Sunday, July 15, 2007

Has LA Sen. David Vitter Undermined His Moral Authority?

Of course, the recent admission by Louisiana Senator David Vitter that he had used prostitutes in the past was like dripping blood to a sea of sharks. The feast on this traditional pro-family advocate is in words and phrases like, sanctimonious, hypocrisy, lost his moral authority, etc - as usual, stink'n think'n is rampant in discussions of this situation.

This article is not a comprehensive treatment of the issue. I just want to work out (by writing and hopefully getting some feedback) some thoughts on the stink'n think'n, and, hopefully, help others see the same.

The first issue to deal with is the moral authority issue. That's the unseen subterranean mole-works undermining the whole foundation. What is the authority behind Sen. Vitter's moral pronouncements? If the authority is David Vitter, then, yes, he has certainly tarnished his authority to speak of his personal subjective beliefs. If his beliefs are universally and objectively true, however, then how has he undermined that moral authority? Isn't it the moral obligation of all to speak these truths regardless of how poorly we may exemplify them?

Notice that those who raise this issue are telling you something about themselves - they are the "true for you but not for me" moral relativist crowd who do not believe in universal objective truths - besides the universal objective truth that there are no universal objective truths. People with this viewpoint never have the authority to suggest their personal morality as "oughts" for anyone else.

The next important and related point is that the messenger does not determine the truthfulness of the message. The presence of law-breakers does not invalidate the law. Most murderers and liars know there is both a written law and a higher moral law they have broken. The law is no less true when spoken from the mouth of the sinner than the saint; however, the character of the messenger does determine the credibility with which the message is received -- especially when the message is unpopular (unpolitic).

Sen. Vitter is a hypocrite living in a universe of hypocrites, if you take the simple minded definition of hypocrisy as saying one thing and doing another. We have all lied, cheated, and stolen, yet we tell our children to not lie, cheat, and steal. So, we are all hypocrites by this simple definition. Calling someone a hypocrite, using this definition, is like saying, "Welcome to the human race."

Perhaps a more useful definition of hypocrisy would be advocating for something you know to be untrue. If I taught first graders that 1 + 1 = 1, but used 1 + 1 = 2 when dealing with my bank, then I am a hypocrite. It is in this sense that saying one thing and doing another is true. Is behavior contrary to stated belief always a demonstration of hypocrisy (by this definition)? In Vitter's case, "What do David Vitter's actions prove about what he believes about the sanctity of marriage?" On just a little reflection, we all know of times when we do things in violation of what we really believe, and later, we may be sorry that we did them.

Unfortunately, we do not know and cannot know with certainty what Sen. Vitter actually believes, but, given the totality of his walk and talk, it is still more reasonable to believe he is expressing his true beliefs in upholding the sanctity of marriage -- even with a substantial moral failure such as this. And, even in the recovery from this failure, he and his wife have exemplified dimensions of that sanctitiy in pursuing the routes of confession and forgiveness.

As usual, a person's view of Sen. Vitter will be driven by their philosophy.

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