Sexual scandal is always an attention grabber, so it's not surprising to see the media frenzy that has accompanied the latest revelations about NYC mayor hopeful Anthony Weiner. The details of Mr. Weiner's bizarre behaviors are widely known or easily accessed elsewhere, so I won't bother repeating them here. Suffice it to say, Mr. Weiner engaged in some salacious sexual indiscretions through the medium of cyberspace.
It remains an open question, however, whether the American media will have the moral courage to condemn Mr. Weiner's behavior or whether they will stick with the notions that Weiner's actions merely bespeak "poor judgment" and that Weiner can't be trusted because he lied that the behaviors at issue were behind him.
No matter how low one may descend on the morality scale, when it comes to sexual behaviors, the talking heads on television consistently fall over each other trying to give the Wieners of the world an out: "Why should the public care about the personal lives of public officials?" "Isn't their job performance all that matters?" "Who am I to second guess their sexual preferences?"
Even those commentators who are willing to be a bit more critical still tend to tiptoe around the morality of Weiner's behaviors: "He has a disease." "He's self-destructive." "He's working hard with his therapist."
Our culture has largely abandoned the concepts of sin and shame. To publicly declare that one should be "ashamed" of any form of sexual activity has become the greatest sin of all. Such behaviors are all now "personal choices" not to be judged by others or "conditions" to be treated with therapy.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky gets to the heart of the matter in a recent piece:
"Shame was murdered when morality was reduced to a lifestyle preference that is completely subjective. There was a time when a married, two parent (male and female) family with children was not only the norm of American life but socially desirable. Today, people boast about families existing in all forms, with different configurations and lifestyles on which any moral judgment redounds to the detriment of the putative judge."
When individual choice becomes the greatest good, ethics fall by the wayside. Once choice becomes the highest value, there is no right and wrong. Moral standards, honor, and shame become obsolete. Sin and moral failure are reduced to mere personal peccadilloes. As Pruzansky says,
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