The More Evangelical You Become, The Less Presbyterian

On this morning’s broadcast with Angelo and company, I heard Carson Wentz describe the bond he shares with Nick Foles by virtue of a common faith.
I’m sure many evangelicals were encouraged.

But I could not help but wonder what would happen when Carson learned that his Lutheran church (I’m speculating) would not welcome Nick to preach because the Eagle’s backup QB is evangelical, not Lutheran. What happens when ecclesiastical requirements get in the way of the bond that comes from being born-again? What even happens if being Presbyterian gets in the way of participating in The Gospel Coalition? The Allies claim “We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.” How can that be? How can you be evangelical and in the Reformed tradition “deeply”?

This is a fundamental tension between Protestants who trace their roots back to the Reformation (Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran) and those who only go as far as the First Pretty Good Awakening. For confessional Protestants, fellowship has standards. But for evangelicals, the bar is low.

And that is why you need to give up a lot if you are a Presbyterian to become an evangelical. If beliefs and practices about theology, worship, and church government matter to being a Christian, then the Reformation gets in the way of being evangelical. But if being born-again is what matters, then you don’t really need the Reformation.

Machen knew the score on this one (came across this after hearing Angelo and Carson):

One of the very greatest evils of present-day religious life, it seems to me, is the reception into the Church of persons who merely repeat a form of words such as “I accept Christ as my personal Saviour,” without giving the slightest evidence to show that they know what such words mean. As a consequence of this practice, hosts of persons are being received into the Church on the basis, as has been well said, of nothing more than a vague admiration for the moral character of Jesus, or else on the basis of a vague purpose of engaging in humanitarian work. One such person within the Church does more harm to the cause of Christ, I for my part believe, than ten such persons outside; and the whole practice ought to be radically changed. The truth is that the ecclesiastical currency in our day has been sadly debased; Church membership, as well as Church office, no longer means what it ought to mean. In view of such a situation, we ought, I think, to have reality at least; instead of comforting ourselves with columns of church statistics, we ought to face the facts; we ought to recall this paper currency and get back to a standard of gold.

To that end, it should, I think, be made much harder than it now is to enter the Church: the confession of faith that is required should be a credible confession; and if it becomes evident upon examination that a candidate has no notion of what he is doing, he should be advised to enter upon a course of instruction before he becomes a member of the Church. Such a course of instruction, moreover, should be conducted not by comparatively untrained laymen, but ordinarily by the ministers; the excellent institution of the catechetical class should be generally revived. Those churches, like the Lutheran bodies in America, which have maintained that institution, have profited enormously by its employment; and their example deserves to be generally followed. (What is Faith?, 156-57)

Pope Angelo

First, he condemned Joe Paterno to hell.

Now, Angelo Cataldi opens the pearly gates for Darren Daulton, the Phillies catcher who succumbed to brain cancer yesterday. On this morning’s show, Angelo told one caller whose mom, now deceased, had a crush on the sexiest MLB player of the 1990s, that she now had the chance to meet Dutch since both the mom and the catcher were in heaven.

I initially thought that Angelo was going beyond the creed of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism. Maybe this was a holdover from his pre-Vatican II upbringing in the archdiocese of Providence, Rhodes Island. Surely the idea of heaven and hell — eternal rewards and punishments — was harshing out his listener’s buzz of learning about car insurance discounts and dancers at “gentlemen”‘s clubs. But sure enough, heaven is part of Therapeutic Moralistic Deism’s creed:

God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists but really isn’t a part of our lives. We are supposed to be “good people,” but each person must find what’s right for him or her. Good people will go to heaven, and we shouldn’t be stifled by organized religion where somebody tells us what we should do or what we should believe.

Mind you, Angelo should not speculate on Daulton’s eternal fate. It’s not what sports-talk-radio-hosts should do. But if Angelo is going to create a moral spread sheet on every sports figure in Philadelphia, can he himself really stand in that great day?

The Patron Saint of Calvinist 2k?

