Thursday, July 12, 2007

Everybody is All a Vitter About Hypocrisy

Pastordan at Street Prophets talked about the theologically conservative Christian view of the Vitter scandal. A couple of folks I read a lot have chatted on the subject, and I thought y'all might like to hear what my ilk herd is saying. The first is Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost: "Larry Flynt vs. David Vitter: Examining the Difference Between Hypocrisy and Moral Inconsistency". A couple of points he made that I find interesting:

Indeed, the American Heritage Dictionary defines hypocrisy as "The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness." The British literary critic William Hazlitt once explained, “He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves”

By all appearances Sen. Vitter does indeed believe in such "family values" as marital fidelity. Where he has failed is in behaving in a way that comports with those values; a matter not of hypocrisy but of moral inconsistency. Such consistency is essential--particularly for democratically elected representatives--for establishing and maintaining trust. This is why private behavior has such public implications. The marital infidelity of a legislator, for example, is strong signal that they are untrustworthy: If a man cannot be trusted to keep a sacred vow to an intimate, how can I trust him to keep his word to me, a stranger?

What we desire in a representative is that they be a person of integrity--that their character be a morally consistent whole. A person who is free of contradictory ethical impulses and actions is likely to behave in a manner that is trustworthy. Even if we disagree with their views, we can deduce how they will act and make our judgments about them accordingly.

This is why both Vitter and Flynt agree about the significance of integrity. What separates the two men (besides the fact that Vitter is a man of weak character while Flynt is a despicable pervert) is where they put the emphasis on this trait.
I could post the whole post - but go read it; because the difference he posits between Flynt and Vitter is whether they believe there is anything objectively immoral, or whether all morality is subjective and internal.

The next guy to weigh in is Jeremy Pierce at Parableman with his take on the "Hypocrisy" in this story. There are not particular money quotes in the post, but it to is worthy of a read. He, in talking about moral inconsistency, pointed out a whole 'nother issue brought up by a third place I read: the conservative (ala the law) Volokh Conspiracy quoting Ann Althouse:
I hate seeing people publicly humiliated for the sexual things they do in private. But the government is criminally prosecuting a woman, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, for what it says was a prostitution ring. These are federal charges, and the senator, David Vitter, has some responsibility for the laws that make this prosecution possible.

Vitter situates his misdeed in the realm of religion and private morality: ... "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling... Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them...." ...

Palfrey can't say God has forgiven her and walk free. In fact, Vitter's statement hurts Palfrey because it strongly implies that Palfrey was doing what she's accused of. Vitter's confession -- intended to move us to mercy -- links him to criminal activity, but only she is facing criminal punishment.... It's not a matter to be resolved within the realm of church and family as long as Palfrey is being prosecuted.
Is there objective immorality, or are morals subjective and internal?

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly