Fallen icons provide no cause for celebration

There’s a curious part of human nature that celebrates the struggle of the underdog, cheering on the little guy against all odds.

Then, when said underdog overcomes adversity and rises to the top ranks of its field, we find an equal amount of pleasure in tearing it back down.

Organized religion lost one of its pre-eminent conservative icons recently with the unexpected death of Jerry Falwell. Though he was felled by a heart condition rather than by scandal, it has done little to stem the tide of negative press that has followed his passing.

Not long ago, New Life Church’s founder Ted Haggard was waist-deep in a media firestorm about his sexual indiscretions and dalliances with illicit drugs. Before him, religious giants such as Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and Robert Tilton were dishonored.

This attack-dog dynamic hardly is limited to members of the religious community. Political figures on both sides of the aisle regularly endure criticisms of everything from their policy positions to their intelligence (see George Bush), grooming habits (see John Edwards) and family heritage (see Barack Obama).

Whether you like Sen. Hillary Clinton or not, it’s disrespectful of the office itself, let alone the human being, to suggest simply because she is a strong woman that she must therefore be a closet lesbian. It’s much easier – not to mention a guilty pleasure – to assassinate character than to address the more complex, abstract ideas that lie beneath.

Celebrities are possibly the biggest targets in this arena. I’m the first to admit that I can’t stand Britney Spears’ music, but the degree to which she has been scrutinized is appalling. There’s not a square inch of her body that has not been exposed to millions, and she’s been the punchline of thousands of jokes. Meanwhile, a clearly troubled young woman struggles with divorce, body image and possibly addiction, while we celebrate her downfall.

Sure, go ahead and argue that she brings it all on herself. If you think this way, put your own life under the magnifying glass of the press 24 hours a day, then see if you don’t develop a little empathy.

Far be it from me to suggest that we should look the other way when someone acts – or even speaks – in an egregious manner. On the contrary, it is our responsibility to raise issues of accountability within our ranks, particularly among our leaders. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.

However, the degree to which we revel in grave-dancing speaks poorly about our own character. Passionate debate about ideas and principles is just as important as holding those in positions of influence liable for their behavior. But personal attacks, particularly after someone has suffered humiliation, emotional trauma, loss of power or even death, simply flies in the face of our call to peace, compassion and forgiveness.

We should not look the other way when scandals surface. However, there is a clear difference between critical prudence and acting in a predatory manner. Such attitudes reveal more about our own dark secrets than they do any nonexistent moral superiority we may claim to have.

Advertisements