Adultery: When Law and Morality (used to) Agree

The Colorado legislature is considering the repeal of laws in the state that criminalize adultery or any act that would “promote sexual immorality.” According to Lynn Bartels of The Denver Post, the process of repeal is now well underway, with the House Judiciary Committee voting 8-3 to take adultery and sexual immorality out of the criminal code in Colorado.

Missing from the legislative debate, at least as reported in the media, is any acknowledgment of how such statutes entered the law books in the first place. Throughout most of human history, morality and law were united and in agreement when it came to the reality of adultery and the larger context of sexual immorality. Laws criminalizing adultery were adopted because the society believed that marriage was central to its own existence and flourishing, and that adultery represented a dagger struck at the heart of the society, as well as the heart of marriage.

Marriage was not considered merely a private arrangement. Every society regulates marriage, and most have adopted clear and punitive sanctions against adultery. But the moral and cultural revolutions of the past several decades have shifted the meaning of marriage from a public institution to a private contract.

Rep. Daniel Kagan (Democrat of Cherry Hills Village) seemed to be completely unaware that his own state had once considered adultery to be a sin of public consequence. “Adultery is a matter between a person and their spouse and their conscience and their minister, but not between a person and the full enforcement of the state of Colorado,” he said. He concluded: “Let’s keep the police out of our bedrooms.”

Well, the police have not conducted adultery raids in some time, Rep. Kagan. The law in Colorado criminalizes adultery, but includes no penalty. The law has been, at a bare minimum, a reminder of the public nature of marriage and the societal threat of adultery.

The sexual revolution and our cultural addiction to autonomous individualism has changed all that, but that moral shift should not go unnoticed. We are now reaping the inevitable result of treating marriage as a merely private affair, and adultery as a merely private sin. The action in the Colorado legislature is just a sign of what has already taken place in the larger culture.

Why Conservatives Should End the Debt Ceiling Debate

Watching the American scene in the 1960s, historian Daniel Boorstin, invented the idea of the “pseudo-event.” The rise of television and modern mass media had produced a transformation of the news business, so that what now mattered was not if an event was important, but only if it was “newsworthy.”

As Boorstin explained, the pseudo-event was orchestrated and planned to receive maximum public attention, even if the event itself was really unimportant. Pseudo-events merely look important, because the media and the public agree to act as if they are. As Boorstin explained, the pseudo-event is not something that happens by mistake, like a train wreck or an accident. It is something “planted primarily for the immediate purpose of being reported.” Lastly, Boorstin asserted, the pseudo-event is “intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Sound familiar? The pseudo-event is the driving force of American political life today, and it is a game increasingly played by both major political parties. The “fiscal cliff” was the most embarrassing recent example of a pseudo-event. Democrats and Republicans alike conspired to create a fake political crisis that each party thought would work to its own advantage. Both parties gambled that public outrage over the loss of Bush-era tax cuts would create a manufactured political crisis that would give the party and its allies political leverage.

Democrats gambled that they would get new tax revenues out of the crisis, while Republicans hoped for spending cuts. In the end, the negotiated “fix” for the pseudo-crisis was a weak combination of increased tax revenue and promised, yet unspecified, spending cuts.

The entire enterprise was tantamount to a war game played with live ammunition. Both sides claimed a modicum of victory and promised to play the game to better advantage next time. Neither side was willing to deal with what the real crisis of governance represents. The “fiscal cliff” was just a dramatic distraction from the real crisis.

As columnist David Brooks argued, “Far from laying the groundwork for future cooperation, it sentences the country to another few years of budget trench warfare. There will be a fight over drastic spending cuts known as sequestration, then over the debt limit and on and on.”

As Brooks predicted, the same debacle is now being played out with the debt limit pseudo-event. Both parties are jockeying for position. The nation has already exceeded the $16.4 trillion borrowing limit previously set by Congress. A bit of financial finagling by the Department of the Treasury has bought just a bit of time before Congress must raise the debt ceiling once again. Otherwise the United States will default on its debt.

How did this happen? Congress approved the spending, as did the President. The spending, which necessitated the borrowing, was approved by the very people who will not debate whether to pay the bills they themselves created.

Federal law requires Congress to establish a limit to national borrowing, but the U. S. Constitution requires the government to pay its debts. The debt limit requirement is merely a matter of law. The pledge to pay the nation’s debt is a mandate of the Constitution. The debt ceiling is now a political abstraction, used by both parties to create a pseudo-event.

