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Family Values and Glass Houses

Posted on May 23, 2010

A fall from grace of the sort experienced recently by Indiana’s Mark Souder typically brings smiles to the faces of liberals weary of moralistic religious types who preach one thing and do another.

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But I took no pleasure in Souder’s resignation from the U.S. House of Representatives last week after it was revealed that the conservative evangelical Republican had an affair with a part-time staff member. I always thought he was the real deal, both serious and thoughtful in his approach to religious and political questions. I disagreed with him on many things, but not on everything.

I wrote about Souder for the first time in 1998 because he and Rep. Chaka Fattah, a liberal Democrat from Philadelphia, had pushed through legislation to help students from high-poverty schools go to college. I liked their forging a left-right alliance in a good cause at a moment when the nation was torn by the battle over Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Souder said at the time: “Christ is concerned about the needy and the hungry and the powerless and the hurting.” Good for him, I thought.

A few years later, I asked Souder to appear at an event with former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo where both reflected on the role of faith in their public lives. Their thoughts were later included in a book, along with the responses of others. “To ask me to check my Christian beliefs at the public door is to ask me to expel the Holy Spirit from my life when I serve as a congressman, and that I will not do,” Souder said. “Either I am a Christian or I am not.”

So I do hope that Souder finds a way to work out his redemption. But it is precisely because this story hit me personally that I want to shout as forcefully as I can to my conservative Christian friends: Enough!


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Enough with dividing the world between moral, family-loving Christians on the one side and supposedly permissive, corrupt, family-destroying secularists on the other.

Enough with pretending that personal virtue is connected with political creeds. Enough with condemning your adversaries, sometimes viciously, and then insisting upon understanding after the failures of someone on your own side become known to the world. And enough with claiming that support for gay rights and gay marriage is synonymous with opposition to family values and sexual responsibility. 

It’s not the self-righteousness of religious conservatives that bothers me most. We liberals can be pretty self-righteous, too. It’s the refusal to acknowledge that the pressures endangering the family do not come from some dark secular leftist conspiracy but from cultural and economic forces that affect us all. People are encouraged to put all sorts of things (career advancement, wealth, fame, the accumulation of things, various forms of self-indulgence) ahead of being good parents and spouses. Our workplaces are not as family-friendly as they could be.

Why does it even have to be said that a devotion to family has nothing to do with ideology? In my very liberal Maryland neighborhood—my precinct voted 80 percent for Barack Obama—parents crowd school meetings, flock to their kids’ sporting events, help them with homework and teach them right from wrong on the basis of values that I doubt differ all that much from those prevailing in more conservative environs. And while a lot of my neighbors are active in their religious congregations, the secular parents take their family responsibilities as seriously as the believers do.

And those of us who are liberal would insist that our support for the rights of gays and lesbians grows from our sense of what family values demand. How can being pro-family possibly mean holding in contempt our homosexual relatives, neighbors and friends? How much sense does it make to preach fidelity and commitment and then deny marriage to those whose sexual orientation is different from our own? Rights for gays and lesbians don’t wreck heterosexual families. Heterosexuals are doing a fine job of this on their own.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a Scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines. How many more scandals will it take for people who call themselves Christian to rediscover the virtues of humility and solidarity?

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By Inherit The Wind, May 25, 2010 at 8:43 am Link to this comment

I STRONGLY disagree.
I think morality is facing a situation honestly.  Immoral acts are inevitably dishonest acts.
If you are alone your dishonest acts will kill you because you won’t survive.  Thieves PRETEND they have a right to your money and stuff and work out elaborate justifications for that.  On that deserted island, those justifications mean nothing.

I like the analogy of “Do unto others” by a masochist.

Reminds me of the old joke:
Masochist: Beat me!
Sadist: No…

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By Maani, May 25, 2010 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

Capt Ron (May 25; 2:23a):

There is an old (but true) cliche that “Religion is about laws, rules, and behavior; faith is about a relationship with God.”  In that respect, I agree with your post because I, too, find “religion” to be “intrusive,” whether societally or politically; i.e., it is only when a person of faith seeks to impose the “religious” principles of their faith on others that things go wrong.  Bravo to you.


