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Friday, March 19, 2021

Apology vs Confession–The Art Of Getting Away With Murder

Apologies are the stock in trade of politicians and wayward husbands. A well-known televangelist went before his audience and said he was heartily sorry for his ‘lapse of judgment’.  He was tempted by a Jezebel, a wicked, soulless woman who had always intended to lure him away from his wife and his faith.  She was the sinner, not he.  She was the initiator of godless transgression and he only the poor, weak, victim.  “She is the one who should be cast out among vipers, consigned to hellfire and damnation, exiled from the community of Christ”.

Image result for images crying jimmy swaggart

The preacher apologized again and again for his ‘hiatus of virtue’ and promised his faithful to never again err or be led astray.

Of course he never admitted his very active role in the affair, his pursuit of the young woman who had come to him for solace and guidance, and his corruption of her morals, and only apologized.  Confession would have meant irretrievable loss of respect and authority.  He would make amends in private, pray to his personal savior, and even do something for the woman, but would never make a clean breast of his sinfulness.  

He would never acknowledge the painful desire that led him to sin or his adulterous passion; and while he might refer to or suggest personal reform, he would never go on record to that effect.  His religious authority and his standing in the community necessary for moral teaching could never be compromised.  Even if he had the slightest, most insignificant complicity in the affair, confessing it would lead to an erosion of the very integrity which allowed him to change others’ lives for the better.

Image result for imagfes jesus christ on the cross

There is a difference between apology and confession. One gets you off, the other puts you in jeopardy.  Why risk it?

There was once an influential Senator from a Southern state who had always run on a platform of moral propriety – ‘family values’ – and for two terms he had been reelected, beating back progressive young comers who preached relativism, inclusivity, and moral diversity.  Then, of a sudden, he was caught with one hand up a skirt and the other in the till – double indemnity for a politician who had run on rectitude and moral principles.

After huddling with his advisors, he admitted only the ‘appearance of impropriety’ (the $1.2 million in unaccounted for withdrawals from the state treasury) and his ‘lapse of judgment’ (alone in the Executive Chambers of the Statehouse with a young female reporter).  He admitted and confessed nothing.

In both the case of the televangelist and the politician, congregations and constituents forgot about the supposed transgressions because of appeals to a ‘higher good’.  Both men, it was felt, did far more good for their people than harm.  A small financial oversight or social indiscretion was neither high treason or dereliction of moral duty and should be forgiven and forgotten.

Both men easily weathered the storm.  The vindictiveness and rage of the MeToo movement was not enough to remove them from office; and they both were re-elected to second terms.  The people understood that human transgression is the norm, that forgiveness is part of both Christianity and democracy, and that good men should not be pilloried for such minor delinquencies.

Image result for image jesus christ forgiveness

Apology is the ethos, the meme, and the zeitgeist of our times. It is enough to apologize for something never confessed, to skirt the issue of ‘I did that’, and to move on.  Why bother with confession, admitting guilt and remorse, and willingness to assume the consequences? What would be the point?

On a more immediate and practical scale, an adulterous wife who had always made excuses for her absences, her ‘hiatuses’, and ill-explained fugues, was unexpectedly called on the carpet by her husband.  “I’m sorry”, she said, and promised to mend her ways, but she never confessed to her afternoon trysts at the Mayflower, affairs in Paris and Moroni, or dalliances here and there.  She simply apologized for not being a better, more attentive, more concerned wife.

She looked tearfully at her husband, and repeated, over and over again, “I am heartily sorry and I love you”.  The beans were not spilled and only oblique references to what might have happened were suggested.  He bought the apologies to preserve the notions he had of a faithful wife.   Had she confessed that she had slept with Ricardo from Facilities, Mamadou the Malian poet, or her husband’s cousin Bill from Mantoloking, there would have been no convenient moral exit.  She would have had to face her lies and deceit and accept the consequences. 

One would do well to respect Catholic teaching in this regard.  One confesses one’s sins because they are an affront to Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the forgiveness of all sins- a crucifixion necessary because of the collective enormity of sin.  The sins of the world are simply too many to forgive individually; so by this ultimate sacrifice, they are all forgiven.  However, each additional sin, representing as it does another nail in Jesus’ hands, must be confessed and atoned for.

