As the whole universe knows by now, Ashley Madison, a site that promises to help you cheat on your spouse or your money back, was hacked. Some 30 or 40 million past and present "anonymous" users have been exposed.
Predictably, a number of the profiles -- especially the female ones -- have proven to be fraudulent, likely created to sucker men into joining the site in hopes of hooking up with young, attractive women. According to some reports, there were close to zero active, real female users. So it would seem the actual subscribers were cruel enough to engage in carefully premeditated infidelity, gullible enough to be duped by an extramarital "dating" site almost entirely populated by dudes, and stupid enough to register their names in a database of adulterers compiled by a company whose very business is dishonesty.
It is indeed a sad statement about our culture, and not just because of the Ashley Madison users themselves. As usual, the real trouble is in how we, in society, have reacted to the story. I wasn't initially planning to write anything on this story. Two weeks have passed, which is the equivalent of approximately six and a half centuries in a country with the attention span of an amoeba. But I've been reading some of the other commentary, and having conversations with various people on this subject, and it's become apparent that a few points desperately need to be made.
It's not a hot take anymore, maybe more like a refrigerated-then-reheated take, but here goes:
Adultery Is Not a Mistake
In rationalizing adultery, I've heard many apologists say something like, "hey, we all make mistakes." That's true, but a mistake by definition is "an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc." In other words, a person is guilty of a mistake when they don't understand or realize the error of their ways.
Accidentally running a red light is a mistake. Purposefully running your cheating spouse over with your car is a (tempting) decision. Dialing a wrong number is a mistake. Registering with an adultery website is a deliberate action.
[sharequote align="center"]Dialing a wrong number is a mistake. Registering with an adultery website is a deliberate action.[/sharequote]
There are many words you can use, but not mistake. Children can sin mistakenly -- that is, without a full understanding of their own actions -- but adults know right from wrong. Every married adult who is not insane knows it's wrong to cheat, which is why every cheater goes through great lengths to hide their activities, including, in this case, hiring a third-party facilitator to make the experience more enjoyable, relaxing, and discreet (a lot of good it did).
Sometimes we might use the word mistake mistakenly, but usually it's a cowardly calculation meant to deflect responsibility. Example: aside from Josh Duggar, one of the only other Ashley Madison patrons to make the news was an apparently well known YouTube personality named Sam Rader. I'd never even heard of the guy prior to this, but when I found out he's a Christian, I understood why his affair garnered interest in the media. He posted a video titled "Forgiven," where he explained that his wife had already pardoned him for "making a mistake in opening up an account."
Mistake. Synonyms: misstep, gaffe, miscalculation, inaccuracy, oversight.
Was the account a result of an "oversight," or was it a purposeful decision made carefully and in secret? Did his moral GPS "miscalculate" and suddenly he was inadvertently trolling the internet for an extramarital fling (oops!), or did he decide to do it because the reward, in his mind, made it worth the risk?
I can't quite conceive of a scenario where someone would actually mistakenly set up a profile on a website with the slogan, "Life is Short, Have an Affair." Maybe if they'd just gotten back surgery, were hopped up on painkillers, and in their deliriousness thought they were signing up for tickets to a fair, like the state fair or something. But even then, right around the time it asks you to list your fetishes, I'd think they might become a tad suspicious.
Sins are choices. That is why they are sins. You don't trip and fall and accidentally break the Sixth Commandment. You do it on purpose because you want to. That's what makes it such a hideous, terrible thing. This is not a matter of semantics. In our culture, personal responsibility and accountability are in danger of extinction, which is why so many have rushed to the defense of these cheaters by explaining that there are "circumstances" and "situations" and "grey areas" and "reasons" why someone makes the "mistake" of engaging in an extended, secretive attempt to find sexual partners outside of marriage.
We shouldn't call for adulterers to be stoned to death in the street, but neither should we become pathetic apologists who pretend that affairs can be understandable or accidental.
They can't be. They aren't. They're intentional and evil. Always, everywhere, every time.
Adulterers Are Not Victims
Granted, there are some actual victims of the hacking, and that list includes people whose names were stolen and used as aliases, wary spouses who maybe registered only to catch a cheater in the act, the mentally ill who might have signed up while in the middle of a hallucinatory psychotic episode, and others who fall into these general categories, and who may now be unfairly slandered as adulterers.