Nihilism is not the only “problem” with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” - or almost any similar phrase.  How would this apply to a masochist?  If a masochist did unto others as s/he would have others do unto him/her), it would not work out so well, would it?  I’m not trying to be facetious here; if nihilism is somehow “antithetical” to the Golden Rule, so is masochism.  Thus, we now have TWO problems even with the most “basic” “moral” rule.


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By Shenonymous, May 25, 2010 at 4:28 am Link to this comment

Yikes, what’s with the question marks? hahaha I’ve got to be
going, itsa work day.
See ya later, gater.
Havana nice day.

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By Shenonymous, May 25, 2010 at 4:24 am Link to this comment

Dang, I meant:
If one was immoral against ?oneself then one could
just slap the shit out of oneself.

And these personal image pictures just ruins how things show up if
you forget to put hard returns in at the end of each line!  Crap.
Maybe I ought to just rewrite the whole bloody thing.

ITW - If one was alone on an island, one would not need morality
?as there is no one there to be immoral against.  If one was immoral
against ?oneself then one could just slap the shit out of oneself.  One
only needs ?morality within the context of a society. Morality has only to
do with how ?people behaves toward each other.

I still prefer the positive obligatory Golden Rule. But I am the more ?
positive cynical skeptic.

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By Shenonymous, May 25, 2010 at 4:18 am Link to this comment

ITW - If one was alone on an island, one would not need morality
as there is no one there to be immoral against.  If one was moral against
oneself then one could just slap the shit out of oneself.  One only needs
morality within the context of a society. Morality has only to do with how
people behaves toward each other.

I still prefer the positive obligatory Golden Rule. But I am the more
positive cynical skeptic.

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By Inherit The Wind, May 25, 2010 at 4:03 am Link to this comment


Positive, negative:

Keep every promise you make to your children.

(Therefore don’t make promises you cannot keep).

The golden rule is far better expressed as a negative.  I find “do unto others…” to be far more of a slippery slope than “Do NOT unto others as you would NOT have them do unto you.”

The latter is a far better definition of morality: Don’t do things to other people you don’t want them doing to you.

There’s two flavors of morality:
1) How you deal with others.
2) How you face the real world.  Ayn Rand (yes, that Ayn Rand) had a valid thought experiment when she said if you are alone on a deserted island, THAT is when you need your morality most, and it will be tested by whether you live and thrive, or die.  In the midst of much of her mishegoss, it was a surprisingly insightful thought.  You can’t rely on others. You can’t rely on the state.  You can’t whine that the rich and powerful are putting you down. You can’t abdicate your reason and logic if you want to live. You must face what is and is not available and figure out how to survive.  Your “opinion” and POV is meaningless.

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By Shenonymous, May 25, 2010 at 1:22 am Link to this comment

ITW said -
“By Inherit The Wind, May 25 at 12:13 am #
Shenonymous, May 24 at 10:23 pm #
yeah but name one universal moral.
Don’t break promises to your children.”

I like that but too easy to take out of the realm of the universal by not
making any, not any, promises to your children.  I know lots of people
who never make promises to their children, not even to take care of
them.  Immoral I think, but apparently they don’t. 

And I mean how many people do you think actually follow it.  Isn’t a
universal moral one that everyone agrees to and follows?  I don’t think
it is a universal moral though, it is sort of Child Psychologyish but I
agree it is a moral lesson.  But what is the morality in it?  How shall it
be stated?  What is the good in not making promises to children that
cannot be kept?  Do you think it is too obvious?  If so, then why isn’t it
generally the rule?

Remembering the Golden Rule is the best.  But why is it moral?  Extract
the morality from it. 

