The Duggars have lost their TV show and generally fallen from grace because it was revealed that as a young teenager, Josh molested his younger sisters and never faced legal consequences. Stories have been circulating about his "porn addiction," and just recently his name turned up on the list of Ashley Madison accounts.
But what I wanted to write about was the reactions of many liberals to this scandal. Here is one from The Huffington Post that can stand for a whole genre:
But the Ashley Madison account? The affairs? The strippers? I only have one thing to say on that front -- Duh.Etc.
Of course he behaved that way. He was kept from a normal life, a normal childhood, a normal upbringing. He was raised to believe that the natural, healthy feelings he was having about sexuality were wrong. He was taught that there shouldn't even be any kissing until marriage. Are you kidding me? Think about that for a minute -- telling an adolescent that they are to bottle up all of their healthy, happy sexual feelings because they are "bad" and "wrong." It's sick. It's dangerous. And, obviously, it's escalating all around.
In fact, I believe it was that very upbringing that lead him to the criminal behavior with his sisters. He was taught that victims were to blame. He was taught that women were put on this earth to serve men. He was taught that life barely existed outside of the four walls of his family home. What on earth did we expect to happen?
This seems so obvious to many people that they don't even bother defending it. They just assert that fundamentalist beliefs lead to screwed-up sexuality. But do we know any such thing? I submit that we do not. I am not aware of any evidence showing that fundamentalists are more likely to molest children than secular people are. I have the same creeped out reaction to Gothard's cult that many other secular people feel, but our finding Gothard loathsome does not mean that his teachings lead to child abuse. Child abusers come from all cults, creeds, races, and classes. The one thing they have in common is that many of them were abused themselves.
And as for the Ashley Madison thing, does anybody want to argue that secular people don't have affairs?
People like our HuffPost author assume that to "bottle up" all of our sexual feelings is "sick" and "dangerous." What does she think of the Dalai Lama? Is he sick and dangerous? He is just one of thousands of priests, monks, and nuns who have led quite happy lives and done much good for the world. In fact, so far as we can measure these things, the happiest people in the world are Buddhist monks. I don't actually know very much about Buddhist monasteries, and I assume that they have the same sexual troubles as Christian monasteries; but just because some people fail at chastity doesn't mean that it isn't a good choice for others.
Does high school sex really make people happier and better adjusted? I don't see any evidence of that, either.
Human sexuality is so complex, and so diverse, that I am skeptical of all generalizations about it. As for the notion that casting aside Victorian ideas about sex would lead to a society free from neurosis, I think the history of America since 1960 pretty well disproves it. I think the assertion that Josh Duggar ended up a sexual creep because of what his parents teach is dubious in the extreme. How could we possibly know?
But what really moved to to write about this is the gloating. Every time some fundamentalist preacher falls, liberals set up a raucous cheer that has always bothered me. Why celebrate any man's humiliation? The liberal reaction has something to do with "hypocrisy." It is obnoxious, people say, to go around criticizing others for doing what you do yourself. I suppose it can be. But none of us can live up to our moral principles all of the time; the only way live without any hypocrisy would be to have no principles at all. I suppose having principles is different from preaching about them, but preachers of morals are important people in many human societies -- it is a job that many people want someone to do, and are in fact willing to pay generously to support. So someone will do it. And some of those preachers will in action fall well short of their words. It doesn't strike me as anything worth getting excited about. Nor it is it any kind of philosophical threat to the Christian worldview, which holds that all people are sinners, and all will at some point fail. The failure of any one person, or even all people, to live up to a moral code or any other standard is not in itself an attack on that code. There is nothing wrong with aspirations.
What I wonder is, why do secular people care so much? I don't. I have zero interest in what fundamentalists say about morality; it affects me not one bit. Obviously in our society there are contexts in which we have to negotiate our diverse views about sexuality, viz., sex education in public schools. But as the remarkable change in the acceptance of homosexuality shows, the rest of us are perfectly capable of getting on with life regardless of what the Baptist preachers say.
It seems to me that people who felt secure about their own ideas would not be so interested in what fundamentalists say. To care is to accord the preachers exactly the authority they crave, the authority to judge you. If you feel judged by fundamentalist preaching, perhaps you need to look carefully into your own heart and figure out why. Because lashing angrily back at them, and partying it up when one is revealed as a philanderer, is a strange way to stand up for secular values.
The only thing I feel about Josh Duggar's humiliation is sadness; sadness for the girls he molested, for all parents who have to confront such behavior from their children, for his wife, for his siblings who thought they were part of something positive and godly. There is nothing to celebrate here, and no grist for any kind of systematic attack on Christian morality or child-rearing. Bad things really do happen to good people. To believe that hypocrites deserve to be publicly humiliated, or that parents who teach abstinence deserve a child molester for a son, is exactly the sort of Old Testament morality that I want to get away from.