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Immoral Man in Moral Society

Immoral Man in Moral Society

    I've been reading the best-seller biography Steve Jobs. Actually, I should write that I've been trying to read Steve Jobs.  It's been a very hard slog to get through the first 220 pages where I am presently stalled.  There are another 357 pages, and I don't think I want to spend that much more time with the late great Apple genius. The book was given to me as a present at my 80th birthday. I feel obliged to read it.  Yes, yes, I know, I shouldn't be so diligent in honoring benevolence with prolonged attention.  Something like that.

    Here's the problem: Steve Jobs (at least the first 220 pages of him) is not an admirable human being. He was manipulative, mean, self-serving, and irresponsible.  He wept a lot, and that to my mind was the worst: because he wept in self-pity.  I was disabused of that tendency early in my life, by my homiletics mentor.  I had gone to him for consolation when I had been cashiered from a student assistant minister's position in the Mamaroneck Methodist Church.  Paul Scherer, said mentor, sensing the great well of self-pity in which I was wallowing, pointed me to Jesus and asked (to this effect): when did he ever feel sorry for himself?

    Sure, Steve Jobs is no Jesus and never claimed to be.  But there are those aficionados of the Mac, IPod, IPhone, and IPad who picture him as an electronic messiah who changed the world with his vision. Grant Jobs this, he brought to the angular clunkiness of computers et al a beauty of design. 

    But where does it say esthetics trumps morality?

    I put this question to a philosopher one morning recently at Effie's diner.  It's a long story as to how we got together. I'll spare you the details.  We exchanged views about God and human goodness and the lack of it. I cited a couple of thinkers for my argument, Paul Tillich and Will Herberg.  He shot them down with ad hominem detractions, that Tillich was a womanizer and Herberg a bigot.  On the other hand, two of the philosopher's heroes were similarly tainted, Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, who, according to Wikipedia, had a "long and stormy romantic relationship," a consequence of which was her being tarred by his pro-Nazi stance.

    The philosopher at breakfast declined to provide a definitive answer to my question about truth and goodness being compromised by bad personal behavior. We parted with his ambiguity echoing in my mind.

    My impulse is to insist on a consistency of thoughts and deeds.  Hypocrisy in politics may not be deadly, but in the pulpit, the Protestant pulpit at least, it has ended many a vocation.  Yes, Jimmy Swaggart was able to cry sufficiently to resume his televangelism; but where are Jim Baker and a dozen in my own denomination who fell from grace for one or both of the two usual reasons, sex and money? 

    A Ukranian Orthodox priest took me to task for my insistence that the Gospel is sullied by clergy malfeasance.  He countered with a triumphant smile that in his faith a bigoted, adulterous, even murderous priest was no less efficacious in his provision of the Eucharist than a righteous officiant.  What brought on this declaration I do not remember.  It was a discussion before we jointly performed a wedding, complete with veils and icons... and in a Methodist Church! 

    Sure, that E = mc2 isn't less true were Einstein found to have cheated on his SAT's.  And whether or not existence precedes essence, or the other way around, would not be in error were Sartre to have been a Nazi collaborator (which he clearly was not).  Nor does Jobs' pathetic personal behavior tarnish the simple beauty of his IPod.  In each of these instances, however, popular adulation would be diminished and admission into the unofficial realm of greatness in the popular imagination granted only with a warning label specifying character flaws. 

    I mean, Pete Rose isn't in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    His example is instructive.  One thing keeps him from Cooperstown.  One very big thing: repentance.  The admission he was bad and that he lied about his wrong-doing.  I should put an adjective in front of repentance, to make it true repentance.  Mea culpas need to be backed up with a sufficient amount of time by which the penitent "proves" the authenticity of his turn-around.  In my pastoral years I witnessed several jailhouse regrets and promises to do much better (think John Edwards on the courthouse steps this past week); only to watch the erosion of good intentions when the immediacy of public condemnation becomes history. 

    Tell me, please, if I shall miss something in the next three hundred fifty-seven unread pages of Jobs' biography, some hint of genuine repentance for his selfish behavior, a hint of humility, perhaps.  Then I'll read on, and, maybe, grant him a tiny niche in the hall of great Americans.

      



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