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 The Acquittal 

June 14, 2005 
As you may have heard by the time you read this, Michael Jackson has been acquitted on all ten of the charges brought against him. Today's column is the Jackson trial -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.At least if you haven’t heard, you’re probably not checking your smoke signals often enough.

I love what the Roman fellow said: “Nothing human is alien to me.” But I’ve long regarded Michael Jackson as the test case of that venerable adage. Even in California, he stands out.

Still, I’m relieved that he wasn’t convicted. If it’s the government versus Michael Jackson — or, as they say, The People v. Michael Jackson — I’ll root for Michael every time. Too many of the people have been having too much unholy glee at Michael’s expense. They remind me of the mob who turned out to punish the woman caught committing adultery, with the law on their side and stones in their hands. Jesus didn’t criticize the law, but he suggested that the first stone be thrown by some guy who’d never sinned himself. The woman walked (albeit with a firm warning).

As the prosecution brought lurid testimony against Jacko, I asked myself how I might be made to look if the government could invite, or force, all the acquaintances I’ve ever made to testify against me. The truth would be bad enough; but add to that the lies that my enemies would be glad to repeat, and which the public would be willing to believe, and even an acquittal wouldn’t do much to repair the damage.

In Jacko’s case, of course, there’s a special angle. Child molesting is one of those things — like flag burning, pot smoking, and Holocaust denial — that cause some people to freak out. It’s not enough to say you’re against them; if you oppose them with anything less than hysteria, some readers are sure to assume you favor them. One of the things writing for a living teaches you is that, no matter how clearly you think you’ve written, people may read the most bizarre things into your work, clean opposite to what you’ve actually said.

I used to freak over child molesting myself. I once suspected a houseguest of having lewd designs on my grandson, though I couldn’t prove it, so I invented a feeble pretext for requiring him to leave. On another occasion an in-law was convicted of sodomizing boys.

[Breaker quote for The Acquittal: From Hef to Jacko]To my surprise, I found myself unable to dislike or despise either man. I pitied them both. They were afflicted with a temptation God had spared me. Imagine living with an illicit desire so vehemently condemned by society!

This is the part where some people would no doubt condemn discrimination against child molesters — or “pedophilic Americans,” as they’d no doubt call them. And this is just where I think it’s important to keep a difficult balance and sense of proportion between sin and sinner.

Child molesting is a serious sin. Even liberals don’t make light of it. But it’s the prevalent hysteria on the subject that gives me pause. By all means, children should be protected from it; I’ve also known kids whose lives were terribly damaged by it (girls, I think, more than boys). And yet others seem to suffer no permanent or irreparable harm. The vice has been commonly accepted in some civilizations, and most of their members seem to have been pretty normal.

St. Thomas Aquinas held that most sexual sins were mortal, since they abuse our life-giving faculties, yet also that they were less serious than other mortal sins, because they are merely carnal, not spiritual. Of course they may be more grave when they also involve infidelity, seduction, and betrayal, which are not merely sins of the flesh, but offenses against justice, charity, and other duties.

Today some people openly defend pedophilia, and no doubt many others secretly approve of it. This shouldn’t surprise us. American culture, once notoriously puritanical, now contemns the virtue of chastity, and if Michael Jackson had made a reputation for collecting women, he’d be widely admired in the same publications that now want to stone him.

But when he’s suspected of collecting boys — a suspicion he’s done little to discourage — even liberals become raging Puritans. Jacko must be wondering what the rules are in this country nowadays. Hugh Hefner, our senior philosopher, has never explained why, if sexual pleasure is essentially good, it’s depraved when enjoyed with children.

We no longer recognize anything as a sin, but we still want to have our public sinners. Stoning them is so much fun.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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