The cross- the- political- spectrum attacks on Elliot Spitzer and demands that he resign his office show just how far the combination of right-wing sexual moralism and counter-cultural sexual-correctness have been able to trump any other kind of ethical reasoning in American society.
Going to a prostitute is legal in some states and some countries around the world, and is often the very arrangement that saves families whose sexual energies have dried up but whose love is intact from splitting up. Nevertheless, I and many others in the religious and spiritual world oppose that practice because it depends on the objectification of another human being. The Bible’s injunction "thou shalt not lie with an animal" was read by my teacher Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi to mean "do not have sex with someone only on the animal plane of existence without recognizing the other in a deep way as a fellow human being created in the image of God."
Moreover, the trade in women for sexual purposes has frequently led to rape and abuse and the kidnapping of young women who are sold into sexual slavery. All of this outrageous practice is abhorrent and should be challenged. The flaunting of sexuality in the media, and the implicit message that the only real satisfaction comes from having the most physically attractive people as sexual partners, not only generates huge dissatisfaction even as it allows corporate advertisers to become predators manipulating our personal sense of inadequacy to sell their products, but also generates desires that feed the sexual trade in women. Given this larger social context, until sexual satisfaction is so broadly available in our society that no one has to pay for it and so deeply tied to love that no one is objectified in the process, this kind of exploitation of women and degradation of sex is likely to continue. All of these practices foster the sexual predators of the contemporary world.
So Elliot Spitzer ought to be ashamed of himself, and deserves to be critiqued. His previous moral arrogance makes him an easy target.
But the intensity of the critique, tied with the demand that he resign, shows more about American society’s ethical perversity than about Spitzer.
The president of the United States and the vice president, working in concert with several other high-ranking officers of our government, lied and distorted the truth to get us involved in a war that has led to the death of more than a million Iraqis, the displacement of 3 million more, the death of 4,000 Americans, and the wounding of tens of thousands more. After token opposition in Congress, our elected representatives have overwhelmingly passed budgets funding this war, rather than refusing to fund any military projects until the president stopped the war and withdrew the troops.
Meanwhile, our government has overtly engaged in torture, wiretapping of our phones, and violation of our human rights and the rights of people around the world. Sens. Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumer voted to confirm as attorney general a right-wing judge who refused to repudiate these crimes.
The U.S. government has rejected every attempt to implement the Kyoto environmental agreements or to work out new agreements sufficiently strong to reverse environmental destruction that is certain to lead to new levels of flooding, particularly in several poor countries around the world.
The Clinton administration pushed, along with corporate support, a set of trade agreements that have devastated the farmers of many developing countries, forcing many off their farms and into city slums where their daughters and sons are often sold into sexual slavery. The global economic system we have fostered has led to increasing gaps between the rich and the poor, so that over one out of every three people on the planet lives on less than $’ a day, 1.5 billion live on less than one dollar a day, and more than 15,000 children die every day from malnutrition-related diseases and inadequate availability of medicine that is hoarded by the rich countries that can afford the prices made to ensure huge profits to the pharmaceutical industry.
That there is no outcry for these government officials to resign immediately or be impeached, that there is no moral outrage at the entire system that produces this impact, is America’s ethical perversity. Instead, the only crime against humanity that the media take seriously and the politicians fear is being exposed for personal sexual immorality. While everyone basks in his or her self-righteous demands on Spitzer, we all allow media and elected officials to fundamentally distort our ethical vision and play out our morality on the smallest of possible stages while ignoring the global and personal consequences of our larger ethical failures.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun magazine, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of "The Left Hand of God" (Harper SanFrancisco, ‘006).