You know, just as Richard Dawkins has atheistic slogans printed on
busses, why not print the Golden Rule on busses?  Do you think it
would do any good?  Do you think it did Dawkins any good?  How
about others?  Those who read the signage?  A good project might be
to think of many different ways to say the Golden Rule and have them
printed on a variety of busses.  Have a contest on how many ways it
can be said.  Print it on restaurant napkins or how about the tops of
shoes, then the wearer can see it as they walk!  Print it at the bottom of
every email, or at the bottom of every post one makes on Truthdig! 
Hey I am with this Golden Rule thing.  Okay let’s go!  Actually the
Golden Rule is an ethical code that states one has a right to just
treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. It is also
called the ethic of reciprocity.
ITW, you put yours in the negative, that is one way.  This is
Do unto others only what you would want others to do unto to
  Oh my god, that sounds so Biblical. (Matthew 7:12, Matthew
22:39, Luke 6:31)

There is an essential difference between putting it in the positive and
putting it in the negative The negative form, also known as the “Silver
Rule,” does not oblige one to act in any positive way, but rather
controls one’s behavior with regard to acts in which is considered
harmful.  The positive form, however, obliges one to explicitly act
towards others as one would like to be treated.  Now that rule, whether
positively or negatively put, seems as if it had been developed to
enhance survival, therefore could it be elevated to the universal level?

Well that is my contribution to the discussion. I learned it as a kid and
have always followed it.  By the way, I never ever spanked my kids and
they turned out, so far, to be very moral people.  Moral, that is,
meaning whatever our society thinks it is.  Yeah, morality does not
belong to the single province of religion.  Atheists, all the ones I know,
are moral people.  My measure of course.

Here is the thing, if just one universal moral is accepted, just one, then
nihilism goes down the proverbial toilet.

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By CaptRon, May 24, 2010 at 10:23 pm Link to this comment

Remove religion and language of religion from Government. In God We Trust can be a slogan at your place of worship, but that is where it should remain. Have the right to freedom of religion or practice of religion as long as it doesn’t enter into control of government. Replace religion with humanity and practice of humanity and don’t bring talk of your religion in practice of humanity. Just do it, be human and respect that in others. Religion is subject to intense speculation and blame. I don’t care if you are even true to your religion, that’s on you. I do care how you treat people and things that matter. If religion matters to you, great, then live and practice it with others of your places of worship as long as it doesn’t interfere with everyday life of those who practice humanity. I won’t cast stones at your glass house. If you choose to cheat your religious beliefs with your people and places of worship or your wife or girlfriend or children. That’s on you. Religion is at the base of many political situations and have been throughout history. Seems crimes against humanity are easily able to be prosecuted where crimes in defiance of religious principal are discriminatory. People like Souder fall back on their religion when they get caught and then use it for the sympathy while continually serving moral judgement on others. Keep your religion Mr. Souder and I hope your family judges you for your humanity failures. Keep the faith, you could always claim to be gay if things don’t work out for you.

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By Maani, May 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm Link to this comment

ITW (5/24; 1:07) and Tobysgirl (5/24; 3:42):

Amen (LOL) to both of your posts!

Shenonymous (5/24; 4:48): Superb point.  Ultimately, for better or worse, morals are relative.  And although Anarcissie makes a good point about nihilism, one does not even have to go that far to agree with your (partly unspoken) point.  And you are almost unquestionably correct that any serious discussion on what “being” moral is would prove to be futile, if one is hoping to come to any consensus, much less broad agreement.


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By Inherit The Wind, May 24, 2010 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous, May 24 at 10:23 pm #

yeah but name one universal moral.

Don’t break promises to your children.

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By Shenonymous, May 24, 2010 at 6:23 pm Link to this comment

yeah but name one universal moral.

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By Anarcissie, May 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment

Well, first you have to confront and deal with nihilism—the proposition that there are no universal moral values.

