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FIRST-PERSON: Spitzer & a faulty premise

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“Path to scandal: Why does this keep happening?” a recent USA Today headline asked. The “this” in the headline referred to the recent revelation that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had been unfaithful to his wife with a prostitute.

The USA Today article interviewed experts in an effort to explain why intelligent, well-educated, successful people, like Spitzer, risk their careers and reputations by cheating on their spouses.

Most of those interviewed by USA Today seem to believe that good people with great lives must have some special reason for being unfaithful. Surely smart, successful people could not be driven by a base desire like lust, could they?

The two main reasons, suggested by USA Today’s experts, to explain why Spitzer and others cheat are arrogance and the need to take risks.

Those with egos big enough to be in the public eye, the experts say, eventually feel like rules do not apply to them. Either that, or one of the reasons they are in positions of power is the ability to take risks. Cheating, then, becomes just another aspect of their risk-taking personality.

The problem with those interviewed by USA Today is they begin with a faulty premise. They believe that people are basically good. Therefore, it must be some circumstance that drives them to cheat.

If there are special reasons to explain why intelligent and successful people cheat, why are “average” people unfaithful? USA Today focused most of its attention on the infidelity of men. What drives an “average” woman to cheat?

One Internet site keeps tabs on female teachers who seduce teenage boys to have sex. Currently 135 cases are chronicled and most of the women were married when they committed their crimes. Why were these women unfaithful?

The truth is that human nature is not basically good. We are flawed with nature bent toward sin — an old-fashioned word that means we want what we want, when we want it, and we don’t want anyone telling us no. And we don’t care who is inconvenienced or hurt by our behavior.

Those who insist human nature is good have not spent enough time around toddlers. Two-year-old children are selfish, self-centered and overly demanding. It is a good thing they are tiny and weak. If they were six feet tall and weighed 210 pounds, they would throw mom and dad out of the house and take over.

A child does not have to be taught to be bad. Children must be taught how to be good. They must be socialized in the art of good manners. They need no instruction on how to be mean and rude.

David Mamet, a self-professed former liberal, recently shared his transformation concerning human nature in a recent column in the “The Village Voice” titled, “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal.'”

Mamet explained that he once believed everything in society was wrong. However, “I accepted as an article of faith … that people are generally good at heart,” he wrote.

Eventually Mamet’s view changed.

“And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong [while] at the same time that I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it?” he asked.

“I began to question what I actually thought”, Mamet wrote, “and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart…. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine….”

Mamet realized that even the founding fathers rejected the idea that man was basically good. “For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.”

Mamet is correct. Mankind is basically swine and good behavior is the result of the inculcating of moral behavior and abiding accountability. The real surprise is not that people behave badly, but that they do good.

Perhaps USA Today should explore the reasons a spouse remains faithful to his or her spouse. We already really know the reason for infidelity. No matter how you try to explain it, the bottom line is sin — we want what we want, when we want it. And we don’t care who is hurt or inconvenienced by our behavior.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs