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Monica the theologian

Culture | The Linda Tripp tapes show that the wrong worldview could leave you begging for immunity

Issue: "California: Bellwether state," Oct. 24, 1998

The transcripts of the lunch-time conversations between Monica Lewinsky and her wired confidante, Linda Tripp, reveal the two having a theological discussion. As they were discussing lying in a sworn deposition, they contemplated the nature of truth: Tripp: "The truth shall set you free. Yeah." Lewinsky: "But think about the truth-OK? Think about truth. Truth is synonymous with good. Truth is supposed to be good.... OK? ... This is how I have looked at it, and this is from my Christian Scientist, from talking to this woman, and I have talked to her and I've said, 'Well, what about'-you know, I said, 'If truth is synonymous with good, then truth is good and good is God, OK? If all those things are synonymous, then the right thing to do is not hurt someone.' That's true.... So the truth, well, what is truth? I mean, I'm not trying to have an existential conversation with you." Tripp: "I think everybody has a moral code of some sort." Lewinsky: "We do. But to everybody it's different. Do you see what I mean? OK." Later, as reported by Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, who burrowed through the 4,600 pages of documents released by prosecutor Kenneth Starr to find these tidbits, Ms. Lewinsky said, "The truth is-the truth is-what it should be." As for the Higher Power, Ms. Lewinsky's creed is that "God is synonymous with good, truth and kindness and happiness and all sorts of good things." Ms. Lewinsky's point seems to have been that lying for something good-namely, kindness and happiness and not hurting anyone-is not really lying at all. Ms. Tripp began the discussion by rather half-heartedly citing John 8:32 on the liberating power of the truth. In response, Ms. Lewinsky offered the alternative of New Age relativism: She had talked to a Christian Scientist-a member of a sect that believes that evil and the material world are all illusions-and was smooshing together the true, the good, and the divine. The result was a train of thought that leads her to Pilate's question: "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Ms. Tripp, grounded as she is, however uncomfortably, in an older worldview, picked up on the connection of truth to goodness, but saw it pointing to a moral code. In the biblical worldview, the moral principles of God's Law-such as "Thou shalt not bear false witness," not to mention, "Thou shalt not commit adultery"-have the absolute status of objective truth. Ms. Lewinsky came back with the mantra of today's moral relativists: Everybody's moral code is different. Apparently, Ms. Lewinsky is not a flighty, shallow-minded flake, as she's sometimes portrayed. She thought through her multiple adulteries and perjuries. We see a young woman taking counsel from Christian Scientists, confiding in her friends, and agonizing over her every move. Her thinking, though, is clouded by her worldview. She said she did not want "an existential conversation," but she can hardly avoid it. She is an existentialist: There are no absolutes; we create our own meaning; and what we consider true and moral depends on what we choose. Both Ms. Lewinsky and President Clinton are masters of the ancient art of theological legalists known as casuistry. This refers to the practice of parsing definitions, looking for loopholes, and constructing elaborate philosophical justifications as a way to excuse a moral transgression. In other words, rationalizing immorality. In this they are not alone. They are part and parcel of the large percentage of Americans who do not see what all the fuss is about in the impeachment proceedings, who doubtless think the same way as the president and his erstwhile mistress. Muddle-headed theology may be at the heart of many of our cultural problems. The view that God is nothing more than "kindness and happiness and all sorts of good things" may be the underlying heresy of our age. This tolerant, domesticated, safe deity-who never judges or lets loose his wrath-constitutes an idol of niceness. Though worshipped by liberal theologians, alternative lifestyle devotees, and complacent Americans, such a god does not exist. The God of the Bible, in contrast, is not nice, but righteous; not tolerant, but holy; not kindly looking down, but invading his sinful creation-and offering in Jesus Christ a surprising redemption and forgiveness. The lesson here is that ideas still have consequences. It should not be a surprise when moral relativists act on their beliefs by living immorally. It should not be a surprise when intellectual relativists tell lies. Relativists are surprised, however, when they are caught in their own webs. Ms. Lewinsky did not know that her confidante wore a microphone. Mr. Clinton did not know his intern was talking. Neither of them constructed those realities. They might have avoided such things as grand juries and impeachment hearings if only they had a better worldview.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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