Conservatives should be particularly unwilling to participate in such a charade, and yet many do so, thinking they can use the pseudo-event to their advantage. It is a losing game, dishonest politics, and a failure of governance.

It is intended to direct the nation’s attention away from the real crisis and onto the pseudo-event. It avoids dealing with the real disaster that looms before us.

Once again, David Brooks nailed the real issue: “Public debt as a percentage of gross domestic product was around 38 percent in 1965. It is around 74 percent now. Debt could approach a ruinous 90 percent of G.D.P. in a decade and a cataclysmic 247 percent of G.D.P. 30 years from now, according to the Congressional Budget Office and JPMorgan.”

But, do politicians bear all the blame? Not hardly. The public has an insatiable appetite for pseudo-events and a horrified aversion to the truth. Why? We are approaching the point that voters will not deal with the issue because it will cost them their entitlements. They will be glad for their children and grandchildren to pay the catastrophic debt.

As Brooks explains:

“Ultimately, we should blame the American voters. The average Medicare couple pays $109,000 into the program and gets $343,000 in benefits out, according to the Urban Institute. This is $234,000 in free money. Many voters have decided they like spending a lot on themselves and pushing costs onto their children and grandchildren. They have decided they like borrowing up to $1 trillion a year for tax credits, disability payments, defense contracts and the rest. They have found that the original Keynesian rationale for these deficits provides a perfect cover for permanent deficit-living. They have made it clear that they will destroy any politician who tries to stop them from cost-shifting in this way.”

Given this political reality, fiscal conservatives are insane to believe that these pseudo-events play to their advantage. Each “solution” to a false crisis actually lets the American people and the political class claim a false victory — even as the real crisis grows far worse.

Conservatives should point out that the Constitution demands the nation pay its debts, and that Congress and the President must take responsibility for the spending — and the massive borrowing — their actions mandate. Conservatives should point to the real crisis, stand on principle, and refuse to distract themselves and the American people with false crises and pseudo-events.

In the end, pseudo-events only serve to make the problem worse, never better. We cannot deal with the real crisis, if we keep playing the game of the pseudo-event.

The Injustice of Helpful Parents — Yet More Insanity

French President François Hollande recently announced that he wants French schools to put an end to homework. That is certain to thrill school children in the nation, but the reason for Hollande’s war on homework will likely puzzle many French citizens.

President Hollande wants to end homework in order to level the playing field for the nation’s students. As France 24 reports, Hollande told an audience at The Sorbonne, “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”

He went on to explain that it was unfair for students with parents who are engaged with their schoolwork to gain an educational advantage over others, whose parents do not offer such support.

Hollande wants to neutralize the impact of parents by keeping students at school longer. As France 24 notes, French students are already staying at school longer than students in many other nations, often leaving the school “only at 5pm or 6pm.”

The more hours students spend in the government’s schools, the less hours they are at home — where inequity abounds.

As Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post explains, Hollande argues for the elimination of homework, “not in terms of student learning but as a way to equal the playing field for all students.” Further, “Poor children, he argues, are less likely to get parental aid for homework, and so requiring homework can widen the achievement gap.”

Hollande is right about the inequity. Children whose parents are not involved, for whatever reason, are surely at a serious disadvantage. Every effort to help them should be made. But even if homework is eliminated, the inequity will remain.

The reason for the inequity is clear, and it doesn’t begin when the child starts formal education. It starts at the beginning of life and in the earliest stages of infancy and childhood. Parents who talk to their children and, even more importantly, read to their children, give their children a priceless head start. Parents who spend time with their children and are involved in their school work, offering encouragement and accountability, increase that advantage. Involved and engaged parents give a child a priceless advantage.

There is another dimension to this picture, but one that most political leaders will not acknowledge. The presence of two parents in the home at least doubles the opportunity for a child to get the needed help. The breakdown of the family is a major part of the background to this problem.

The only way for this particular inequity to be eliminated is to remove children from the care of their parents and to raise them as wards of the state. Such proposals have been made by statists ranging from Plato to Lenin. To a lesser degree, similar arguments have been made in this country by educational leaders such as philosopher John Dewey. Adding even more hours to the school week is just a further step in that direction.

This is the logic of statism, proposing the state as the answer to inequities it cannot possibly resolve, and marginalizing or subverting the family in the process.

This story from France should prompt all of us to do a little homework of our own, reminding ourselves of the central importance of the family.

I discuss this story and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE [The program will be available at 6:30am, EST]

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