It would be easy to attack poor old Jimmy Swaggart, wouldn't it? But it would be wrong.

Instead, what candle can we light today, for a wretched sinner (as he has insisted at some length and volume) hung up on pornography?

How can we help him get over it? Well, you've got me there, not being a therapist, you know, or a Grade A Christian either. But if it might help, I suggest he take off for Paris and enroll in a course of live sex shows, three a day for as long as strength lasts. It is possible that if he adheres faithfully to this regimen he will at last lose interest.

I always say your passion for anchovies diminishes with the fourth can. And once, at an eating house when I was in school, the proprietor found a sensational buy on guinea hens and stacked their crates up to the sky in the back yard, and we had to eat guinea hen day after day. Not one of those guys still has a taste for guinea hens today.

I also cured myself of an obsession with chocolate cherries by eating a two-pound box at the age of 8. Today I do not like them. In a Whitman's Sampler I usually give them to my wife, along with the coconut stuff, and at present she is not eating candy so I don't know what I'll do. I mean it's wrong to throw the chocolate cherry away, what with kids starving, but never mind my own struggles. I just wrestle with them with the strength God gives me and let it go at that.

In any case, there are some obsessions fairly easily cured by going whole hog, and Swaggart might want to give that a thought.

Then support groups are a great thing today. If there is not a Drooling Anonymous in Swaggart's neighborhood, where guys sit around and tell how they got over Hustler and Penthouse, he could start one.

In addition he could read through the Bible and mark in red all the passages warning against pornography. It is not, as far as I recall, the great preoccupation of the Gospels. That might give him some comfort.

And might not. The American Constitution, after all, guarantees freedom to bewail any sin at all. Many people get mad as hell if told to come off it, buddy, it's not worth going on and on and on and on about. Your average guy doesn't like it when his soul-shattering confession is received with a yawn.

I know of a man who worked in a newspaper wire service and he thought the word "rat" was the most disgusting thing in the language. Never in his life would he say the word, though possibly late at night in the privacy of his bed he may have said it for chills.

Well, everything went along all right until some city -- I think it was Atlanta -- had a campaign to get rid of rats. The cat was out of the bag. This man could not say "rat" and could not allow anybody in his presence to say it, either, and when the great anti-rat program began it was more than his sensitive nerves could stand. Don't know what happened to him, maybe he confessed and found peace.

My dear mother served on a civic beautification committee once and they decided to clean up around billboards. They cut down a mini-field of marijuana at the base of one sign and there was some kind of stink raised. I was just a wee tad, but the committee ladies took some jeers from those who said they ought to be smarter than harvesting marijuana and hauling it away. I grew up understanding that marijuana was something dreadful, perhaps a code word for incest.

Something of my mother's billboard-marijuana trauma may have affected Swaggart at an impressionable age, so that he never got over it. There are experts now who deal with phobias and compulsions and obsessions, probably well worth their fees.

I used to go to pieces over wasps. My wife used to say I could never be secretary of state because if a wasp landed on the podium at Geneva or somewhere I'd bolt and be in the next county instead of finishing my speech. I just got some books on wasps and knowledge cured me of my irrational fears. Didn't cost a dime. Same with spiders, which didn't bother me so much, but still some. So I believe in reading up on things that scare you terribly. Study less and read more is a good prescription for many.

Now Swaggart would be in less trouble if he hadn't spent so much energy thundering in public against pornography. To hear him, you'd think it was like breaking a dog's ribs or snapping at an ugly woman.

Naturally people wondered why he was such a hypocrite, roaring against it then doing it. But in fairness I think it was Playboy that he hated, and I never heard him preach against hiring a whore to do shows.

I just hope this latest commotion among TV preachers will not rouse the nation into some unthinking reaction like burning Playboy. If it didn't cost too much I'd buy it myself, but even if you don't like it, you can see it does no good to burn it. Guys who don't read could still hire somebody to jiggle about in person. Frankly, there is just no end of sin in this world, and frankly I have flat given up trying to sanctify the heathen.

Sometimes I get snotty letters about my virtuous work in this very space, but as we know sometimes seed falls in weedy ground and what can you do? Tares overwhelm us, indeed they do. So I just go on and hope I get through the world alive. And then all this misery and grief business -- sometimes it's a nervous stomach, a bad digestion. All preachers should check that out first, before deciding it's God or something dreadful. And if the day's work brings only grief and jeers, that may be nature's way of saying simmer down, good buddy. Take five.