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By Fat Freddy, May 24, 2010 at 5:25 pm Link to this comment


There is no logic or reasoning when it comes to discussing morals, not even in the Ayn Rand Cult

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By Shenonymous, May 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm Link to this comment

As a phrase, moral values does not refer to anything concrete.  The
term is a hypothetical construct, a catchy phrase that the Republican
Party caught onto and like a slogan wears it as a tattoo on their
foreheads.  The ironic problem is that so many of their public figures
have been caught inflagrante delecto.  For there are as many sets of
moral values as there are people. Protocols for one’s own person or
one’s children are by choice and if a comparison is made, they would
be seen to be unique even though there might be some overlap.
Religious commandments to adhere to certain morals have proven over
the millennia to be impotent.  The Democrats are klutzes and don’t
know how to turn such sloganisms back on the Republicans.  The
public is now conditioned to the soundbite length of attention and
zingers need to be created to catch their attention.  Once the ears perk
up then real messages can be transmitted.

Democrats are also caught in immoral behaviors so it won’t do for them
to be sanctimonious about morals.  In order for this country to be even
basically moral in its behaviors are for morals to be defined.  They are
not at the moment.  They are as ethereal as is the air, hot air.  With the
variety of ethnicities and ethnic values mixed like vegetable soup no
one has any allegiance to morals as they are superficially talked about. 
Although women must take stock of their set of morals and define what
it is they would abide in the home and in the workplace, it is crucial for
men to start a dialogue as to what exactly does it mean to be a moral
man, not what it is ‘like’ to be moral, but to ‘be’ moral. 

I dare the readers here that that kind of dialogue be started right here
on Truthdig, right now.  Who will be brave enough to start it?  I will
wager that there will be no one, because once stated, a moral will have
to fit the person stating it and they will have to live it themselves and
that is where the first retreat begins.

Now a dialogue means having a discussion about the relative merits of
a suggested moral.

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By Tobysgirl, May 24, 2010 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

I have not noticed that most Christians have any interest in Jesus’ words. Followers of Constantine, they feel that Jesus’ life was all about his death; as Bruce Bauer puts it, Jesus hung around for 33 years just waiting to be killed. These Christians worship a God who practices human sacrifice, which sacrifice they believe will save them from damnation.

Jesus said a lot of things, and I’ve yet to meet a Christian who will respond to what Jesus had to say about missionary work:

Matthew 23:15
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Regarding the hypocrisy of righteous moralists, if one knows anything about the use of sexual repression as a tool of hierarchical culture, it all makes sense. Authoritarianism needs people who want to deny human sexuality, but we all know it is quite undeniable. When people are fettered with religious nonsense—rather than religion being a path to greater awareness and compassion—they are going to betray their own stated principles. At least this fellow did it with an adult!

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By gerard, May 24, 2010 at 11:14 am Link to this comment

In my head I try to “cope” with some fundamentalist relatives.  It’s the self-righteousness, the better-than-others attitude that gets me down.  It seems to go with fundamentalisms of all types, whether religious or political.  The “right” wing is not called “right” for nothing!  They think they are, whereas we jelly-bellies out here on the left move over and make room for all kinds of reprobate humans both inside and outside the law.  That really irks rightists.  They don’t want “sinners” in their tent.
And the world is full of sinners, many of whom think they are absolutely right.  What a muddle!

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By Night-Gaunt, May 24, 2010 at 10:49 am Link to this comment

A very good article by Mr. Dionne on a delicate subject too full of black vs white incendiary rhetoric. I wish the Reich wing would come down off their high falutin horses and be closer to real humans on that. Interestingly if they got their theocracy then their members wouldn’t be just humiliated but put to death or hard labor by their own strict creeds. Ones they would like to have enforced with plenary powers of the state. I hope they never get that chance.

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By wildflower, May 24, 2010 at 9:50 am Link to this comment

Re Dionne: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” It’s a Scriptural passage that no doubt appeals to Mark Souder. But it would be lovely if conservative Christians remembered Jesus’ words not only when needing a lifeline but also when they are tempted to give speeches or send out mailers excoriating
their political foes as permissive anti-family libertines.

