Ah yes, Brother Swaggart, but what about the sin of hypocrisy?
Having confessed to "incidents of moral failure" of an unspecified nature, allegedly with an unspecified prostitute, the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart was initially suspended by the the Assemblies of God from preaching for three months -- a slap on the wrist because he was contrite, not to mention what's called in Hollywood Big Box Office. The worst sin of all is bankruptcy.
Swaggart's confession was televised and, given the standing and convictions of the man, probably mortifying. He allegedly did something with that prostitute (and maybe some others) that involved pornography. Just what he did we have yet to learn, although we will undoubtedly find out.
Knowing not what Swaggart has done, one is hard-pressed to condemn him, and surely I am as forgiving as the next man. We all sin, says Gary Hart, and -- yea, verily yea -- that's the awful truth. But the sin for which Swaggart has been forgiven is the sexual transgression for which he has apologized.
The sin of hypocrisy is a different matter. For that we hear no contrition and no apology from Swaggart. He was the one, after all, who condemned the Rev. Jim Bakker for having sex with Jessica Hahn -- "a cancer on the body of Christ," he called him. It was Swaggart who accused yet another evangelist, Marvin Gorman, of multiple infidelities. Swaggart has also been a vociferous opponent of pornography, the very same smut for which he is reported to have a weakness.
In some ways, Swaggart, for all his exotic religiosity, is really a contemporary Everyman -- a commonplace hypocrite following a well-established pattern. His contrition, his sweaty apology, came only after he was caught. His sin, such as it was, really amounted to what is called in sports a mental error. He should have worn a false beard. Had he not been unmasked by a rival, he might still be doing whatever he did which, we are assured, is not what we think.
Next, having been caught, Swaggart used television as a public confessional. This type of incident -- no matter what it is -- is always presented as an aberration, an atypical episode, and never as part of a pattern. Thus Gary Hart treated the Donna Rice affair as something extraneous to his life -- an event that just happened, almost an act of God. Never mind the other women. Never mind the pattern of denying what's uncomfortable or unpalatable to him. The incident stands alone. It's as if it happened to someone else.
This sort of denial leads to the next step -- the failure or refusal to acknowledge hypocrisy. Swaggart had no such difficulties with Bakker. The Hahn episode represented something essential and true about Bakker. But to Swaggart, his own tussle with the Devil was an abberation -- an inverted sexual assault in which he was the victim. It may not have entered Swaggart's mind that the man in New Orleans was as much Jimmy Swaggart as the man holding the Good Book before the television cameras.
Essential to religious fundamentalism is the rejection of modernity. But modernity in the form of psychotherapy may be the only way out for Swag-gart. Like right-wing homosexuals who ally themselves with homophobes, politicians who extol the family whiletelling mistresses not to call themat home or antifeminists who tellwomen to remain at home while they themselves roam the country giving speeches, Swaggart rejects self-knowledge -- coming to terms with himself. Contrition is nothing more than an admission of the obvious -- public exposure. It does nothing to dampen the war that rages inside him. Hisfight is not with the Devil. It's with himself.
In the 17th century, the French playwright Moliere had his character, the cleric Tartuffe, explain the logicof the hypocrite. Attempting a seduction, Tartuffe tells the woman, "Evil does not exist until it is published. It's worldly scandal that creates the offense. And sin in silence is not sin at all."
Swaggart may not know Moliere, long dead and French to boot, but this much is sure: Moliere knew him.