Don’t Be Harvey Weinstein. Or Tim Murphy. Or Karl Barth
It seemed to be national sleaze-ball month. First, his local newspaper exposed a married Republican congressman’s affair with a married woman half his age. Then it showed he’d asked her to abort their child despite his minor fame as a pro-life leader. That would be Congressman Tim Murphy. My congressman, as it happens.
Then The New York Times exposed one of the most powerful, praised and adored men in Hollywood — a man every major Democratic politician loved — as a sexual predator. And a really creepy, gross one at that, as The New Yorker‘s further exposé showed. That would be Harvey Weinstein.
Take Heed Lest You Fall
Philip Neri was a great spiritual mentor and guide in the sixteenth century. He has some wise advice about the way we respond to other people’s sins, and our own.
Not feeling pity for other men’s falls is a good sign that we shall soon fall ourselves.
We must never trust ourselves, for it is the devil’s way first to get us to feel secure, and then to make us fall.
When a person puts himself in an occasion of sin, saying, “I shall not fall, I shall not commit it,” it is an almost infallible sign that he will fall, and with all the greater damage to his soul.
Let us pray God that if He gives us any virtue or any gift, He will keep it hidden from us. That way we may preserve our humility, and not feel pride because of it.
It is a most useful thing to say often, and from the heart: “Lord, do not put any confidence in me, for I am sure to fall if You do not help me.”
Humility is the true guardian of chastity.
One of the best ways to keep ourselves chaste is to have compassion for those who fall through their frailty, and never to boast in the least of being free, but with all humility to acknowledge that whatever we have is from the mercy of God.
And then, in the far corner of the world occupied by theologians, a journal called Theology Today exposed a theological giant’s decades-long affair with his secretary. He even moved her into his home, thereby forcing his wife to share her home with her husband’s mistress. That would be Karl Barth.
The web exploded with joyous condemnation. Everyone likes seeing the mighty knocked down from their thrones. We love piling on a hypocrite because he’s such an easy target.
I know the feeling. I posted the story about Murphy on my Facebook page with an angry note. He isn’t just a lying hypocritical sleaze-ball. He’s my side’s lying hypocritical sleaze-ball. Unborn children might die because he did what he did.
His girlfriend had texted him, “And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options.” He texted back the same day, saying, “I get what you say about my March for life messages. I’ve never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don’t write any more.”
Pig, I thought. A day or so later, I began to wonder. I know almost nothing about Murphy beyond what a voter in his district can know. No one suggested he’d had other affairs. Maybe he’d been a good guy who slipped small step by small step into cheating on his wife and children.
Step by Step Into an Affair
You can imagine how he could get from faithful husband to nationally-exposed sleaze-ball. A stressed-out, driven, over-worked man, used to getting his own way, supremely self-confident, maybe a little estranged from his family, meets a beautiful young woman. They hit it off. They care about the same things and start working together.
He tells himself they’re just friends. Maybe the risk of romance excites him a little.
They find themselves alone a few times. Not wise, but nothing happens. He starts to tell her personal stuff. It’s a relief. She tells him personal stuff. Still nothing happens. On a busy day, they arrange to meet for a quick meal to discuss the work. They wind up working alone more often, grabbing more meals at out-of-the-way restaurants. It’s okay, though, he tells himself, because nothing happens.
Then one day it does.
And then one day his girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant. He can see his marriage falling apart. Maybe worse for him, he can see his political career ending a decade earlier than he’d planned. All that power, gone. That run for the Senate, gone. Sure, he may genuinely hate abortion, but he’s too weak to take the consequences. He tells himself he’s acting for the greater good. Or maybe he just changes his mind about abortion, because now, he tells himself, he knows sometimes it’s a necessity.
He gets away with it. Until the story appears on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Then he loses everything anyway. I and several million other people think, “What you deserved, pig.”
Which we shouldn’t. Few of us are very far from being Tim Murphy, or Karl Barth, or maybe even Harvey Weinstein. Weirdly, we get closer to being like them by telling ourselves we’re not like them. As the spiritual guide Philip Neri said, “Not feeling pity for other men’s falls is a good sign that we shall soon fall ourselves.” (See the sidebar for some more words from him.)
Without that pity, we think way too much of ourselves. Scripture warns us loud and clear what happens when we do. Proverbs explains that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” St. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth, “Let anyone who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” Jesus tells us not to be the Pharisee who prays, “I thank you, God, that I’m not like that horrible guy.”
You may not be tempted to adultery. You may not, let’s be honest, have the chance to be tempted to adultery. But you’re tempted to do something really wrong. There’s some serious sin you can fall into small step by small step. Stealing, slander, sloth, something. Protect yourself by refusing to see other men’s sins as a chance to feel superior. Pity them, remember that there but for the grace of God might go you, and pray for them.