The Anabaptists may have seen the problems with Constantinianism, but they weren’t fans of religious tolerance the way Pierre Bayle was:

Bayle’s passion for religious liberty reflected his circumstances. Unlike better-known champions of tolerance such as Voltaire or John Locke, he had first-hand experience of persecution. He was the son of a poor Calvinist pastor in a small French town near the Spanish border. Protestants such as the Bayles were a harassed minority in France, where roughly 95 per cent of the population was Catholic.

Thousands of Bayle’s co-religionists had been massacred in the late 16th century, and even though Protestants won some freedoms at the end of the French wars of religion in 1598, their position worsened during Bayle’s lifetime. He fled to the Netherlands in 1681, when he was in his early thirties. A few years later, one of his brothers was arrested and died in a French prison. If he had converted to Catholicism, he would have been released. Bayle never got over his brother’s death.

Bayle had the misfortune to be not only a heretic in Catholic eyes, but also an apostate, for which the punishments were still worse. In his youth, he had briefly been convinced by the intellectual case for Catholicism and had converted. After about a year and a half as a Catholic, however, he decided that he had been mistaken and switched back. He followed his conscience, and this became the linchpin of his case against persecution. Why would God have given us a conscience if He did not mean us to use it?

Even if an alleged heretic, such as Bayle, was in error and was worshipping the wrong God, or worshipping Him in the wrong way, might this not be an honest mistake? He used a well-known example of mistaken identity to make his point. The wife of the peasant Martin Guerre sincerely believed an impostor to be her long-lost husband. When the real Martin Guerre returned to his village, the impostor confessed and was executed for adultery and fraud. But Guerre’s wife went unpunished, because her error had been made in good faith. Bayle reasoned that “heretics” should be treated in the same way. If they had searched diligently for the truth and acted conscientiously, they were guilty of no sin. Nobody should punish them or try to compel them to act against their honest beliefs.

Do we need religion to prop up morality? Bayle didn’t think so (and he hadn’t even listened to Angelo Cataldi):

Nor was Bayle much troubled by the notion of atheism, either, which is perhaps the most modern thing about him. Locke maintained that unbelief cannot be tolerated, because it is bound to lead to the moral collapse of any society foolish enough to allow it. Voltaire thought the same. Bayle seems to have been the first person in the Christian world to deny this conventional opinion. Morality, he reasoned, can exist perfectly well without religion.

Bayle was also unimpressed by contemporary apologists:

When an exceptionally bright comet was spotted by a German astronomer in late 1680, it caused a panic. Comets had presaged countless disasters, from the fall of Carthage to the Norman invasion of Britain, or so it was widely believed. Hundreds of alarmist pamphlets were published across Europe and in North America, announcing that the new comet was a dire warning from God to repent immediately.

Bayle set out to show that it would be against God’s nature to use celestial phenomena to send messages to mankind. With typical thoroughness, he offered eight main arguments for this conclusion, supported them with several hundred texts, ancient, medieval and modern, and made sideswipes at dozens of other superstitions along the way.

The argument of which he was most proud was original, effective and simple. It was that any such divine warnings would be bound to backfire and achieve the opposite of what God supposedly intended.

It was easy to show from scripture that God abhorred the worship of false gods. ­According to the prophets, idolatry seemed to rile Him even more than murder, theft or adultery. Yet most people on the planet are not Christians. As Bayle put it, the majority of human beings “remain idolators or have become Mohammedans”. So, if God put awe-inspiring warnings in the sky, most people would just embrace their false religions even more fervently. Why would He send harbingers of doom that could only “reanimate false and sacrilegious devotion almost everywhere on Earth” and “increase the number of pilgrims to Mecca”?

Bayle didn’t try to play God (which should be obvious to Reformed Protestants):

Why is there so much wickedness and suffering in the world? Bayle went through the standard theological answers to this question and knocked down each one, often with a vivid analogy. Is God absolved of man’s evil by His gift of free will – which makes everything man’s fault? No, Bayle answered: that would be like giving a knife to a man when you know he will use it to commit murder. The gift does not absolve the giver. Did God permit man to rebel so that He could send Jesus as a redeemer? That, Bayle replied, would make God “like a father who allows his children to break their legs so that he can show everyone his great skill in mending their broken bones”.

