Sunday, June 09, 2013

When Given A Choice Between Two Evils...


When given a choice between two evils, choose neither.

If something is "evil," you should not choose it. If something else is less evil, you should not choose that either. If someone placed two poisons before me, and said, "The first poison is deadly. It will kill you immediately. The second poison is also deadly, way less deadly, but to be honest, it will also kill you. Now, you must choose one of the poisons..."

I'd excuse myself and say, "No thanks. I choose neither poison."

Why am I bringing this up? Because Dan Savage is on a savage mission to promote infidelity. He does so by arguing infidelity is the lesser of "two evils." The other evil being divorce. This is nothing new for Savage. His whole philosophy of life could be summarized with his approach to the ethical dilemma of EITHER divorce OR infidelity. He is a champion, not of righteousness, but small evil, or smaller evil.

Well, there is no such thing as small evil. There's gigantic destructive evil, and then there's other evil which is still more gigantic, and more destructive. Just like there's no such thing as drinking small poison. Small poison kills: it may take longer to kill you, or it may be less painful, but poison is poison. There's also no such thing as a "small" giant. Every giant is gigantic, or else he would not be a giant. Every evil is large and deadly, or else it would not be evil.

Here's Savage, in his own words:

"If one person is completely done with sex and the other person is not done with sex, what do you advise people to do in that circumstance? Divorce? Traumatize their children?" he said. "I look at that and I say 'You know, do what you need to do to stay married and stay sane. And maybe that involves cheating, but as the lesser of two evils. Divorce is an evil, cheating is an evil, there are circumstances in which cheating is the lesser evil."

Au contraire mon frere. Contraire.

Here's what's wrong with Savage's argument:

1) How does Savage know that cheating is less evil than divorce in any circumstance? Which scale of good v. evil is he referring to? Whose law? He is plucking moral truisms out of thin air with, as far as I can tell, no basis for his sliding scale of evil. Is this what God revealed to him? Or, some earthly moral authority? If so, which God? Which authority? And, what evidence does he have to show that infidelity saves marriages, and spares children trauma?

2) His argument is an example of the logical fallacy often referred to as a false dilemma or improper bifurcation. Or, in layman's terms:  dividing an issue into two, and only two, camps when, in fact, there are many more camps.

The couple Savage describes might solve their dilemma with a thousand other options beside EITHER divorce OR infidelity.

What about marriage counseling, or endeavoring to rekindle their romance, or taking a vacation together, or reading some books on intimacy, or -- and this would be revolutionary -- communicating with each other openly and honestly about their desires? All of these choices might lead to conflict, but they might also lead to greater intimacy. Whereas infidelity will never lead to greater intimacy. Never, ever, ever, ever. Why? Cause its evil and it involves deception and breaking the bond of intimacy two people share. Cause its evil. That's why.

3) Savage's whole argument about "choosing... evil" is madness. It's the kind of madness that ensnares a man who has lost his moral footing. In one sense, I can't argue with his position just like I can't argue with an insane person who insists he is Julius Caesar. He would have to forsake his whole position and come back to reality before we could make progress. The apostle Paul once engaged a similar argument, and he didn't give it the time of day:

"Hey,some people say, let's do evil so that good may result."
Paul answered, "Really? Well, whoever said that, their condemnation is deserved."

4) Savage willfully ignores righteous choices. This evil, or that evil. This is a false dichotomy, and therefore, a false choice. He is presenting couples with only two choices, both evil, and nary a righteous choice.

Which reminds me: evil is easy; it presents itself as a simple, an inevitable, way out. Evil likes to break the world up into sliding shades of black, with no light, and no bright. Taking the evil way is always taking the easy way. The couple he describes could actually choose to be loyal and loving to each other and grow as persons and as a couple. But this is hard. This requires sacrifice, and selflessness.

However, by recommending couples have only two choices (divorce OR infidelity) Savage is making it easier for the person who wants to pursue infidelity. How? He is giving them an out. Why not devote our time to teaching people the ways to rekindle their romance that would enable them to love each other better? We should not spend one second arguing in favor of infidelity. Cause it's evil. Savage could be straining his estimable communication skills in recommending ways couples can love/care for each other. But he doesn't; he takes time and pain to recommend infidelity.

5) Savage is also making it easier for the "cheater" by presenting infidelity as an option. Somethings should never be an option: no matter how desperate we become. He's casting the cheater as a person of sympathy who really has no choice but to defecate on their marriage vows.

Let's be clear, and come to the heart of Savage's savagery. He doesn't care about healthy marriage (or else he'd despise infidelity, the real killer of marriage). He doesn't care about sparing traumatized children (think of poor little Jimmy stumbling upon mommy kissing daddy's friend Mike. Now, that's trauma). He doesn't care much for sanity (or else, he avoid gaping logical fallacies). He doesn't care about the grand narrative of good v. evil (or else he'd talk about good v. evil, not evil v. lesser evil). These are all accessories on his main prize. What he cares about is a kind of sexuality that is free from moral restraint. What he cares about is doing whatever he wants to do sexually, with whoever he wants, and when he wants. He preaches infidelity, like any preacher, because he loves what he preaches; he wants to fool around with unlimited will, and so he's found an excuse, "saving marriages." But this is not about marriage; if it was, it would not be about infidelity. This is about a man who wants to practice, and wants other people to practice (so he feels better about himself), a selfish and egocentric sexuality.

For a very different view on the beauty of fidelity, and an example of a man who took the words, "for better, or for worse," seriously, see Robertson McQuilken's remarks on why he resigned the presidency of Columbia International University because he wanted to care for his wife as Alzheimer's devastated her health. He speaks of the "honor of caring (for his wife)." Whoever heard of the honor of cheating on your wife? Or, the honor of deserting your wife in pursuit of selfish selfish-as-can-be lust?

