Last night, Jerry Sandusky, formerly of Penn State, released an audio statement in which he outlined his alternative view regarding his legal disposition.
He has a right to do this, of course.
And, of course, his statement is immoral (let alone the actions that led up to his current living arrangements).
This is a divergence between what is a "right," and what is "moral." In fact, I doubt whether the concept of "right" has much meaning in the Church. The Church is, after all, a culture that asks for -- and can not demand -- a universal ethic of self-sacrifice.
This ethic displaces Kant's categorical imperatives. For the Christian, no value or valuation can stand above the continual, overwhelming call of pouring out oneself for the sake of others. This is the famous moral of "kenosis," obviously, and it requests -- not commands -- in a beautiful rhetoric of courtesy, that the needs of others should outweigh the needs of the self.
Such is a culture that is haunted by the Cross and illuminated by Easter Pentecost.
In this transcendent society of meekness, the concept of "right" sounds drab, at least, if not completely out of place. It is much like showing up at a wedding banquet without one's wedding garment on. Like dragging muck-stained overalls into the china and silver.
So it is hard -- or should be hard -- for Christians to speak much of their rights of free speech -- especially as they are flaunted in egregious exercises of this right. Like these dreary examples:
- Jerry Sandusky's claim that he is the victim of a conspiracy hatched by the families of his accusers, along with social workers and psychologists and the media.
- Charlie Fuqua's book, God's Law (sic, and very sic), that suggests that parents should have the right to pursue capital punishment for bad children. He is a candidate for Congress these days, and claims that he is a Christian.
- Terry Jones, who also claims to be a Christian (and a preacher at that), who, just a year after he burned the Koran, gave his wholehearted endorsement to a regrettable movie that said vapid things about a certain religion.
As an American, these individuals could certainly claim and exploit their right to make these claims. They are legally constrained only by the most minimal of standards. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once coined, in 1919, what has become a cliche: "One cannot falsely shout fire in a crowded theater."
That cliche is hardly a meaningful restraint.
As an American citizen, what can be said, legally, is wide-ranging indeed. One has a right to exagerrate and even, on occasion, to lie. One has a right to fully vent and articulate his passions. If one is enraged, he has a right to inveigh, albeit stupidly, against entire societies about which he knows less than nothing. If one is avaricious, he may manipulate markets and publish images that exploit other passions. If one is concupiscient, he may misrepresent himself, with beer goggles on, to the girl on the next stool. If one is prideful, he may misrepresent his opponent in a political campaign, and suggest to the masses that he "has a plan," while artfully dodging the nettlesome fact that most of his promises are legislative and not executive.
An American citizen has many rights. A Christian has none -- all he has are invitations to virtue, and the promise of beatitude.
An American has a right to bear arms. A Christian may make such a claim, but not as a Christian. I'm sure that a Christian can go hunting and can even keep something for the defense of his home (although that possibility is even less supported for a priest). But I am even surer that a Christian -- as a Christian -- cannot ever demand the right to possess and traffic in assault munitions.
An American has a right to terminate a fetus. A Christian does not.
An American has a right to engage in sexual activity outside the contours of a sacramentalized union of a man and woman. A Christian does not. He or she, whether we like it or not, is asked to surrender not only homosexual activity, but also heterosexual activity that is before or outside of traditional marriage. He is requested to devote himself to not only physical chastity, but also to the "chastity of the imagination" -- a concept, I'm sure, is not the most popular of positions.
An American has the right to accumulate wealth, and to deny comfort to his neighbor and pollute the environment in the process of doing so. A Christian does not. Wealth is given to Christians, as St. Paul and the Prophets and the Fathers make painfully clear, solely for the sake of "kenotic" giving away. It was only the Reformation that made the idea of "wealth-protection" a Christian possibility.
An American has the right of self-determination in religion and association. A Christian does not. The history of American religion is an uninterrupted pageant of one self-anointed autocephalous schism after another. The Protestants did this, to be sure, but not as Christians -- they did so, rather, as Americans. There are Orthodox Christians (even clergy), I am sure, who orchestrate putsches and hierarchical maneuvers ... who migrate from parish to parish, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, all for the sake of "church shopping" and looking for Godot. And no one will stop them or bar the doors. But they do so as Americans, not in the mind of Christ.
It is better, I think, for a Christian to regard their American "rights" as temporary "privileges." Certainly, we cannot afford to be so enamored of these rights that we assume, wrongly, that these rights are necessary for the survival of the Church. The Orthodox Church has a long memory of "second class citizenship," and an even longer experience of a dominant culture that did not respect individual and heterogeneous rights.
Still, even in its minority status, the Church heeded the divine and meek call to virtue, and sought -- despite many disappointments -- the contentment of beatitude.
I do so wish, intensely, we would do more of this today. Jesus is simple, the Trinity is beautiful. I will die and live for the One and Three.
It is this Word that gives me hope and peace today.
Not any right.