There are moments in national history when tragedy and farce intersect, suggesting that the headlines of the moment may in fact indicate some broader dislocation that merits deeper consideration.
We may be living in one of those moments now. The nation is trying to understand what happened in Benghazi that terrible day when a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.
Questions have been raised about what information was released and when, and if political considerations might have skewed what information was initially made public, particularly by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.
Much of this story in turn is dependent on what U.S. intelligence agencies knew. But the head of the CIA, a former four-star general who was responsible for explaining at least in part what went so terribly wrong, is himself implicated in a sordid and, apparently, ever-unfolding adultery scandal.
One story is tragedy. One verges on farce, implicating socialites and generals, and even an FBI agent in a whirlwind of deceit and ego and lies and foolishness. What links these two news stories is, ultimately, a lack of trust.
Our country is riddled by a lack of trust. We expect political candidates to exaggerate and avoid. We expect our leaders to lie. We expect our financial titans to look out only for themselves. We distrust our religious leaders, and we increasingly expect spouses, fathers, and mothers to betray.
This is our reality. While the comedians joke about Gen. David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, while the commentators wonder why the military is suffering a plague of scandals, and while the deceivers themselves lie low till it all blows over, we don’t look at the one thing that is really striking. We should really be angry at ourselves, for we are watching a virtual epidemic of marital betrayal these days.
Psychologists talk about its increase, and they say it isn’t just husbands. We are all way past the sexist “boys will be boys” culture of “Mad Men.” Wives abandon husbands as husbands abandon wives. They all abandon children in ever increasing numbers, and the wreckage of all this deceit and abandonment is everywhere.
All the people involved in the widening Petraeus scandal are married with children, and it takes little imagination to see the ripple effect. But do we ever stop to think what all this lying and deceit and betrayal is doing to us — as individuals, as communities, and as a society?
We live in an age of no-fault divorce, and we seem to think that this absolves us of any lasting responsibility for our actions, but that is another lie.
The Church understands the value of marriage, recognizing it as something more than just a temporary contract to be abrogated at will. Yet even it struggles to address the crisis in marriage. This crisis has been growing for a century, and it becoming the cornerstone in a culture of mistrust and suspicion and unease that seems to describe our entire society.
Catholicism has a strong sense of communio, an understanding of how individual actions impact the larger community. As Catholics, we need to recover this awareness, first in our own Church, and then, God willing, in the society in which we live.
Gregory R. Erlandson is the President of the Publishing Division for Our Sunday Visitor, one of the largest Catholic publishing companies in the United States. Erlandson is also President of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, an advisor on the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee, and has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Read more reports from Gregory R. Erlandson — Click Here Now.
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