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Splinters and Beams 

The ravine of Hollywood has heaved up its gorge, and the sewers draining into the Potomac have backed up. One star of mass entertainment and mass politics after another has been exposed as lewd and aggressive with the hands, and worse. People have resigned in disgrace, including the obnoxious film producer and hater of the Church, Harvey Weinstein.

An acquaintance of mine, no lover of Weinstein or any of the other nimble pigs, says we are dwelling in the middle of a Hawthorne tale. I agree. We’re not witnessing repentance and a return to sanity in sexual mores. We’re not awakening to the beauty of the sexes and the sweetness of purity. We are witnessing yet another efflorescence of the evil of a culture that raises envy to a virtue, because we are so barren of real achievements.

Pride is the vice of the strong, envy the vice of the weak. The proud man wants everyone to look at him; the envious man cannot help but look at everybody else. The proud man is great in his own eyes; the envious man squints and makes everybody else look small. The proud man can sometimes be generous, he can be prodigal, he can enjoy the magnanimity of praising those beneath him; the envious man is prone to parsimony and depreciation.

The proud man can hardly be moved to confess his sin; the envious, to concede his neighbor’s virtue.

“Virtue-signaling” is envy with pink icing. Consider the back of a car covered with bumper stickers, spurts of visual noise intended to show you how unenlightened you are as you’re minding your business on the highway. The slogans substitute for thought, and the sloganeer passes without argument, because usually there’s no argument to be had.

A college professor who puts up a “Safe Space” sign on his office door wants to be seen as wise and good, without doing anything to merit it, and without having to defend the position that underlies the message: “I am wise, and I accept all gender identities,” or “I’m good and sensitive, and hate what the best people hate.”

The sign comforts no one. Jesus says that when we give alms, we are not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. The sideways-glancing man of envy doesn’t give alms, and leers at your hands to see what they are up to – something bad, no doubt.

That this should be happening in Hollywood and Washington is wonderfully ironic. The one is the great corrupter of minds, manners, and morals, and the other is Hollywood.

But I am wary. 
I believe what my father and mother taught me, that an honorable man does not raise his hand in anger against a woman, and that implies a veto against things much worse.


Yet when it comes to specifically sexual sins, what some of the butchered pigs have done is rather tame. It’s as if we had concentrated upon one kind of sin – I am not talking about rape – all the shame that should greet a whole field of sins, most of them worse than the one we condemn.

Of course we know which sins are worst, and this is true of everybody, especially the envious. The worst are those that Other People commit. Splinter, meet plank. The fornicator glares at the sodomite and says, “What we do is natural.” The sodomite glares back and says, “We aren’t putting a child at risk.” The assaulter says, “I didn’t actually engage in sexual intercourse.” The adulterer says, “We acted with mutual consent.”

A woman who leaves her husband and three children for another man sniffs at someone addicted to pornography. She was in love. The porn addict who stares at other people’s daughters can’t bear the stink of his neighbor who stares at other people’s sons.

It’s always easy to find some respect in which My Sins are not so serious as Other People’s, and I can even cast My Sins as forgivable, maybe virtuous; at least, you’d have to understand the situation to judge My Sins aright, whereas the Sins of Other People – well!

Love, let us be true to one another. I’ve met a faithful Catholic woman with many children; her husband abandoned them. What he did will hurt far more people, and more deeply and permanently, than any indecent behavior ever did. Which would you prefer, that your father had been too free with his hands around the secretaries, but remained true to your mother, or that he had been feminist in his digits but false to his vow of permanence?

Divorce is a scourge. Is fornication not also? Whence come most of the million children aborted every year in the United States? A cabbage patch? And how did we arrive where we are now, when college students believe that sexual intercourse without love is right, because love gets in your way as you climb the greased pole of ambition?

When everybody in the sewer holds his nose and points at everybody else, who will dare say that perhaps we shouldn’t be living in a sewer at all? Where among all of us flagrant sinners is there a trace of shame? Why do we suppose our sins smell like roses in the nostrils of the Almighty?

“Physician, heal thyself,” someone will say. I cannot. My sins are before my eyes, and I need not enumerate them here. Jesus tells us that when we have done all we can, we should say we are but unprofitable servants. That’s me.

Let’s all say it at once. We are a great bunch, we are. Lepers, epileptics, amputees; people hobbling from the gout; bad stomachs and worse breath; the half blind and half deaf; a hip eaten with cancer; scalps rife with lice and scabs; yet the Lord loves us.

We have no cause to envy, and none to boast, unless we boast of the Lord.


**Image: Christ and the Penitent Sinners by Gerard Seghers, c. 1640 [Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam]

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 a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.