Vulgarity and Vengeance

The story is familiar by now. Nine years ago, a young football coach at Penn State walked into the locker room and heard odd noises from the showers. He peeked in, and claims to have seen a young boy with his hands placed on the walls, and a retired coach, Jerry Sandusky, embracing him from behind.

He reported this to his superiors, and, after a perfunctory investigation, they let the matter drop. Other young men now claim that Sandusky recruited them through his charity, The Second Mile, and seduced them or pressured them into sexual activity.

Sandusky maintains that he is innocent. That seems implausible. Every time he opens his mouth, he comes across as all the more deviant, tangled in years and years of self-deceit and depravity. If he is guilty, as he appears to be, then he should spend a long time in prison.

But what puzzles me is not the factual dispute. It’s the reaction of the public in the comments appended to news articles on the scandal, which are unrelievedly vulgar, and express a gleeful delight in vengeance.

Some say that he deserves execution, others castration. Many look forward with satisfaction to the homosexual rape he will suffer in prison. For criminals, too, possess a code of good and evil, and though they may respect a killer, they despise people child abusers.

What’s the puzzle, you may ask? It’s manifold. First, what, according to contemporary mores, is wrong about male penetrating male? We are told that this is just another form of sexual release; we are even asked to celebrate it, with gaudy parades down Main Street, attended by children, who will be encouraged, if they are “questioning,” to try it out – protected, of course, by a latex sheath. 

But then, why the disgust with Sandusky, and why the sense that he would be justly punished by that same act? For the same people would not say, if he had kissed the boys, that the prisoners should make him suffer by kissing him in return. 

Nor do they concentrate upon the age difference. Indeed, that difference accentuates the evil, but doesn’t change the nature of the act, and it’s the act that they revile, with most disgusting physicality.

Yet in their vilification of Sandusky, there’s not a trace of self-awareness. It’s not only that they never stop to question their tolerance of homosexual activity in general. It’s that they don’t examine their own consciences.

They Brought the Children by Vasily Polenov, c. 1900

They’re blissfully free of sexual evil – because they happen not to be attracted sexually to children. They seem to understand that it is vile to corrupt the innocence of children. But if they reflected for a moment, they would see that we’ve been corrupting children for a couple of generations now.

The television that children watch is almost uniformly vicious. Drug stores are stocked with lewd and nasty magazines. Pornography on the computer is a click away. High schools peddle porno-twaddle in English classes, like Tony Kushner’s homosexual rant, Angels in America

Even toys for little girls instigate the itch of sexual desire. And it’s impossible to watch the good ol’ national pastime on television without seeing commercials for men who need the latest chemical winch. Where, then, is the loathing for all of that?

And then, what about the misery caused by sexual sins in general? Who are the Americans ready to stone Jerry Sandusky? We aren’t those Pharisees whom Jesus condemned as being whited sepulchers, clean on the outside but filled with filth and corruption within. 

Because we’re not even white on the outside. For that, one has to abide by the externals of a strict moral code, while harboring pride and other evils within the heart. But we combine the self-righteousness of Pharisees over one of the few moral laws we still recognize with a general squalor.

Which sexual sin, after all, hurts the most children? The still thankfully rare pederasty, or divorce?  Who is more reprehensible, a sick man who showers with a fatherless boy, or the selfish man who is responsible for his being fatherless in the first place? Who does more to poison relations between men and women, Sandusky in this corner, or the thousands of fornicators in that? 

Finally, I am struck by our obliviousness to the terrible mystery of sin. Because I know that without the grace of God I am utterly lost, I can look upon the most dreadful sinner with compassion. Jesus on the Cross did not say to the repentant thief, “It’s too late now, pal,” or “Just a few minutes ago you were joining in the mockery, and now you expect me to give you a second thought?” 

He who was sinless became sin for us. He plumbed that abyss; he descended into hell. Even before he walked the bitter way up to Calvary, Jesus had entered our misery. As the evangelist John says, Jesus did not need anyone to tell him about the human heart, because he knew what men are. 

But now that people have lost the sense of sin, when someone breaks one of the few moral laws they still recognize, they have no experience of contrition and penance. They don’t know the psalmist, “Out of the depths, O Lord, have I cried unto thee.” Their judgments are severe precisely in proportion to their ignorance of themselves.

They behold a man like Jerry Sandusky, and they don’t consider, even while they cry out for his punishment, that they are witnessing a drama wherein a human soul lies in the balance. They do not feel the hammers nailing Christ to the Cross, to show us what love is, and to portray forever the consequences of our wickedness. 

They laugh, but there is nothing to laugh at. That’s always the case with us sinners, isn’t it?  No doubt there was laughter among the Pharisees and the Sadducees beneath the cross. If they were united in nothing else, they could be united in that. 

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is Distinguished Professor at Thales College. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.