The Deepest Wound

Everybody’s doing it

It was the year’s top entertainment. Throughout 1998, even as we complained about the overprevalence of sordid details, Americans doggedly followed the unfolding story of a President and a young, unmarried woman.

The whole affair revealed America’s new attitude toward adultery. We saw politicians, with one eye fixed on public opinion polls, wrestling with a fundamentally moral issue. The fiercest moral attacks came not against adultery, but against perceived hypocrisy. Adultery is “the forgivable sin,” one which, wrong as it is (the new story goes), “everyone” does. One official wondered, if marital fidelity were a new criterion for holding public office, whether anyone would qualify. “Let him without sin cast the first stone,” we heard.

Because the American people are steeped in sin, no stones were thrown. The public stands by the man they elected. A year-end CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll showed President Clinton to be the most-admired man in the country. It was only 1987 when Gary Hart’s adultery derailed his bid for the presidency. Today, it seems adultery carries not a shred of stigma.

America is suddenly okay with the fact that we are an adulterous nation. Statistics vary, but on average, studies indicate that around 50 percent of men and 30 percent of women have had extra-marital affairs. That is an incomprehensible mountain of tragedy people willingly overlook: Even if they don’t consider it a sin, anyone touched by adultery knows it is the devil. Marriage counselors and divorce-court judges are well-acquainted with the emotional wreckage these trysts produce. But like a downtrodden woman may tolerate and justify her husband’s drunken beatings, these same people accept adultery as a fact of life.

“But everybody’s doing it” is the argument. It is the dismissive, self-indulgent excuse used by men for crushing their wives emotionally. It is being used by a current generation of women, who are two to three times more likely than their mothers to betray their husbands. And it is the basis for coping with adultery, according to Peggy Vaughan, an adultery-recovery “expert.” “The unresolved pain from dealing with affairs is primarily due to the effects of seeing monogamy as the norm and affairs as a personal failure to fit this norm. As discussed earlier, the basis for this belief is a myth” (Vaughan, The Monogamy Myth). In other words, realize everybody’s doing it and your pain will go away.

In fact, the unresolved pain from dealing with affairs is primarily due to sin (Rom. 2:8-9). Our tolerance of adultery is a despicable symptom of our unrestrained self-absorption. And as is becoming increasingly evident, self-absorption leads, not to enlightenment, but depravity.

“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). What does it mean to be a slave of sin? How about 30 to 50 percent of all married people subjecting themselves to the pain and degradation of adultery and, rather than smarting from the burns and fleeing from it, becoming desensitized and tolerant?

Adultery perverts our thinking. It makes us like moths to flame. There is perversity in our enchantment with the glamorized view of adultery in our entertainment: one that plays up the allure, the thrill of forbidden, clandestine encounters, and glosses over or laughs at the resultant rationalization, self-deception, denial and deceit; the damage done to the mate, the children; the cynicism and hardness that scab over and scar the character of those involved.

Like all sin, adultery sears the conscience and pollutes judgment. Today, even when we recognize the evils of adultery enough to avoid it, we concoct “safe alternatives.” Phone sex. “Virtual affairs” with strangers via e-mail. A radio psychiatrist offered this advice to a man bored with his wife, considering an extra-marital affair: Fantasize about other women during sex. After all, everyone has such feelings, said the shrink. The key is to channel them: An affair might get complicated and messy, but what harm can your own thoughts do?

Yes, what harm?

What harm can there be in imagining you’re having an affair? In lying, to your own mind, about committing adultery? What harm can there be in wishing that your mate was a different person? In loving someone else more than you do her?

The fact is adultery will destroy your marriage! It will destroy your life—and everyone else’s. There is no ambiguity in the seventh commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” There is no ambiguity in Matthew 5:27-29. God condemns adultery absolutely because it destroys lives.

Marriage is sacred. God designed it to teach us how to love, to be selfless, loyal, faithful. Never have those lessons been more urgently needed than in modern America, in its chaotic exodus toward adolescent self-fulfillment.

If the radio shrink had an ounce of wisdom he would scold that man: Love your wife! Get your mind off other women and onto her. Remember not long ago when she was your fantasy!

There is nothing entertaining, nothing fulfilling—and certainly nothing worth defending—about dealing someone the deepest emotional wound, betraying the most intimate trust. The people who backwardly defend adultery by not condemning it, shamelessly and without hypocrisy, do not realize they’ve been whipped by it.