The real answer, he insisted, is that we cannot comprehend why God allows evil. A true Christian must simply accept that He does.

I can’t vouch for Bayle’s personal devotion, but he may be one of those many bridges between Protestantism and Enlightenment.

North Pole Dancers

John Fea’s piece about the War on Christmas reminded me of an entirely new front in that potential conflict. While listening to Philadelphia sports talk radio this morning, a show that my wife wishes I would abandon because of the too frequent banter about the female form, I heard an interview with dancers from a local “gentleman’s” club. They spoke of upcoming attractions — North Pole Dancers — that feature women wearing (and then not wearing) Santa outfits that would put audience members in the “spirit of Christmas.” I understand that the birth of Jesus involved some exposed flesh of both mother and child, but to associate a direct violation of the seventh commandment (sixth for Roman Catholics) with the incarnation is well nigh unfathomable.

It made me wonder if secular Turkish culture would ever stoop so low as to try to capture the “spirit of Ramadan” in strip club events. In many cities in Turkey visitors will find advertisements (and more) for clubs that feature scantily clad women. Turkey is by no means innocent. And perhaps the market forces of Islamo-Calvinism have tempted Turkish entrepreneurs to abuse Islam for the sake of profits. But I find hard to believe that Islam could ever be so domesticated as to allow Turks to confuse something holy with something so profane.

The market forces that underwrite the American Christmas make me think that Pope Francis was on to something. Now if he could only join Reformed Protestants in a call for ending the church calendar.

He Was a Coach, Not God

Joe Paterno was three years younger than my father and JoePa outlived dad by almost two years. I admired both men greatly, partly because of their decency which may have been responsible for their moral naivete. Recently Angelo Cataldi became indignant over Paterno’s remarks to the Washington Post that even if the report to him about Jerry Sandusky’s antics in the shower were more specific, the head coach wasn’t sure what he would have done because he did not know what man-rape was. Angelo could not imagine someone being that ignorant in the ways of the world. I can. My parents and parents-in-law were of the same generation as JoePa, the so-called “Greatest,” a demographic of Americans not reared on HBO and totally lacking in knowledge of gentlemen’s clubs and lap dances. Of course, Angelo knows all about the black side of sexual conduct because his regular guests are strippers and he admits to surfing for porn in off hours. But that doesn’t prevent Angelo from being outraged over JoePa’s innocence. This is where we are culturally — those who know the perversions tarnish the reputations of those who don’t. (And can anyone imagine the human resources officers at Penn State calling in JoePa at the age of 75 to attend a seminar on man-boy relations?)

My dad died a Penn State fan but it took him a while to warm up to the Nittany Lions’ head coach. The problem was JoePa’s reaction to the 1969 National Championship game. To put that incident in perspective, I resort to a story at ESPN:

The Nittany Lions went 5-5 in 1966, and Paterno responded not only by designing a new defense, but by shifting his best talent to that side of the ball. In the third game of the 1967 season, Penn State almost upset No. 3 UCLA, losing 17-15. The Nittany Lions fell to 1-2. However, they didn’t lose another game until 1970.

Penn State won the last seven games of the 1967 season, tied Florida State, 17-17, in the Gator Bowl, and went 11-0 in each of the next two seasons. In 1968, Penn State finished second to undefeated, untied Ohio State. In 1969, the Nittany Lions finished the regular season ranked third behind No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas, who played on Dec. 6. President Richard Nixon not only attended the game, but after the Longhorns won, 15-14, with a dramatic late-game touchdown, he declared them national champion.

In his career at Penn State, Paterno, a Republican, befriended almost every Republican president. He gave a nominating speech for George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Republican Convention at the Louisiana Superdome, the same building where Penn State had won Paterno’s first national championship six seasons earlier. The Penn State media guide included photos of Paterno with Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

But after the 1969 season Paterno had little regard for Nixon. Paterno’s most famous line regarding a president came in his commencement address at Penn State in 1973, as the public had begun to realize that the Watergate scandal had reached the Oval Office.

“How could Nixon know so little about Watergate and so much about football?” Paterno asked. A year later, Nixon resigned from the presidency.

