Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Scarlet A and the Invisible I

Perhaps we all read Hawthorne’s masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, in high school. Then, we were taught it was about the hideous overharshness of the 1600s America Puritan culture (what Hawthorne’s ancestors were part of) in publicly shaming a woman all her life for the sin of adultery made obvious by a resulting child. But that’s not what the book is about.

As interesting as the other main characters are—the ill-treated but shallow Hester, loyal at all costs to her secret lover, her idolized wild unfathered little daughter Pearl, and the devilishly vengeful Chillingworth— it is the riveting second half of the novel concerning Dimmesdale that is the heart of the story.

Yes, the pure-and-saintly-seeming Reverend Dimmesdale was a dim bulb, but a very interesting character. His talents were great, his rise remarkable, his influence far-reaching, but as a result of many years of covering his sin (he is Pearl’s father) his tortured soul itself is deceived. For all his popularity and glowingly righteous appearance, he is spiritually dead, which ultimately causes untimely physical decline and death. And strangely, for all his Bible-knowledge and flowing, charismatic sermons full of truth and comfort, he himself, hypocrite that he is, chooses not to take advantage of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and so become humble, clean, and forgiven. Instead, he makes himself the one exemption, fooling himself that he can do more good unconfessed, making of himself a secretly suffering martyr. He convinces himself that by keeping his sin hidden he can do the greater good for man's welfare and for the glory of God through his own tireless and continual good works.

Chillingworth, Hester’s actual husband, this fact unknown to anyone but them, bad as he himself is in a different way, has Dimmesdale’s number when to Dimmesdale’s convoluted hypothetical argument he blurts out,

“These men deceive themselves . . . They fear to take up the shame that rightfully belongs to them . . . [I]f they seek to glorify God, let them not lift heavenward their unclean hands! . . . Wouldst thou have me believe, O wise and pious friend, that a false show can be better—can be more for God’s glory, or man’s welfare—than God’s own truth? Trust me, such men deceive themselves!”

Nathaniel Hawthorne was indeed a great thinker. And we must do a bit of thinking ourselves if we are to understand his story and take warning from it.

That’s the Scarlet A. Now for the Invisible I. We were featured on a radio show the other day and a lady called in. She told about her sister-in-law who as a girl was sexually abused by her brothers, who later decided to present herself as a male (so no man would ever hurt her again?) and who eventually took her own life. The caller later found out it was her own husband who had been one of his sister’s tormentors and who had also been sexually abusing their sons. She said multi-generational incest is huge in Utah, among the Mormon population no less.

We’ve heard plenty of these stories. They demonstrate what is known as The Family Secret. We’ll call it the Invisible I. I for incest.

Then it struck us. So many LDS families are having a slobbering love affair with homosexuality because someone in their family claims same-sex attraction. These gay family members are their especial pets even. They don’t wonder why.  They, quite cruelly, don't care to know the causes. They accept this identity no questions asked. They even denounce their faith, even leave the Church, because of these gay children or relatives or friends. Why? Well, how about this? Perhaps, like in the experience related above, it’s that ugly family secret, the invisible I, that is the reason so many LDS families are so unquestioningly accepting of their children coming out as gay. Perhaps that is why they don't seem to care about the reasons for and the physical and spiritual dangers of their child's homosexuality. They’d rather sacrifice these poor damaged souls to the myth of inborn homosexuality than have their own sordid family secrets uncovered and their reputations sullied. No, they don’t want anybody shining the light on the skeletons in the closet. Perhaps they consider their standing in the community, their good works, their reputations too important, too valuable. Yes, perhaps they choose to do a Dimmesdale: deceive themselves into believing they are doing more good for their fellow man, for God, by keeping the I invisible, by covering their sins, by denying this ugly truth, by keeping this horrible crime hidden, and instead celebrate the destructive homosexual tendencies of their child.

We believe many vulnerable young people can fall into homosexuality merely because of our oversexed culture’s gay-promoting environment, false stereotypes and peer abuse, being unlucky in love, pornography,  perverse sex -ed and the pushing of homosexuality in schools, but of course there can be different factors. The Invisible I,  for one. Because of the costs, such as the shame and the shunning and the loss of community, job, family, and church status, even imprisonment, incest/pedophilia most often remains a deep dark family secret that is therefore replicated through multiple generations leaving all sorts of destruction in its wake. 

Here's a heads up. Beware the overpure appearance and talked-up outward piousness of some families, whether they toot their own horn or have others do it for them. Family secrets can be kept hidden indefinitely. Devils can appear as angels of light. 

This is the meaning of the scripture about how a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. Some evil may be able to put on an angelic appearance, like Dimmesdale, like plenty of people all around us, but it’s corrupt at its roots and will not survive or prosper in any meaningful, important, or eternal way. Whether or not anyone else will be ultimately helped or God glorified in spite of that standing evil is questionable. At least people won't be helped as much as they could be. As Hawthorne said, how can a false show do more for mankind or to glorify God that God’s own truth? We mustn’t deceive ourselves into believing a corrupt tree can bring forth good fruit. It’s a good bet Hawthorne had read his Machiavelli; the ends do not justify the means. Unless God Himself unmistakably tells you to do something you know to be wrong, if  you stand to benefit personally in any way from that wrong thing, you better believe it’s dead wrong.

The Family Secret, a.k.a. Dimmesdalian covering up and rationalization of sin, is not a mere fiction. It has happened and continues to happen in real life. How sad that people would rather allow great suffering and perpetuate such evils than confess, humbly turn back to the Lord, and be saved from their sickening hidden sins now and forever. 

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