Let’s not cheat

Last Saturday I attended the convention of the Right to Life organization in my state. During the banquet the organization presented its annual Humanitarian of the Year award. Imagine my surprise when the recipient, a Catholic priest, stated in his acceptance speech that one of the things “we” (those who stand for life) should do in our efforts to defend life and bring about an end to abortion in the United States is cheat. He was not suggesting this as an initial approach, but he did wholeheartedly endorse the idea of cheating in order to accomplish a greater good. Manipulation, deception, trickery and the like would all be perfectly acceptable in his mind. He even went so far as to suggest that when Jesus said that believers need to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” in Matthew 10 that He was endorsing this kind of approach.

This notion struck me as wrong from the moment he uttered the words, but it was an idea that I kept mulling throughout the evening, and the level of my discomfort with the idea only continued to increase. To cheat, according to dictionary.com, means “to practice fraud or deceit; to violate rules and regulations.” As important as I believe it is to defend life, going about doing so by cheating would be all wrong. As one example of deception this priest told a story of setting up a table that said “Democrats for Life” at a Democratic convention in Colorado in the late 1970s. He said because a number of people interpreted the message to be the equivalent of “lifelong Democrat” they had lots of people wearing “Democrat for Life” buttons before someone pointed out what they actually meant. This is a humorous story, perhaps, but it is not really cheating. Rather, it is capitalizing on the ignorance of the individuals sporting the buttons. But even if this were the extent of the “cheating” that was intended, such an approach will do no long term good. Getting people who do not realize what they are doing to wear a button supporting life will not change anyone’s mind or heart or change any laws. While it might be fun, then, it is ultimately ineffective.

Still, I could not help thinking that something beyond this trickery is what the Father had in mind. Exactly what he had in mind I do not know, but I know that, whatever it is, cheating is the wrong way to try to win this fight. Furthermore, suggesting it is a step onto a very slippery, and very steep, slope. If it is okay to cheat–to deceive or manipulate or break the rules–in order to defend life, what other things is it okay to cheat to accomplish? And who decides? If cheating is okay, is outright lying? Is hostage-taking or even killing abortionists okay? I am not at all suggesting that these behaviors were what the humanitarian of the year had in mind, but the question is still valid. Once we okay or endorse one wrong behavior in pursuit of a good end, how far are we willing to go? And again, who is going to decide “that’s far enough”?

Perhaps this illustration will help. The priest I am referring to here is also, apparently, a teacher, because he made multiple references to his students and to having them enter the annual essay contest for Right to Life. Presumably, if one of his students cheated on a research paper or a test, he would not approve. In fact he would not only disapprove but, if he takes academic integrity seriously, he would mete out a rather severe consequence. But what if that student had a legitimate reason for not getting the paper done ethically and on time? Or what if giving that student a zero could result in a grade or disciplinary record that would prohibit him or her from being admitted to the college he or she had in mind? If you want to follow the “what ifs” long enough you can create a scenario in which assigning the consequences for this instance of cheating could impact the entire future of the offending student.If we could know that by letting the cheating go that student would go on to an Ivy League school, law school, a successful career in politics and ultimately be the president who accomplished the overturning of Roe v. Wade through his or her Supreme Court appointments, should we let it go? If I were a betting man, I would bet that most people would say yes, if we knew that would happen, we should let it go. Here’s the problem, though. It is not possible to know that that would happen, meaning that it is also not possible to know that it would not happen. Accordingly, we must either always penalize cheating or never penalize it. I think we can all imagine a world in which it was never penalized, and that is a place none of us want to live. Therefore, we must always penalize it, must always reinforce that it is never acceptable. And that also means, then, that we must never encourage it.

We should defend life, at all times, but never by compromising what is ethical or right to do so. When we fudge a little, turn a blind eye, or sanction something unethical in order to pursue something that is ethical we are defeating our own efforts. If it is okay to be unethical to pursue something ethical how could we possibly argue against anyone being unethical to pursue something unethical? In fact, if we start creating situations in which being unethical is acceptable, haven’t we destroyed the very idea of “ethical”?

And so it begins…

I have warned several times already in this space that the push to legalize homosexual marriage will be but the first step onto an incredibly slippery slope that will quite likely lead, eventually, to the acceptance of polygamy, pedophilia, bestiality, and who knows what else. I surely am not the only one saying such things, but I know that there are many people who have considered these warnings to be overblown. Alas…they are not.

In February, Scientific American ran an article entitled “New Sexual Revolution: Polyamory May Be Good for You.” The article begins with a description of the various romantic activities couples engage in on Valentine’s Day and then makes this statement: “But two-by-two isn’t the only way to go through life. In fact, an estimated 4 to 5 percent of Americans are looking outside their relationship for love and sex — with their partner’s full permission.” The next paragraph states that such “polyamorous” relationships can range from occasional swinging to long-term relationships between multiple people. The paragraph concludes with this bold statement: these relationships “may even change monogamy for the better.”

Really? And how in the world could that be?

Well, communication for one thing. “‘People in these relationships really communicate. They communicate to death,’ said Bjarne Holmes, a psychologist at Champlain College in Vermont.” That makes sense, I suppose. I mean if someone is going to consensually engage in extramarital sex with the full knowledge and consent of their spouse that would definitely require some lengthy conversation. The problem is, Professor Holmes then goes on to contradict himself. He said, “They are potentially doing quite a lot of things that could turn out to be things that if people who are practicing monogamy did more of, their relationships would actually be better off.” Come again? The people who are engaging in consensual extramarital sex are engaging in behavior that people who are monogamous should practice, and if they did their monogamous relationships would be better? Surely I am not the only one confused here. How can someone argue that monogamous couples should act more like polyamorous couples in order to be happier in their monogamy?