In 1973, the Nittany Lions went 12-0 but finished only fifth in the nation. Disgusted with the polls, Paterno declared that “the Paterno Poll” had named Penn State No. 1 and had national championship rings made for his players.

That kind of self-congratulations did not sit well with Jay Hart. Nor did Paterno’s dismissal of Nixon. Although my parents had not voted for Nixon in 1968, they were law-abiding Americans who respected the president as something that came with being a citizen.

Over time, the Harts warmed to JoePa and Penn State. How could you not with a coach that played by the rules, worked to make his students study and graduate, and won on top of it all? JoePa had a work ethic, sense of duty, and integrity — despite coming from the wrong Christian faith — that even fundamentalist Protestants could admire.

I am sad that JoePa is no longer among us. My father and I shared too many good times cheering on the Nittany Lions for me not to think that I have embarked on an era of life, begun by dad’s death and now underlined by JoePa’s, that will be marked by the absence of the Greatest Generation. They certainly had their faults. But they were better than we are. For that reason I am glad that JoePa will be spared further assessment by that Generation’s ungrateful, disrespectful, and morally bankrupt children.

The Day of Moral Perplexity Has Come for Angelo Cataldi

I had thought about entitling this post, “Predators All,” since the revelations of child molestation mount and mount. First it was the Roman Catholic Church, then Penn State, then Hollywood, and now comes word from several adults that Bill Conlin, a longtime baseball beat reporter for Philadelphia’s Daily News, molested them as children. This news cuts close to home for our dear moral blow hard, Angelo Cataldi, since Cataldi has hosted Conlin many times on the show to talk RBI’s and walks-hits-per-inning. Even closer to home, Angelo and Bill are neighbors during the summer when they occupy their beach houses in Sea Isle City, New Jersey.

Not that anyone living outside the Delaware Valley really cares about these Philadelphia media figures, but listening to the shows today (now that classes are over and grades are in) may be of interest to non-Philadelphians if only because of the tone that the various hosts have deployed to discuss this latest scandal. As clear as Angelo and others have been in condemning the alleged acts, the hosts have also exhibited a degree of anguish that was entirely lacking in the case of Joe Paterno. (One important difference is that Conlin yesterday resigned from his writing post, so no one can call for his job.)

On the one hand, all the talk show hosts looked up to Conlin as one of the best baseball minds in Philadelphia (a mind and voice that earned him the J. G. Taylor Spink Award this year for meritorious contributions to baseball writing). In other words, they knew him and could never have imagined that Conlin was capable of such behavior. Now, though, the moral wheels are grinding and different hosts are agonizing over the darkness of human nature, and wondering how much they need to be suspicious of anyone they know.

On the other hand, the hosts are not nearly so condemning of the adults who enabled Conlin (allegedly) to escape any charges for over forty years (and now the statute of limitations means that Conlin will not face criminal charges). No one is wondering who among Conlin’s editors knew about this. No one is blaming the parents of these children who did know (allegedly) of the molestation but did nothing because they did not want to hurt a friend and family member who was coming into his own as a reporter and columnist.

In other words, what is happening in the world of Philadelphia sports journalism is precisely what did not happen when news from Happy Valley arrived in Philadelphia. Instead of imagining how those close to Jerry Sandusky might have reacted to protect both a friend and an institution, Philadelphia journalists called for the figurative death penalty for everyone close to Sandusky.

It is a complicated world out there.

By the way, I keep wondering when the shoe is going to drop in all of these child molestation scandals. We live at a time when practically every form of sexual desire is tolerated; the institutions that promote some of those forms even wind up sponsoring sports talk radio. So why exactly, for instance, do these men who sometimes go to gentlemen’s clubs think that sex between an adult and a child is wicked and perverse? The obvious answer is consent. The children are subordinate to the predators and have no recourse. The flip side of this deduction is that consensual sex is fine, no matter how kinky.

