Frum's Moral Calculus - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Frum’s Moral Calculus

I’m getting to this late by blog standards, but in the wake of the Ted Haggard uproar, David Frum offered the following thought experiment in arguing in favor of hypocrisy:

Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse.

One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives.

The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution.

Which man is leading the more moral life? It seems to me that the answer is the first one. Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue – or at least as a mitigation of his offense?

Read Frum’s entire post, and you will notice that he misses a key factor in assessing the relative morality of the two hypothetical men: What about the wife and kids? Even if Frum considers homosexuality and drug use immoral, how can he argue that engaging in both behaviors openly is worse than betraying your wife and causing pain to her and your children? Personally, I view adultery as the worst non-violent act that a person can commit, and I don’t view homosexuality as immoral, so it’s a no-brainer for me. But even if Frum has different thoughts on the hierarchy of immorality, how could adultery not even factor into his crude moral calculus?

Moving on from the moral issue, there’s the practical issue. Frum argues that publicly “encourag[ing] people to lead stable lives” should be seen as a mitigating factor when considering the morality of the hypocrite. However, when a public figure like Haggard turns out to be railing against homosexuality in public and engaging in it in private, it just makes people more cynical about preachers in general by confirming long-held notions that they don’t “practice what they preach,” thus making it even more difficult to convince the unconverted.

Hat tip Hit and Run, where Jacob Sullum makes some strong points.

Meanwhile, Haggard’s wife Gayle has written a poignant letter standing by her husband. (Via The Corner).

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