A reader responds to my online View column of Dec. 20 …
Not sure I agree that adultery indicates human brokenness. Adultery certainly indicates a broken marriage, but if the marriage fails to fulfill the human need, isn’t it natural, isn’t it indicative of a person seeking wholeness, for that person to consider outsourcing? How does that indicate a human brokenness?
And as far as evil not being a part of nature and only being a human trait, are humans not a part of nature? I know I’m getting technical here, but we were created by nature, too. — T.F., Detroit
I confess freely that the rhetoric “human brokenness” is, for me, expressive of a Judeo-Christian worldview. We promise fidelity, but, in our brokenness, find that we’re capable of desiring and justifying adultery. Brokenness here refers to the crippled limits of the human heart to love and be loved. Churchgoers would call it our “sin nature.”
And, you’re right to say that adultery is an attempt to seek wholeness, often seeking a wholeness that a broken marriage isn’t providing. But before going too far with this observation, let’s notice also that in almost every troublesome, destructive and/or immoral behavior, (ordinary human sin) is an attempt to reach for wholeness.
Yes, you read that right.
For example, somewhere in the inexplicable, self-destructive and other-destructive behavior of an alcoholic is a desperate attempt for wholeness. The late M. Scott Peck (“The Road Less Traveled”) speculated that it’s no accident that we nickname alcoholic beverages “spirits.” He considered aloud that alcoholics were deeply spiritual people whose spirituality had been twisted and misdirected into a bottle. A lie. He considered that Alcoholics Anonymous was so successful precisely because it replaced drinking with a more responsible, accountable spirituality.
In every compulsion/addiction, frankly, is some good and right desire to soothe oneself, to feel alive again. The desire is good and right. Compulsion/addiction as a strategy to realize the desire is, on a good day, futile.
Indeed, T.F., most people who choose extramarital sex are, at heart, simply trying to survive. To live again. To give voice to mute emotions and to meet important emotional needs. But again, adultery as a strategy for wholeness tends not to effect wholeness.
So, ironically, in saying that adultery indicates a person seeking wholeness, you make my point. No marriage covenant whose participants are sinners (which is every marriage) can ultimately provide wholeness, though some marriages nurture more wholeness than others. It remains the expectation of the covenant, however, that we bring our grievance to the marriage, not to the pool guy or to the blonde across town.
Yes, adultery is a choice by a broken human attempting to heal brokenness. However, it is a choice that is itself a brokenness. It is a remedy that might soothe, might blessedly distract, yet, by its nature is unlikely to heal. Or, at least, whatever it heals will also injure in new ways.
So, what happens if you bring a grievance to your mate, and your grievance is ignored or scorned? Answer: You’re stuck. Part of your mate’s brokenness is that he/she is unwilling to come to the table and participate in healing brokenness. So, what do you do? You can resign yourself to the hell of marital inertia. You can work on becoming a better individual person, which, if you succeed, will actually be more (not less) provocative to the marriage. You can get a divorce. You can acquire a lover. It’s a short, difficult menu.
Re: evil and nature
You have some credible theological company in considering that evil lives in the fabric of nature itself — not merely in the dereliction of human beings which, as you say, are part of nature. Yet, it’s difficult to say that the grizzly sow who is killing you because you accidentally hiked between her and her two cubs is evil or even doing evil. I would more say that, if you’re going hiking in the Alaskan wilderness, you have to accept that grizzly bears live there and mother grizzlies can and will kill you if they believe you to be threatening their wee ones. You can put a bell on your backpack. You can carry a gun or pepper spray. You can be careful. But, if you hike there, you cannot entirely remove the possibility of attack. Evil? I can’t mount an argument for evil here. Same goes for tornadoes, lightning strikes and earthquakes.
Human evil is a mystery. But then, so is human goodness.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.