What I don’t understand is how consent makes sex, no matter how perverse, okay. Is the desire of a man for a boy okay? Is it perverse and disgusting? Or does it only become twisted when carried out on a boy (who is incapable of giving consent)? Could it be that certain forms of sex are perverse, no matter whether the partners are consenting and no matter how “natural” either of the partner’s desire is? Could it even be that sex between a married woman and her single boss is also perverse no matter how consensual the sex or natural the adulterers’ desires are?

The reason for asking is to see if the moral sense that does regard child molestation as heinous might also be available to draw lines in other places. These other lines would and should apply as much to heterosexual as to homosexual forms of sexual desire. Ideally, the true form of consensual sex would be one where two people have consented to be each other’s sexual partner for life and to be responsible for rearing any offspring that proceed from their sexual relations.

Imagine A World Without Moral Dilemmas (or not)

One of the recurring points made by Joe Paterno’s detractors is the one repeated by Rhea Hughes, Angelo Cataldi’s female sidekick, who sits idly by when the busty bimbos traipse through the studio but draws the line when Michael Vick mistreats dogs or when Joe Pa fails to do more than pick up the phone. Rhea has noted often the past few days how someone’s perspective on Paterno and the scandal at Penn State might change if he imagined that the children allegedly abused were his own grandchildren. That kind of personal connection supposedly tips the balance, clarifies the situation, and reveals the guilt of the PSU officials — including Joe Pa.

But once you start the engine of your imagination, it actually creates more dilemmas than it resolves. For instance, Rhea, imagine the following:

That Joe Paterno is your grandfather.

That you are Joe Pa’s priest and he has confessed his sin and you want to tell the police.

That you are a reporter and have evidence that would convict Sandusky but without revealing your source it is only hearsay.

That you are Paterno’s attorney and know the truth but need to represent your client.

That you are Sandusky’s friend.

That you are a smoker.

That the fundamentalists really did win.

That John Lennon wrote a song called “Imagine.”

Oh, that’s right, Lennon did and it was as ethereal as the moral certainty is absolute that afflicts scandalmongering.

Angelo Cataldi Should Have Done More

It took almost three hours this morning for Angelo to bring up Penn State. That is how bad the Eagles were yesterday, though sabbatarian that I am I did not see the poor performance — look at how pious I am (all about me)!! That left Angelo to pile on another football coach — Andy Reid — and to call for yet another firing. Even so, ccording to Cataldi and most of the other radio-talk show hosts, sitting high atop their soapboxes, the real story in Happy Valley was the victims of child molestation. That’s odd. So if Cataldi gave up talking about sexual molestation for the sake of the National Football League, should he be fired because sure he could have done more than one week of rants about Penn State?

All I kept hearing about last week was how Joe Paterno had to go, how he should have done more, how he admitted he should have done more, how the situation at Penn State had become (though no one coined the phrase) Penn State Gate. (I guess “gate” is reserved for misconduct in the nation’s capital, though you have to like the rhyme.) How exactly Joe Pa losing his job would help the victims was never clear. Nor did anyone do the justice calculation to conjure how Sandusky’s conviction would help the victims. In which case, invoking the victims and sympathizing with their plight may have been simply another way to get a taller soapbox.

So if the concern is really for the victims of sexual molestation, here is one resource on-line that may be useful for those who suffer or those who counsel those who suffer. One thing you learn from doing a search on-line is that the organizations and Internet resources do not appear to match the level of indignation that crescendoed last week. Even so, the Wounded Healer Journal appears to provide a number of useful phone numbers along with advice for both an immediate response to a specific instance or the long-term consequences of abuse.

I Am A Bigger Man Than Angelo Cataldi But Not Joe Paterno

The latest news of Joe Pa’s firing led Angelo to inaugurate his 6:00 am show today with these words, “Justice has been served.” This is a peculiar rendering of the situation. Authorities have brought allegations of sexual abuse by a former Penn State Coach. That coach is out on bail. The trial has not started. He is, according to American jurisprudence, innocent. No jury has pronounced him guilty. No judge has issued a sentence. But not Joe Pa, according to Angelo. Joe is guilty of covering up an act which has yet to be proven. “Unfrigginbelievable” does not do justice to the leaps in legal and moral logic in this declaration.