Savage's seemingly compassionate "cheat to beat divorce" prescription is dishonorable and repugnant, and frankly, disgusting. I'm gonna go ahead and say the kind of man I want to be is very far from the selfish fop Savage recommends.

Savage is just like the man who says he must cheat on his wife because she constantly nags him and he needs "emotional support." Such a man can find any excuse for his infidelity, and sooner or later, he will find infidelity because that's what he was really looking for anyway.

The truth is, if you want to do the right thing, you won't need excuses. Why? Cause its right. That's why. If your actions are righteous, you won't have to jump through illogical hoops to defend your actions; your actions will defend themselves.

No doubt, Savage seems ever so compassionate and reasonable: ever so understanding. Until you remember that some people are going to read his words today, and tomorrow destroy their true love, and maybe forever. And when they do, they'll say, "I had no choice." But they will be wrong. And when they do, they'll say, "But I have a good excuse." And, they will be wrong, again.

They did have a choice; they made it, and they made a terrible choice. An evil temptation always presents itself as the only option, as a fait accompli, the only road possible. Savage stands at the crossroads, and advises weary travelers to ignore all the roads that lead to green pastures and CHOOSE the road to perdition (cause it's the only choice anyway). But that road is not the only choice; it's obviously not the only choice because it is a choice. The very fact that we may choose it denotes that we may not choose it. There is no "to be" without a "not to be."

So, remember, when tempted to defile your love, or forsake bonds of fidelity, remember that if you do so, you are making a choice. You may choose to, but -- stop! and smell the sweet air of liberty -- you may also choose not to.

6) Savage's morality is simplistic. It's the false gods that offer up easy solutions; it's the false immorality that oversimplifies.

He is mistaken to paint the world in such a black/blacker -- either/or colors. Real couples have more complicated lives than the couple he dreams up: the-cheat-and-stay-sane or divorce-and-go-crazy-couple. Has anyone met a couple like this? I haven't. Which reminds me: he is also guilty of another fallacy:oversimplification. And, another: false analogy.

7) Savage fails to grasp that cheating is, in fact, the one and only one valid reason why anyone anywhere should/could seek divorce. He is like a doctor who endeavors to save a man's life who has a brain infection by cutting off the man's head. Sure, the brain infection will no longer impact the patient's body. The brain infection won't have a chance to kill him. On the other hand, cutting of his head will kill him. So, this is not much of a cure.

An individual has no warrant to seek a divorce because their beloved is not gratifying them sexually. What of the man who marries a woman who afterward becomes an invalid? Also, isn't the whole point of marriage that you will stick to your beloved during the hard times? What about that section in the marriage vows where people say, "... for better, or for worse." When you imagine yourself as "suffering" because your sexual longings go unfulfilled, that's what you were talking about when you said, "or worse."

But, if someone is confused enough to follow Savage's advice, and they actually engage in an affair to "save" their marriage, then their husband/wife does have every right to seek a divorce from them.

7) Divorce is not always, as he seems to think, "evil." In cases of adultery, divorce may be just and right. I say "may" because every situation is different. But, this much is sure: if one's husband/wife is unfaithful, the wronged party is the one who was cheated on (not the cheater), and the wronged party may seek divorce without guilt.

8) Savage asks, "If one person is completely done with sex and the other person is not done with sex, what do you advise people to do in that circumstance? Divorce? Traumatize their children?"

Here's what I would not advise them to do: betray their marriage vows and live a life of infidelity and dishonesty. Yeah, that is definitely not what I would advise them to do. I'd advise them along these lines: Grow up. Be adults. Serve each other in love. Also, for the one who is "done with sex" -- I'd advise this person to remember that, when they entered marriage, they gave themselves body and heart to another. Their body is not their own, just for their own gratification, but should be an instrument of love and care for their beloved.


Finally, and thankfully, we need not live in Savage's world of lesser evil. There's more colors than black/blacker; there's more colors than you can even take in during a life. We need not live in Savage's world of slavish despondency and resignation to evil. We might be free. We are not slaves to either this evil, or that evil, with no choice beside. We have a choice. In fact, we have a million choices beside evil. We can do anything, anything but evil. We can buy a tie. We can learn to fly. We can cry. We can find an egg to fry. We can multiply. We can decide to be satisfied, or satisfy.  We can find allies. We can scan the skies. We can try, and try. We can pry. We can eat pie. We can sigh. We can climb high. We can rely. We can our lusts deny. We can fight until we die.

Its not so much that we have limited choices in life, and only evil ones at that. We have unlimited choices, and scores of righteous ones. We can do anything we please, actually, because no one can force us to do evil. We can do anything under the Sun. Anything, that is, except the measly handful of evil options we stumble across.

It's not that life is full of evil, with no way out, except surrender -- true life contemplates a million good options, and stands staggered at how many good things there are to do.

When faced with a choice between two evils, choose neither. And lift up your eyes to the heavens to behold a land of good choices, a land of milk and honey, dripping sweet with righteous by-ways.


Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words... and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive... They also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretense of (superior) knowledge... By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them.. and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth... Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself... Lest, therefore, through my neglect, some should be carried off, even as sheep are by wolves, while they perceive not the true character of these men... and because their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different... I have deemed it my unfold to thee, my friend, these portentous and profound mysteries... I intend, then, to the best of my ability, with brevity and clearness to set forth the opinions of those who are now promulgating heresy. ... I shall also endeavor, according to my moderate ability, to furnish the means of overthrowing them, by showing how absurd and inconsistent with the truth are their statements.
-- Irenaeus, Against Heresies

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