Why is any American shocked to learn that John Edwards committed adultery and lied about it? Do we not know our neighbors, friends, family? Adulterous promiscuity is one of America's favorite past times. Hot dogs, baseball, and promiscuity -- the American way.
The market responds accordingly. Every night, primetime television depicts non-marital sex as preferable to the beauty of a good marriage. According to a new report by the Parents Television Council, "across the broadcast networks, verbal references to non-marital sex outnumbered references to sex in the context of marriage by nearly 3-to-1; and scenes depicting or implying sex between non-married partners outnumbered scenes depicting or implying sex between married partners by a ratio of nearly 4-to-1."
Why are Americans glued to the TV whenever this salacious fare is broadcast? We cannot have it both ways. We cannot tolerate these dehumanizing entertainments, and reward the sponsors of these shows with our dollars, and then feign outrage when our leaders display this behavior in real life.
Advertising revenue and viewer ratings manifest the market's celebration of promiscuous, irresponsible non-marital sexuality by supporting programs that normalize the infidelity of John Edwards, Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Elliot Spitzer, and many others -- including our friends, family, and neighbors. Many Americans seem to think that what matters is not destroying your humanity through sexual immorality, wrecking a marriage, or emotionally scarring children, but getting caught doing so.
What televisions programs fail to depict, however, is the fact that in the real world promiscuous sexuality and adultery produces in the long run debilitating pain for all parties involved and is especially devastating to children whose parents cannot control themselves.
John Edwards perfectly describes the transition, saying that his growing fame and power, "fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism, that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want and you're invisible and there will be no consequences … and nothing could be further from the truth." This should serve as a warning to all of us.
The tempting combination of sex, money, and power is the deadly cocktail that entails potentially earth shattering consequences. There is an ancient proverb that reminds us, "your sins will find you out." It is a chilling fact that truth eventually exposes deception. It's simply how the world works.
When asked why he initially denied the allegations, Edwards commented that he "did not want the public to know what [he] had done." Why are commentators recoiling because Edwards lied about the affair? If a person commits adultery in the first place -- a massive betrayal of trust -- why would not the same kind of person lie about it in public?
What has been exposed, again, is that Americans do not value the necessary character formation concomitant with professional success. We do not demand it of our leaders because we do not demand it of ourselves. We are far more concerned about having the right ideology or professional achievements than about cultivating character and virtue. Leaders without character ultimately misuse economic, political, social relationships in ways that eventually hurt people.
In the decades to come, stories like this will be the American social narrative because Americans are not inculcating virtue in children. Are parents today raising children to be women and men of prudence, courage, justice, and self-control? Or are we raising the kinds of children who will be the self-focused, egotistic, and narcissistic, believe they are invincible and are morally accountable to no one? That is, "successful," but lacking integrity.
Today's American family, with its high rate of divorce, abuse, relational brokenness, poor media content preferences, success worship, and materialism, grooms children to become the type of adults who will one day be on television publicly admitting to impropriety. In America, we get the leaders we deserve because they represent what we the people truly value.
Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the Acton Institute and Assistant Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.