There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky is guilty, the real question is why? Why is it that we, here and now, would send a man to prison for molesting boys? Why is the public reaction one of both deep disgust and quite visceral anger? Just canvass a few opinions about what people would like to be done to punish Sandusky if they were the judge.
But why? What is the cause of this deep disgust? This seething anger?
There is only one cause: Christianity. We still have minds, consciences, and hearts, and hence a legal system, historically formed by Christian moral principles. There is no other reason. Allow me to explain, beginning first with the “that” of his guilt.
Jerry Sandusky has been declared guilty of 45 of 48 counts of child sexual molestation. The coaching hero of Penn State used his status to draw in young boys through his Second Mile charity, “a statewide, nonprofit organization for children who need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact” (so the website maintains). The “positive human contact” Sandusky had in mind occurred in locker rooms, motel rooms, his basement, and who knows where else. He molested (at least) one of his adopted sons.
This is 2012. Turn the historical clock back 2000 years, and find yourself in the pagan Roman Empire before Christianity arose, i.e., before the Christianization of the West. In Rome, as in ancient Greece, homosexuality was completely acceptable. To be more exact, homosexual activity was frowned on (but not very diligently) when it occurred between two free-born men, but it was cheerfully affirmed between a master and his slave, and even more, a man and a boy between the ripe ages of about 12 to 17—just the target age of Sandusky. The man generally presented himself as a kindly benefactor to the boy, taking him under his wing, so to speak, and (in return for sexual favors) helping him up the social ladder. Just like Sandusky.
If Sandusky would have lived 2000 years ago, he would not have been found guilty of anything. He would not even have been noticed. His actions would have been entirely unremarkable. There would have been no disgust, no anger. The verdict would have been innocent, and in fact, the notion that he was guilty of anything would have been unintelligible.
There is one and only one reason, 2000 years later, that Sandusky is guilty now. Unlike everyone else around them, Judaism rejected homosexuality, including man-boy sex. Christianity came from Judaism, and carried that moral rejection forth amidst the pagan Roman Empire, the Greek East, and everywhere else its missionaries roamed in search of converts. Today, there are about 13.5 million Jews, but over 2 billion Christians. Christians are demographically responsible for carrying forth the Judeo-Christian moral view, and with it, the moral disgust and anger—and guilty verdict—at what Sandusky did.
That is the why of Sandusky’s guilt. Our consciences, our minds, our hearts, our legal system in America have been formed by Christian moral teaching about sexuality. Subtract Christianity from history, and we would be back in Rome. In pagan Rome, Sandusky would be innocent.
To make the point even more pointed, no other attempted modern substitute for Christianity could find Sandusky guilty without surreptitiously borrowing from Christianity.
Thomas Hobbes’s invention of modern natural rights, set forth in the mid-17th century, declared that by nature there was no right and wrong, just or unjust; all moral and hence legal rules were artificial.
Utilitarianism declares that morality must be reduced to what provides the greatest pleasure for the greatest number—not exactly a strong defense against pedophilia.
Darwinian evolutionary ethics doesn’t distinguish between right and wrong; notions of right and wrong are simply effects of ingrained responses that are somehow calibrated to the survival of a particular human population. As long as that population continues to breed successfully, particular sexual actions are not “condemned” by natural selection.
Democracy itself can’t rescue us. The notion that the majority determines the moral outlines of the legal system doesn’t help much, given that the majority of Greeks and Romans affirmed Sandusky-like behavior, and since we ourselves are in a period of secularization with the Christian moral hold on society becoming ever-weaker, it is unclear how long our majority will continue to feel either anger or disgust. Many things used to fill us with moral disgust—e.g., abortion—which we now regard with a live-and-let-live attitude, or even affirm as a right.
Freud thought that the desire for incest was natural, so there’s little help there either. Contemporary psychologists following Freud, don’t talk about something being wrong, but about the ill-effects of repressed desires. Sandusky’s defense was toying with the possibility of getting him declared not guilty through claiming he had a mental disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder.
Even the stern philosopher Kant would be of no service. He tried to root morality in the so-called categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Here’s the problem: if I’m an ancient Greek or Roman, I want everyone to affirm pedophilia. I want it to be universally accepted. A modern pedophiliac wants the same thing—just ask the North American Man-Boy Love Association.
So we’re back to—or backed into—the conclusion that the only reason Sandusky is guilty, the reason we feel anger and disgust, is the historical influence of Christianity in forming our consciences, our minds, our passions, our laws. Christianity is “guilty,” we might say, of finding Sandusky guilty.
But again, here’s the problem. Our society is being successively and successfully de-Christianized. The moral formation is wearing off rapidly. Now that we’ve answered the why of Sandusky’s guilt, we’ve got one more question to ask: How long will we continue to feel guilty?
Here’s the solution. We must recognize that Christianity was and is right. There is something fundamentally, morally disgusting about a man who would sexually molest boys, whether anyone happens to feel moral outrage or not. It is not just disgusting, but evil, wherever and whenever it occurs. It was evil in Greece, whatever the Greeks felt about it. It was evil in Rome, whatever the Romans believed. It was evil when Catholic priests did it, who had every reason to know it was evil.
And it was evil for Sandusky. Christianity is right. Sandusky is guilty.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!