More importantly, the families of the adulterers are very real victims, but they have been victimized by their traitorous husband/wife/mother/father, not some hacker on the internet.
Image source: AshleyMadison.com
Now, here are two groups that definitely cannot be called hacking "victims":
-The adulterers who used the site
-The pimps who run the site
Only in our victim-obsessed society could we call a man or woman a victim because they've been embarrassed in front of the whole wide world after intentionally using the world wide web to commit adultery. Yes, they might have expected privacy, but they have no moral right to the comforts of anonymity while they break their marriage vows.
Obviously, the hackers don't have a right to steal their information, and strangers don't have the right to know about their transgressions, but neither are they morally entitled to do what they're doing. When hackers, pimps, and unfaithful spouses meet in cyberworld, there are no victims among them, only predators. Everyone is trespassing, everyone is stealing, everyone is betraying the trust of everyone else. The hackers are taking what they shouldn't be taking, but this is only possible because the cheater is giving (or trying to give, which is an irrelevant distinction) what he shouldn't be giving.
Hackers steal data, which is bad. Cheaters steal trust, which is far worse. Worst of all, cheaters steal themselves.
[sharequote align="center"]Hackers steal data, which is bad. Cheaters steal trust, which is far worse. [/sharequote]
We owe our hearts, our time, our faithfulness, our loyalty, our bodies, ourselves to our spouses. That's the point of the whole marriage thing, last I checked. If we betray that responsibility, we cannot cry victim when someone shines a light on our treason -- even if the person holding the lamp is a crook himself.
Adultery Is Not An Indictment of Christian Marriage
Slate ran an article a few days ago suggesting the Ashley Madison fiasco provides a "peephole" into Christian marriage, while offering absolutely no proof that the majority, or even a sizable minority, of Ashley Madison subscribers are observant Christians. But however many actual Christians used the site, none of it proves anything about "Christian marriage."
These vultures circling overhead, waiting to pounce and scream "SEE? I TOLD YOU!" anytime a Christian commits a grievous sin, never consider that perhaps the millions and millions of happy, non-adulterous Christian marriages provide a better peek into how the arrangement is supposed to look.
Our culture is eager to appoint adulterating, cheating Christians as representatives of the whole faith, but noticeably, we never see headlines about the Christian couples married and faithful for half a century, or my Christian parents who've been together for over three decades while successfully raising six kids.
No matter what convenient and inaccurate stereotypes people prefer to believe, the truth is that these observant and practicing religious couples are far more likely to have lasting and fulfilling marriages. The majority of failed relationships come courtesy of secular couples, whether they are secular Christians or secular agnostics or whatever other version of the same thing.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Adultery isn't a statement about marriage or Christianity; it's a statement about the adulterer himself or herself. That's all. That's it.
This Ashley Madison stuff only proves one thing for certain: people are weak, broken, and selfish. We already knew that, didn't we? I didn't need Ashley Madison or the divorce rate to tell me that humans sometimes struggle to do hard things. What it doesn't prove is that we are, in principle, incapable of accomplishing something challenging and beautiful like maintaining a true, faithful marriage.
I think our job in the face of all of this is to become even louder and more passionate advocates for marriage. If we are going to save the institution in this country, we have to raise our kids to understand the power and purpose of it. Crucially, we have to teach them -- better, show them -- what sort of personal qualities are essential to being a devoted husband or wife.
It's for this reason that I wasn't a fan of that viral Facebook post everyone's been talking about over the past few days. A woman, Jessica Kirkland, wrote a lengthy rant about Josh Duggar's infidelities, concentrating particularly on how the whole thing will affect his wife, Anna. The post has been shared some 200,000 times, clearly resonating with many people, yet it is fatally and obviously flawed for a number of reasons.
Kirkland says that Anna has been raised to blame herself for her husband's adultery. She accuses Anna's parents of "utterly, utterly failing her" for teaching her to sit back and take it while her good-for-nothing, philandering husband runs around town chasing tail.