Just to keep tabs on Angelo’s moral imbecility, today he called Sandusky’s problem — the guy who is alleged to have abused the boys — “mental.” Angelo also admitted that Joe Pa was not guilty of breaking any law, but he was morally culpable. This is convenient for a man who sponsors an annual wing-eating contest where sexual perversions (all consensual and hetero, of course) add zest to the already “hot” wings. I would like to see Angelo devote an entire show to the moral difference between sexual failings and poor judgment. I would also like Angelo to explain what exactly he knows about the situation since so much of it remains murky. Earlier in the week Angelo referred to the incident in the shower as “rape.” Now he is calling it “groping” and “fondling.” Angelo is ignorant. But he “knows” that it could not have been any of the kinds of tomfoolery that goes on in boys and men’s locker rooms. From his vantage 220 miles and ten years away, the incident had to be foul and libidinous, and that Joe’s knowledge of it was fouler and wicked.

Meanwhile, Angelo and crew mocked the Penn State students who rioted last night. One of WIP’s other hosts, Big Daddy Graham, called for closing the entire university, that is how immoral the situation is. Never did it dawn on any of these radio hosts that they are as hysterical as the PSU fans of Joe. Nor did they consider how the media feeding frenzy may have contributed to the clunky — to say the least — handling of Joe’s dismissal and the reaction from PSU students. (Could not the University have suspended Joe for the rest of the season and then let him retire?) Then again, these folks have no moral imagination whatsoever. I guess when they are right, the mysteries of human existence evaporate.

But someone with a moral imagination might also consider what the parents of these boys knew and when they knew it. I know it is wrong to blame the victim. But if the problem in this scenario is the god-like status of Joe Paterno, his ability to raise money for the school because of his squeaky clean image, and the school’s need to keep Joe Pa’s idol free from any tarnish, then didn’t the parents of these boys contribute to the problem? Weren’t they sending their boys to these programs precisely because of their adulation of Joe Pa and colleagues? To be sure, such idolatry does not deserve sexual abuse. But Joe’s pristine image was the creation of more than PSU. It included parents who wanted their boys to play there. It also involved reporters and radio talk-show hosts who fed the publicity of Division One football programs. But for Angelo, Joe alone needs to atone for the sins of all these idolaters.

Angelo deserves some credit for seeing a few moral complications. When former governor Ed Rendell came on yesterday’s show and counselled caution and letting the gears of justice grind, Angelo wondered if Rendell had actually known about the situation at PSU during his tenure in Harrisburg. This raised the same moral problem of what did Rendell know and when did he know it, and whether the governor was actually guilty of the same indiscretion as Joe Pa. But because the former governor and former mayor of Philadelphia has been a friend of Angelo’s show and is a regular on the Comcast Eagle’s post-game show (good sabbatarian that I am, I don’t watch it, really — plus we don’t get cable), Angelo was unwilling to press Rendell on his responsibility. (Angelo resembled Bunk in Season Five during Jimmy’s shenanigans.)

The one relatively interesting comment today came from Al Morganti who generally avoids Angelo’s hysteria (though he is the mastermind of Wing Bowl). Al argued that this scandal affects the entire university because PSU is beholden to the football program. That’s likely true. But Al did not go far enough. American higher education is beholden to the NCAA (at least in Division One sports). All university presidents should be looking at themselves in the mirror today and for many years to come over the dependence of their institutions on athletic programs that have almost nothing to do with an education except for paying bills (and even then the proceeds from Division One football — as I understand — go more to fund sports programs that can’t pay their bills, not to put more books in the library — though Paterno has been a champion of learning and the library at PSU in ways unimaginable with the peripatetic Nick Sabin now at Alabama).

In the end, what is most aggravating about the end of Joe’s career is that it came during a cultural moment when moral coarseness prevails but — perhaps to avoid utter degeneracy — the same culture inflicts a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy. It is the same culture that judges the founders of the United States as odious because they held and countenanced slavery. This is a form of moral discernment that brings ruin on the reputation and accomplishments of reputable and accomplished people (despite their fallenness) because of one offense. For the next several years, people will remember Paterno more for this scandal than his remarkable career and appealing persona. That persona was evident even in his two statements — one of retirement and one after being fired. No bitterness, only gratitude did he express for his beloved PSU, despite being treated fairly shabbily by administrators apparently intent on saving face.