By the way, we also apparently need to understand that “consensual nonmonogamy” “includes sex-only arrangements, such as two committed partners agreeing that they’re allowed to seek no-strings-attached sex with other people. It also includes polyamory, which involves multiple committed relationships at once with the consent and knowledge of everyone involved. Consensual nonmonogamy does not include cheating, in which one partner steps out without the permission of the other.”

So, sleep around all you want with permission, but don’t you dare step out without checking with your spouse first is the argument being promoted here….

Terri Conley of the University of Michigan has suggested that 5% of the population is engaged in consensually nonmonogamous relationships. That number, by the way, would be higher than the number of homosexual individuals according to must studies. On April 11, 2011 The Huffington Post ran an article in which Gary Gates, a “demographer-in-residence at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles” said that his “best estimate, derived from five studies that have asked subjects about their sexual orientation, is that the nation has about 4 million adults who identify as being gay or lesbian, representing 1.7 percent of the 18-and-over population.” Also interesting is that according to one of the graduate assistant’s in Conley’s lab, lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are more likely to engage in nonmonogamous relationships than are heterosexuals.

The Scientific American article goes on to state that “people who cheat on their partners sexually are less likely to engage in safe sex while doing so than are people in consensual nonmonogamous relationships.” In other words, those who cheat with permission tend to cheat more safely than those who cheat without spousal permission. Is this supposed to be an argument in favor of polyamory? Believe it or not, yes. But that should be no surprise, since many in our country have been arguing for years that condoms, and now “morning after pills” should be freely and readily available so that those who engage in premarital or extramarital sex can do so as safely as possible, and with little fear of any repercussions for their actions.

Why am I bringing all of this up? Specifically because (1) it is clear evidence that the slippery slope I and others have warned of is very real, and (2) the fact that there are supposedly more people engaged in consensual nonmonogamy than there are homosexuals means that it cannot be long before those involved in this behavior will be making as much noise and demanding as much “equality” as homosexuals are now. In February, Berkeley, CA played host to the first International Academic Polyamory Conference.

It really comes down to this statement by Elisabeth Sheff, “a legal consultant and former Georgia State University professor”: “people are increasingly thinking of relationships as build-it-yourself rather than prepackaged.” “Build-it-yourself” is a polite and inoffensive way to say “do what works for you,” both of which, being translated, mean “ignore God’s ways.”

I am not going to say “I told you so,” but…

Is Lance a Hero?

There has been a bit of debate lately over whether or not cyclist Lance Armstrong is a hero. There have been allegations for quite some time that Mr. Armstrong used banned substances and doping in order to accomplish the incredible feat of winning seven Tour de France titles. Now, the United States Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that he is indeed guilty of such activities, and has stripped him of all prizes and titles he has earned since 1998, in addition to banning him for life from cycling. And while he still says he is innocent, Lance Armstrong has said he will not resist those findings or appeal the ruling.

While I do not know Lance Armstrong, his tenacious drive and competitive spirit do not seem consistent with someone who is indeed innocent simply accepting this kind of consequence. Accordingly–much to my own dismay–I have to assume that the USADA’s findings are accurate.

His winning fight against cancer and his incredible return to cycling made Lance Armstrong a household name, a celebrity, and an inspiration to many. I think one would be hard pressed to find someone who has not seen one of the ubiquitous yellow “Livestrong” bracelets. But what about hero status?

Dictionary.com defines “hero” in part as “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.” I’m afraid Mr. Armstrong doesn’t quite measure up by that definition. While he certainly has demonstrated “distinguished courage,” his ability must be questioned if he has in fact used performance enhancing drugs and/or engaged in blood-doping. I’m afraid any “noble qualities” are also called into question in light of the fact that Armstrong left his wife and children in 2003–after his successful fight with cancer through which she was by his side–and began dating singer Sheryl Crowe only weeks later. He has since moved on from that relationship, as well. There have been multiple reports, as well, of Armstrong engaging in angry verbal assaults toward other cyclists. The other part of the dictionary.com definition says, “a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.” Were there no substantiated cheating, I would say yes, he has performed a heroic act. After all, just completing the Tour de France is incredible, let alone winning it seven times. But that accomplishment is now about as impressive to me as Barry Bonds’ home run record; in other words, not very.

Unfortunately, our culture is so desperate for heroes that influential individuals have intimated that Armstrong is still a hero, regardless of the cheating. Rick Reilly, a well known columnist for ESPN, wrote that if Armstrong “cheated in a sport where cheating is as common as eating” he does not really care. If the standard we go by now is that it doesn’t matter because most everyone else is doing it anyway, we are in serious trouble, and I am not talking about bicycle races. That kind of attitude leads absolutely nowhere good. Newsweek writer Buzz Bissinger wrote of Armstrong, “He is a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them. And he needs to remain one.” Well, here’s a newsflash for Newsweek: if our standard for heroes is dishonesty, lack of commitment and narcissism, we should have shortage of heroes.

I do not disagree that we all look for people to look up to, to admire, even to aspire to be like. Whether or not that is inherently wrong is probably a discussion for another day. What I do know is that we must be on guard against ever setting anyone up as a hero and thereby putting on blinders to the possibility that he or she may not be quite the shining star we might like to think. The truth is there are plenty of heroes in our world, but none of them are flawless or infallible…and very few of them get attention from the major media.