Republicans have been racing to decry Idaho senator Larry Craig as “disgusting,” “disgraceful” — the words chosen respectively by Mitt Romney and John McCain. In the competition to appear utterly pitiless, Romney pulled ahead fast. The Massachusetts Adonis himself seems perfect in every way, inhumanly so — except for precisely this same vaguely inhuman quality that, I predict, will prove to be the Achilles heel of Romney’s candidacy.
Though Craig had served as one of Romney’s chief cheerleaders in the Senate and co-chairman of his Idaho campaign, the candidate dropped him without giving the slightest hint of compassion or concern for the man, commenting “He’s no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine… I’m sorry to see that he has fallen short.” But wait, are there really grounds to feel compassion for Larry Craig, in this pathetic situation that he brought on himself and refuses to acknowledge?
I think so, and based on precisely the moral code that he evidently trampled on with that tapping foot, the code of the Ten Commandments.
Where in the Decalogue does it say it is a sin to conduct yourself in a disorderly fashion in the Minneapolis airport men’s room? What’s fascinating and important about the Ten Commandments is that, according to tradition, they summarize the totality of God’s law. Every moral truth expressed anywhere in the Bible is alluded to in some fashion by one of the Ten Commandments. In Craig’s case, the relevant legislation is the Seventh Commandment, against “adultery.”
I put adultery in quote marks because the Hebrew term that appears in the text, niuf, actually has a much wider range of meaning than the English word. It includes a variety of sexual sins including sleeping with your neighbor’s wife, certainly, but ranging from the less serious, premarital sex, up to far more egregious acts.
One of the classical commentators on the text, Saadia Gaon (882-942 C.E.), explained the common-sense criterion for determining the relative seriousness of each of these. It has to do with the ease or difficulty of making a forbidden sexual combination legitimate through a change of personal status. An unmarried heterosexual couple can easily make their union acceptable, by getting married. The union of Senator Craig and a guy in the next restroom stall can never be rendered fitting or appropriate.
But another critically important thing to realize about the Ten Commandments is that they are arranged on two tablets in order to juxtapose the Commandments on the first tablet with those on the second. A very old interpretive tradition, going back almost 2,000 years, intimates that the Commandments that line up horizontally, from tablet to tablet, bear a causal relationship to one another. That is, a society that ignores a particular commandment on the first tablet will likely fall afoul of the matching Commandment on the opposite tablet.
The Commandment on the first tablet matching the Seventh Commandment would be the Second Commandment, “You shall not recognize the gods of others in My presence…”
Again, the English translation is lacking. We think of the Second Commandment as forbidding idolatry, but the great medieval commentator Rashi explains that the Hebrew word conventionally translated as “gods” (elohim) really has a far broader meaning. It doesn’t merely denote the false deities of old — Zeus, Apollo, and the rest — but any source of authority (marut) other than God.
While the worship of statues depicting the ancient pagan pantheons is no longer a feature of modern life, the recognition of other sources of authority than God is, of course, pervasive. This is what secularism is all about, and many Republicans play their role in abetting it by fearing to make their arguments against Biblically forbidden institutions — gay marriage, abortion, etc. — in Biblical terms.
Almost as pervasive are the range of sexual perversities to which men (mostly) and women in our secularized society feel increasingly drawn, without the moral strength or character to resist their temptations. The Ten Commandments, a moral diagnostic tool of unequaled usefulness, inform us that a culture that embraces alternate sources of moral authority will naturally fall prey to perverse sexual temptations.
Larry Craig is only the latest and most prominent citizen to be toppled by this dynamic.
Was it hypocritical of him, as liberals are saying, to support a Federal Marriage Amendment or a similar constitutional amendment in Idaho, which respectively would bar the recognition of same-sex marriage at the federal level and in his home state? Hardly. If you were a man addicted to same-sex encounters, very likely a man who hates himself for his addiction, then shoring up traditional marriage precisely as a bulwark against your predilection makes all the sense in the world.
It is what the Ten Commandments would recommend. Far from demonstrating the bankruptcy of social conservatism, Craig’s story, correctly understood, makes clear how urgent the need is for a Biblically informed critique of our culture.
Now that Craig has been caught, he should resign from the Senate — and don’t worry, he will. But righteous indignation from the Right is a shallow response to his humiliation.
We’ll all forget about the Idaho senator, while the moral dynamic that caught him — like seaweed lurking to drown the unwary swimmer — will not go away. Far better to use the event as an occasion to bring to public awareness the costs of the secular culture that wraps itself around the souls of Republicans and Democrats alike.