Of course, moral perfectionists like Angelo will read Paterno’s statements cynically, as someone who is still trying to cover his behind. What Angelo and other secular Wesleyans need to remember is that the one-strike-and-you’re-out policy is a moral standard reserved for God. The rest of us schlubs, whether redeemed or not, know that we have already struck out.

But I will not retaliate in a way fitting Angelo’s self-righteousness. I will not fire him from my life even though he has shown remarkable stupidity and absurd moral discretion. I still enjoy the banter about Philadelphia sports and like to hear many of the writers that appear on the show when the hosts actually talk about sports. Still, I cling to the hope that someday Angelo will interview Paterno, Joe Pa accepts, and and the octogenarian proceeds to knock the hysterical moral bully on his ever widening can.

If I Liked Bunk, Can I Still Admire Joe Pa?

Morality is alive and well on the airwaves of sports talk-radio. The ethical crisis of the moment is what did Joe Paterno know about the sexual abuse of boys by a former assistant coach and when did he know it. The issue has led to remarkable moral clarity for talk-show hosts who generally embrace views that the Baylys associate with secularism and relativism in the United States. Why, Angelo Cataldi, has even called for the firing of Joe Paterno for not controlling the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the security forces of Penn State University, and not knowing every single aspect of the football program at PSU. In other words, Joe Pa should be fired for not being God.

This is not a post about sexual abuse. It is about ethical abuse.

First, Angelo and company have no apparent capacity to consider what friendships may do in preventing someone from leaning hard on a friend and colleague. Would those who are calling for Paterno’s firing be so quick to decide so categorically to eliminate a friend or relative? Isn’t one of the most persistent problems of human existence that moral ideals run up against personal allegiances all the time? Does this make violations of an ethical code right? No. But the inability to imagine the angst that someone like Paterno may have gone and still be going through is the sort of one-dimensional outlook that prevents evangelicals and other pietists from ever reading novels that explore morally ambiguous circumstances.

For instance, Bunk Moreland is one of the great characters on The Wire. And in Season Five Bunk knows what Jimmy is doing to bring a drug lord to conviction — namely, breaking the law and police regulations. Bunk disapproves mightily of Jimmy’s misdeeds. But Bunk never tells on Jimmy. Was I outraged that Bunk didn’t rat? Duh! Bunk remains one of my favorite characters despite his moral weakness. This is the stuff of life. It is likely what Joe Pa has gone through many times. (Of course, it could be that Paterno doesn’t care a wit about his former colleague or the boys the ex-coach abused. But how someone could be that cynical and that morally self-righteous all in one gulp gives my brain indigestion.)

But the moral crisis thickens when listeners remember that the show Angelo and company broadcast is sponsored by many gentlemen’s clubs where the lines distinguishing the righteous from the unrighteous are not so clear. Granted, Angelo may argue that pedophiliac sex is not consensual, is if voluntarism justifies willful lying before a grand jury or driving eighty-one miles per hour on the Ohio Turnpike. But last time I heard, human trafficking was one of the great illicit activities in our time and many of the women who come to the United States through human trafficking wind up in gentlemen’s clubs (see Season Two of The Wire). And has Angelo ever considered that some of the people who engage in the activities that transpire in gentlemen’s clubs end up being hurt by such behavior — from sexually transmitted diseases to psychological and spiritual scars that will follow the dancers and their tippers around the rest of their lives?

So it is not at all clear that Angelo and others who self-righteously condemn Joe Paterno are all that free and clear from the moral law they so eagerly enforce.

Will I be disappointed if it turns out that Joe Pa looked the other way too many times and didn’t seek to protect kids from lecherous men? Yes. But I am also disappointed in a talk-show host who (while driving my wife nuts when he talks about babes and boobs) is generally entertaining but so morally obtuse not to see that most days he should be disappointed in himself before pointing out the moral failings of others.