Beware of those who protest a bit too much
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Methinks so, too, after pondering some recent news stories involving some very vocal protesters.
Rush Limbaugh’s highly visible retreat into a drug rehabilitation program came only after years of his highly audible disparagement of folk who struggle with chemical dependency.
I wondered whether this latest treatment program, his second attempt as I understand it, would soften his hard-edged criticism of others. Judging from his post-
treatment broadcasts, methinks not.
Most of us can remember the pitiful and slightly repulsive scene of self-styled moralist and TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggert, sobbing his confession: “I have sinned!” before the cameras. It came, of course, only after he had been caught on videotape entering a motel with a prostitute. Medoubts his sincerity.
Now, we have the public acknowledgement by the family of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond of his having fathered a mixed-race daughter. Meain’t surprised.
Thurmond was one of the most passionate of political bigots. So intent was he on the separation of the races that he ran for president on that very platform in 1948, gathering 39 equally bigoted electoral votes in the process.
Only in recent years did Thurmond begin to modify his racist views, eventually even voting for the institution of a national holiday for Martin Luther King. In the interim, however, Thurmond waged a vicious campaign against the inclusion of African-
Americans into full citizenship.
Some may find it ironic that this prejudiced politician was parent to a mixed-race child. I find it less about irony and far more about guilt and, believe me, as a Lutheran I know a lot about guilt.
Often, it seems, the fervent, zealous and sometimes bizarre activities of some people stem from deep-seated and destructive feelings of guilt.
The judgmental meanness exemplified by Messieurs Limbaugh, Swaggert and Thurmond are, I believe, vivid examples of this reality.
Recently I spoke with a retired Episcopal bishop who stated his conviction that some of the most virulent critics of his church’s recent consecration of a homosexual bishop came from men who were homosexual themselves.
He was convinced that their inability to accept their own sexual orientation had translated itself into an unwillingness to accept others.
Recognizing the danger of engaging in pop-psychology, it is an opinion, having seen it manifested over and over again, I cautiously give some credence.
A brief reflection on current events offers further evidence of the power of this particular psychological phenomenon.
Remember Newt Gingrich? The once Speaker of the House was well known for his articulate moralizing.
His hounding of President Clinton for his infidelities was legendary. The revelation that Gingrich himself was conducting an affair at the same time with one of his own staff members contributed to his fall from political grace and pointed, once again, to the curious and consuming power of guilt.
There is also Dr.William Bennett, who made millions producing publications that promoted the most moral of lives only to be discovered gambling those same millions away.
Might his private compulsion have shaped his public conviction? I certainly think so.
For those of you who have recently read of the controversial Catholic movement known as Opus Dei in Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code,” there is the true-life story of Opus Dei member Robert Hanssen, who worked for the FBI and was convicted of espionage against his own country.
A reasonable thesis centers on Hanssen’s participation in this ultra-conservative and highly moralistic organization, not so much out of religious conviction as out of guilt.
Just last month in Louisville, Ky., a man was arrested for hiring a prostitute. Shortly thereafter, he resigned his position as vice chairman of the local anti-pornography organization dedicated to stopping the incursion of adult bookstores and sex shops into Louisville suburbs.
Such examples are shared not to demean the person but to demonstrate the enormous power of guilt.
Recognizing that some social and religious crusaders find their motivation in the murky waters of errant experience may serve us well in gauging our own response to their various and sometimes vicious calls for repentance.
The next time you read the impassioned persuasions of a publicly pious person, it might be worthwhile to wonder from whence they come.
I shall try and do the same when I write them.
Rich Mayfield writes a
Saturday column for the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at
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