Now, I don't know how Anna was raised and I suspect Kirkland doesn't, either. If she was, in fact, taught to assume blame for the sins of her man, I strongly disagree with and condemn those teachings. That's not a "Christian" lesson by any stretch of the imagination. I also agree with Kirkland's general anger and disgust at Josh Duggar, and I've recently expressed similar feelings of revulsion.
With all that said, I can't go along with this part:
Anna Duggar was crippled by her parents by receiving no education, having no work experience... Anna Duggar was taught that her sole purpose in life, the most meaningful thing she could do, was to be chaste and proper, a devout wife, and a mother.... Anna Duggar followed the rules that were imposed on her from the get-go and this is what she got in reward...
..Parents, WE MUST DO BETTER BY OUR DAUGHTERS. Boys, men, are born with power. Girls have to command it for themselves. They aren't given it. They assume it and take it. But you have to teach them to do it, that they can do it. ... Josh Duggar should be cowering in fear of Anna Duggar right now. Cowering. He isn't, but he should be... Please, instill your daughters with the resolve to make a man cower if he must... As for my girls, I'll raise them to think they breathe fire.
The answer to one story of infidelity is not to attack the very idea of being a chaste, proper, and devout wife and mother. No woman is "crippled" by her own virtue. Despite Kirkland's comments, being a good wife and mother actually is just about the most meaningful thing many women will do with their lives. The same can be said for men who strive to be good husbands and fathers.
Kirkland goes beyond the Duggar situation to paint an overall picture where women and men are locked in an eternal struggle for power. Women should protect themselves, she says, not by chastity and devoutness, but by "breathing fire" and "making men cower." She sees the relationship between man and woman not as life giving and complimentary, but as competitive and antagonistic. Boys are "born with power," girls have to "take it," she claims, echoing the radical feminist theories your kid is probably learning as fact in college as we speak.
Again, I agree that Anna Duggar, specifically, has plenty of reasons to "breathe fire," but generally speaking, you are setting your children up for a lifetime of failed relationships if the primary skill you teach them is the art of intimidating the opposite sex. Your daughter will never be happy in a marriage if she looks with resentment at men, lusting after this supposed "power" they've inherited from birth.
It's extraordinarily disturbing, but also illuminating, that this marriage-as-a-struggle-for-power concept is so appealing to so many people. Marriage is a union built and sustained on loyalty, sacrifice, forgiveness, and love. I have no clue what's going on in the Duggar household right now, or what Anna Duggar is thinking, or what her parents are telling her, but I do know that the problem has nothing to do with her unwillingness to "take the power" from her husband. The problem is that her spouse failed spectacularly as a man, a husband, and a human being. I don't think this would have been avoided had Anna's parents only taught her to be more cynical and aggressive.
It's incredibly shallow, shortsighted, and asinine to propose that women shouldn't be "chaste and devout" just because their husbands sometimes aren't. By the way, some women have been known to come up short in this regard while their husbands remain the chaste and devout ones, so this is far from a one way street. I wonder, incidentally, how it would be received if I suggested that jilted men should make their cheating wives "cower"? I imagine I'd be universally condemned, if not arrested for inciting domestic abuse. So if the concept of teaching your son to make women cower repulses you, as it should, it ought to repulse you just the same in the reverse. It's a repulsive idea, through and through, even if Josh Duggar is a lying, cheating coward of a man.
Moreover, ironically, Kirkland's message, while supposedly meant to defend Anna, actually infantilizes and patronizes her, essentially blaming her for her husband's affairs.
"Had she only learned to be a fire breathing feminist, she wouldn't be in this situation!" There's little difference between this message and telling a woman her husband cheated because she was too sexually withdrawn or whatever. Both make the same mistake, just from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Ingraining more division and contempt between the sexes is not the answer. Abandoning chastity and monogamy is not the answer. Teaching our kids that marriage is an epic battle between tyrannical men and victimized women is not the answer.
The answer is to teach our boys how to be decent, faithful, trustworthy, loving men, and our girls how to be decent, faithful, trustworthy, loving women. Members of each group will inevitably fail, but we shouldn't adjust the strategy to compensate for it.
Parents: we have to do better by our kids.
Marriage is beautiful and powerful and good and true, as long as both partners put the work in. We have to teach them how to do that. And that, as far as I can tell, is the only real lesson we can learn from any of this.
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