Polyester morality

Too bad for Mr. Clinton: God's moral fabric is a single piece of cloth

Issue: "Stealth Bible," March 29, 1997

Now that there seems to be general agreement that the Clinton administration simply doesn't know how to tell the truth, we might move on to a related question: Why is anybody surprised?

It would be nice, of course, to be able in human affairs to pick and choose on matters of morality. That way, everybody could create his or her own little constructs with unique combinations of dos and don'ts--and then those various structures could compete with each other in real life to see which variation was best.

The problem is that he who sits in the heavens has other ideas. It's true that in a limited sense he lets us all "do our thing," testing whether our merely human wisdom can carry us far toward our own ideals. But it's also true that his leash on us is not terribly long. Sooner, rather than later, we feel its jerk--and we discover that God's order of things will have its way.

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And the usual way we feel that jerk, since nobody likes to be lied to, is with the issue of honesty.

You can mess around all you want with different aspects of morality, getting just as relativistic as you can imagine. As long as human beings have been around, in fact, we've twisted God's laws to make them fit our wishes and desires.

But postulate, if you will, some theoretic man and a woman who manage somehow to justify in their own minds an adulterous relationship. All seems fine--until one of them lies to the other. It's the final test of relativism, and it always breaks down.

That's why so many folks who would otherwise like to be defenders of the current administration's policies are nonplused right now. Their own man has lied to them, and they don't like it. Their anger is being hung out for all of us to see.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd says: "The capital is as bizarre, creepy, and irritating as a David Lynch movie. We have the Chinese trying to buy their way into two branches of government. We have The Washington Post reporting that two top fund-raisers for Al Gore pressured poor Oklahoma Indian tribes for large campaign contributions, and then tried to get themselves hired as tribal consultants. And does Hillary Clinton really expect us to believe that her chief of staff accepted a $50,000 campaign contribution from a Beijing hustler simply out of courtesy? Please."

When such scorn drips from the folks who are supposed to love you, watch out. It was a Democrat, Sen. Bob Kerrey, who said bluntly several months ago that "Clinton's an unusually good liar.... Unusually good." Mr. Kerrey was prescient, but at that point he was talking primarily about lies that had affected other people.

What's happened since then is that the president's lies are making even his friends and colleagues look bad. Three senior Democratic senators last week used the words "smelly," "embarrassing," and "indefensible" to describe the president's behavior. Clearly, some of the heat the president has been getting is coming home to roost.

But, as I say, why should anyone be surprised? Folks should have learned a long time ago that anyone who will lie about others will also almost certainly lie about you. Yet the issue goes much deeper than that. We must also learn that anyone who casually disregards any part of God's law and order of things will certainly sooner or later disregard all of God's law and order of things. We can't pick and choose.

The rich young ruler who came to Jesus had to discover this truth. Until Jesus set him straight, he supposed he was on the moral high road. But Jesus told him he couldn't worship his wealth and still pretend to be a keeper of God's law in its totality and fullness. The rich young ruler was told by Jesus that he couldn't pick and choose.

You can't, for example, decide that you'll be dishonest about campaign finance but truthful about national security issues. You can't disregard God's laws for human sexuality and remain faithful and trustworthy about your oath of office. You can't decide that you'll encourage people to destroy their babies, and then reasonably hope that those same people will be honest while filing their income tax returns. God made us human beings as seamless moral entities. When you rip away at one part of the fabric, the whole garment starts to unravel.

The main point isn't to take one more poke at the pitiful Clinton administration, which has now become as lame as the man who heads it. The point instead is to remind ourselves that the same thing can--and will--happen to any of us who kid ourselves into thinking we can put on moral airs on one front while trifling with God's standards on another.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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