Yes, it appears the devil often wins when it comes to this “stone casting” business.  I guess the temptation “to judge” is just to great of a hurdle for some these groups. I’ve also noted that many of these “conservative Christian” groups are not very supportive of some of the other Christian basics like feeding the poor, attending to the sick, and protecting the environment.

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By Inherit The Wind, May 24, 2010 at 9:07 am Link to this comment

The implication from the Right that without a religious foundation you can’t teach your children right from wrong is absurd.  And insulting.

Children learn morality at the most granular level: How do YOU treat them, your spouse, your adult relatives, your friends, your colleagues and total strangers?  That’s what they see, that’s what they learn.

Here’s a simple moral lesson from an unGodly Agnostic:
NEVER, EVER break a promise you make to your child.  How is this POSSIBLE?  Never make a promise to them you cannot be absolutely certain you can keep—and do ANYTHING to keep it. In a life where we seem to believe there are no absolutes and where we all are imperfect, that’s a do-able absolute:

If you promise it, make it happen or die trying.

If you cannot make it happen, don’t promise it.


So, if I’m not 100% certain I can make something happen, I’ll say I cannot promise it.  And if I promise something (and I very rarely do) my kids KNOW it will come true—whether it’s their own pony (no, we don’t have a pony) or a punishment.

My kids have learned that promises are meaningful.  When a boy in my older kid’s school got expelled for something pretty bad, my kid, who was friendly with him, stepped up to ask what would happen to him and if he was going to be OK.  He didn’t defend or excuse the other boy’s actions, but he stood up to be counted as this poor, mixed-up kid’s only friend.  He’s braver than I was at his age.

Morality at the day-to-day, home-to-school/work place has NOTHING to do with religion or faith. It’s about simply doing what is right.  And across many religions they say as scripture…“Don’t do something to someone else that you don’t want them to do to you.”  And they call this “The Golden Rule”.

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By john, May 24, 2010 at 8:32 am Link to this comment
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keep your eye on the newt scripture.

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By Reverend Unruh, May 24, 2010 at 7:58 am Link to this comment
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Well I think Souder does deserve scorn. Not for his sex life, I could care less about
that, but for his part in the drug war.

Since he fell flat on his own personal sexual abstinence program after making
such a big fat deal out of that, I wonder if his resignation is drug related rather
than a sexual issue.

In other words, I think he is ducking for cover and clever reporters would be
wondering about what he is avoiding and/or covering up. Could it be he was
seduced by a white powder? I heard it appeals to people who like power, but my
observation is it just makes people mean.

Eric Clapton-Cocaine

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By Fat Freddy, May 24, 2010 at 6:57 am Link to this comment

Is that liberal Maryland neighborhood anywhere near Berwyn Heights? How is Mayor Calvo doing?

Liberal government at work, protecting our children from the evils of drugs. Tell me, who is going to protect us, and our pets, from the government?

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By SoTexGuy, May 24, 2010 at 2:56 am Link to this comment

Souder doesn’t deserve scorn.. but it seems that to some extent he was playing a role, taking advantage of people’s beliefs. He got caught.

The only reason I can see for him not to resign would be for his constituents to have a chance to give their opinion at the polls. Does he keep his Congressional pension and perks now? My guess is he does.

The author (many of whose articles I enjoy) seems to be playing the classic politician here.. Souder helped with one thing or another or made one or more favorable action so therefore his failings are not important. But what about to the people who elected him to represent them and their ideas and agenda. Including his public stance on morality and fidelity and family?

How does the song go? “you gotta stand for something or you’ll fall for everything”. So while I do see much of the emphasis placed by many on the right on so-called moral issues as a distraction to real reform and informed debate.. nonetheless if they are the real deal I can respect them for it.

It’s the posers and players (on either side of the aisle) that really get under my skin.


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