Image result for imafes catholic confession

In other words confession, apology, and appeal for forgiveness are all in one.  There can be no prevarication, temporizing, or justification. It is the admission of guilt – a confession that one has offended God that is at the heart of Christianity.

Judaism and Islam both recognize the nature of sin and its offense against God; and both have their means of atonement.  The sinner must admit is wrongdoing, ask forgiveness from the one injured and from God Almighty, and promise never to commit such insult and injury again.

It is, therefore, a shock to the system to see so many people ignore the injunction and to so willfully and deliberately reject a fundamental religious and secular principle. 

The Anglo-Saxon system of jurisprudence based on innocence until proven guilty – a bedrock of liberal democracy – is inadvertently complicit in the erosion of truthful confession of wrongdoing.  The purpose of a trial is not to prove guilt or innocence, but to convince a jury one way or another.  

In other words, there is no such thing as truth, but only the appearance of it.  A defendant is not asked to confess his guilt but only to subject himself to the cross examination of others which will contribute to a conclusion of guilt or innocence.  “It’s not what you say”, says the Alonzo character in Training Day, “but what you can prove.” Truth, right, morality, are subject to inquiry. 

Spanish is particularly suited to the modern relativist zeitgeist.  “Se me cayó” – literally ‘it dropped to me’ – is a passive, reflexive form of the verb from which all responsibility is removed.  I was somehow involved in the dropping, the phrasing implies, but I did not do the dropping directly.  If there is no responsibility, there can be no guilt.

A toddler who was particularly proud of her bold red crayon markings scored on the face of a woman, said, despite the anger of her parents who saw a defacement, “I did that”.  Accountability encouraged by childlike pride,  but accountability nonetheless.  Pride of authorship but responsibility for actions.

The words, “I did that”, seem archaic, irrelevant.

The current ethos of inclusivity gives quarter to irresponsible difference.  The riotous, criminal, destructive acts of civic violence – if carried out in the name of inclusivity, say progressive supporters – can be condoned if not approved and promoted as legitimate means of expression.  Any damage to private or public property in the name of revindication of civil rights is, ipso facto, legitimized.

 “We'”, the oppressed but legitimate minority, are held to a different lower standard.  Individual responsibility is subsumed within a larger, more general, collective one; and as such it disappears.  Anything goes if it goes towards freedom.

Image result for images blm riots

Gone is any admission of individual responsibility. “I destroyed a small business and deprived its owner his livelihood….I burned private and public buildings for which individuals – my neighbors – will have to pay…I harassed government workers, inhibiting their access to places of work” but I had no accountability or responsibility for these actions, carried out as they were in the public interest.

When one willingly gives up one’s identity and personal integrity and whose actions are subsumed under a collective purpose, anything goes.  When race, gender, ethnicity become the touchstones for morality, then any action pursuant to these ends is acceptable. Judeo-Christian morality is put aside in the interest of progressive change.

The works of Faulkner, Percy, and Styron in particular frame this disconnect – the charge of responsibility within a larger, amoral or even immoral context. Joe Christmas can be forgiven his sins because of his moral, emotional, and social injury. Reverend Hightower, like his Salem predecessors can be given a pass thanks to the intemperate times of the post-bellum South.  Joe Christmas, Gail Hightower, Lena Towne, and  Byron Bunch are not held completely accountable for their sins because the South was sinful and Reconstruction even more so.

No one – not Faulkner’s heroes, nor the South’s innocent bystanders, nor flappers, nor the Negro poor – are exempt from the new order.  Fit, befitted, or begone.

Faulkner asks us not to forget race, but to array it as one of many influences on the likes of Christmas, Lena, Hightower or Thomas Sutpen; and to focus on morality – confession, admission, contrition, and rehabilitation.  Sadly few of Faulkner’s characters achieve redemption or salvation but suggest why  they have failed– an apocryphal, moral take or apologia about Southern lives.

Image result for Images Faulkner. Size: 153 x 204. Source: tvtropes.org

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