorality is dismissed because the person, the image, or the ideology is more important.

Our idols form and shape our characters, moral sensibilities and personalities. If then our idol is image as presented in our current media-saturated world, our moral sensibilities will be changed to fit the demigod of fame. Famous people get away with murder (literally and figuratively) because the supporting media structure idolizes fame at the cost of all other concerns. In addition, scores of your average Joes and Janes suffer the same psychologically debilitating consequences. The image presented by Letterman’s fame is more important than marital fidelity to his wife and his fatherly example to his child. What is worse, the fact that Polanski made a few films loved by the film industry excuses him of drugging and raping a child. By what they excuse, these people tell us what they love.

So what is the cure? In the end it is simple – replace all our idols with the Only Wise God. In light of these realities, I was struck by Ephesians 4:17-20 this week:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!


Brian B said...

The double standards displayed by some is truly astounding. (Chris Matthews asked one of his Polanski-defending guests, "so, what if this were not Polanski, but a Catholic priest who'd done the same thing to an altar boy?")

I think you'd really enjoy the following:

It's an essay by George Orwell, beautifully written, about Salvador Dali's autobiography. Orwell wrote this in 1944, but its relevance to the Polanski (and, to a far lesser extent, Letterman) case is obvious, and his main point seems to me entirely correct.

Phil Steiger said...

I am looking forward to reading the Orwell essay. He had an incisive way of dealing with people.

Two cheers for Chris Matthews! That's exactly the right question to ask in that setting.

The matter of a "double standard" in this context is interesting to me. In fact, it is a double standard, and many people should be able to see it as such, but I wonder about the Polanski supports (and the worldview that entails). If their moral standard is founded on media popularity, some political platform, or fame, then it isn't technically a double standard. Excusing Polanski and condemning a priest are therefore consistent behaviors.

I wonder more and more if this is the moral reality of more and more of our culture, which in turn makes me wonder how to sleep at night.