June 30, 2009
Yet another politician, this time Republican Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina publicly confessed his extra-marital affair on television. He has been preceded by a long list of public officials caught in the same situation, such as Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada and former Democratic Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. This list, sadly, is far from exhaustive!Some argue that politicians are particularly vulnerable because of their lifestyle. They meet many people in diverse circumstances and are thus exposed to multiple temptations. Others believe politicians fall because of their ego. They somehow come to think that they can write their own rules. As McGreevey said on NBC: “You begin to think of yourself as the master of your own universe and (you develop) your own set of ethical structures, your own sense of decision-making.”
One can ask whether a politician can be trusted to honor his oath of office if he betrays his marital vow. It is a valid question that has to be answered individually and specifically. Both President Roosevelt and President Kennedy were known philanderers yet few would claim today that there were not excellent presidents.
Adultery is defined as voluntary and consensual sexual relations between a married individual and someone other than his or her spouse. It has always been considered reprehensible throughout history. The 7th Commandment says: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” In some countries today, it is punishable by death. The common expression of “not casting the first stone” comes from a story in the Gospel when a woman is found in adultery and is about to be stoned. Her accusers, representing the legal authority of the time, asked Jesus whether she should be stoned according to the Law. He replied “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.”He then wrote something in the sand. We are not told what was written but somehow, all the accusers, discretely disappeared.
According to most studies on the topic, more than 90% of Americans consider it morally wrong. Yet, according to the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, more than 25% of men and 17% women commit at least one extramarital affair in their lifetime. This should not surprise us. Most of the time, when we are doing something wrong, we know it is wrong, yet we do it anyway.
Why then is infidelity such a major problem?
I believe it is because it is a violation of trust, a betrayal, the breaking of a promise. Trust is at the basis of any human relationship. We should all be very careful never to betray the trust people have in us.
As Isaac Bashevis Singer once said:
“When you betray somebody else, you also betray yourself.”