Is Our Moral Compass Pointing South?

I recently saw a television show about a man who left a suicide note and disappeared. He left his wife practically destitute with only the proceeds from a small insurance policy and death benefits from Social Security for their two sons. Five years later, he was declared dead.

Fourteen years later, after rebuilding her life, the wife received a letter from the SSA, demanding the return of the $56,000 death benefits because her husband was “not deceased.”

Turns out this guy, moved to Galveston, Texas, assumed a new name, hooked up with another woman, lived on waterfront property, and became a prominent public figure with social standing amongst his circle of friends. After a co-worker got suspicious when he saw forged documents which raised questions about this man’s identity, he confessed everything to his friends and the local D.A. which seemed to appease everyone. But, he was forced to use his real name and Social Security number again which alerted the SSA.

Back in Ohio, his wife did her own investigation, had him extradited and charged with felony counts of insurance fraud and non-support, which eventually landed him in the slammer for one year out of a 4-year sentence with restitution to be paid and a $250,000 civil judgment in her favor.

The story in itself is an amazing one but the reaction from his “circle of friends” in Galveston left me bewildered.

“We’re not talking about a rapist, a mugger, a murderer; he wasn’t that awful a person,” said one friend.

“I don’t think I’ve been deceived. I have many emotions, but being deceived is not one of them,” said another.

When asked about the position he left his wife and children, one said, “I’m only in a position to judge what he’s done here and that’s been remarkable.”

Another said, “They should’ve had those 15 years; I don’t blame his wife for being angry,” but “he’s suffered, he’s had his own hell these 15 years.” Oh, really? He was living a very affluent life in a waterfront home.

The interviewer then questioned, “Why are you all so willing to forgive?” and was told, “He didn’t hurt us. There’s no reason not to forgive him.” When asked if they would accept him back, almost in unison came a thundering, “In a heart beat!”

When the interviewer pointed out that he faked his own death, his best friend said, “To leave everything behind was either “an act of incredible cowardice or bravery born out of desperation” and, in his opinion, it was “bravery born out of desperation.” Amazing.

When his lawyer in Ohio asked for a reduction in bail, my chin almost dropped to the floor when he said, “This is not a situation where people have been harmed or murdered.” (Sometimes lawyers really shouldn’t say anything.)

The comments from his friends, who thought nothing of his betrayal of his wife and children, the fraud against the insurance company and the SSA as a result of his faked death, and the creation of a new identity and life for himself, were startling.

To even consider this guy’s actions were “brave” is disturbing to say the least, but to believe that “he wasn’t as awful a person” is incredible. Because he had never hurt any of them, their apathy towards his wife and two small boys was beyond remarkable.

My first reaction was that these people are far more forgiving than I am. However, forgiveness presupposes that a wrong has been committed, but his friends didn’t think this guy did anything wrong.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized society has lost its sense of right and wrong and is now drowning in a pool of moral relativism. The more we move towards secularism, the more unwilling we are to say something is “wrong.” The more society is unwilling to shun the wrongdoer, the less likely he or she will ever experience a sense of shame, except, of course, for the contrived, usually scripted “public apology.”

A perfect example is Kobe Bryant. There are no words to express the disgust I feel every time I arrive at LAX and see the humongous billboard with Bryant’s face welcoming visitors to LA — not the entire Lakers’ team, just Bryant. Here’s a guy who was charged with sexual assault, admitted to the adulterous sexual encounter, settled out of court, and he’s still a superstar!

Despite the 2003 sexual assault case, it was reported just this summer that Bryant earned a $23 million salary and $10 million in endorsements and was ranked seventh in Sports Illustrated’s list of highest-earning U.S. athletes!

Because the Lakers, corporate sponsors and fans have excused his despicable behavior by rewarding him with a continuing successful and highly-paid career, Bryant has never suffered shame, guilt, embarrassment or disgrace. As far as I’m concerned, this guy shouldn’t show his face in public, but his obvious athletic skills have trumped any moral issue.

Another example is former President Clinton. He was only the second President to be impeached by the House of Representatives since Andrew Johnson in 1868. In closing arguments, chief prosecutor Henry Hyde said, “A failure to convict will make the statement that lying under oath, while unpleasant and to be avoided, is not all that serious…We have reduced lying under oath to a breach of etiquette, but only if you are the President…” He was acquitted by the Senate. Need I say more?

It’s still astounding to me how, having disgraced not only himself but his wife and daughter, President Clinton has the audacity to appear in public, year after year, and still maintain his popularity.

And let’s not forget Mark Sanford, Woody Allen, Barney Frank, Roman Polanski, Tiger Woods, Al Sharpton, Jimmy Swaggart and Eliot Spitzer, all who’ve done shameful things, but continue to maintain political power or enjoy highly lucrative careers. Doesn’t anyone remember Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick? And the list goes on and on and on.

In her article, “For Shame,” Rebecca Forster asked the question, “If shame, embarrassment, dishonor, guilt and humiliation are undefined – or ill-defined – how will we teach the meaning of pride, honor, principle and bravery?” Heck if I know.

I don’t get it, and, if you do, God Bless you.

Author Bio:

For over twenty years, Leona has tried to heed her husband’s advice, “you don’t have to say everything you think.” She’s failed miserably. Licensed to practice law in California and Washington, she works exclusively in the area of child abuse and neglect. She considers herself a news junkie and writes about people and events on her website, “I Don’t Get It,” which she describes as the “musings of an almost 60-year old conservative woman on political, social and cultural life in America.” It’s not her intention to offend anyone who “gets it.” She just doesn’t. Originally from Brooklyn, and later Los Angeles, she now lives with her husband, Michael, on a beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which she describes as a bastion of liberalism.
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  • Burt Prelutsky

    Mrs. Salazar: I agree with you and not with the scoundrel’s friends and associates in Texas. What’s more, I don’t believe they’re in a position to forgive him. Only the person who is harmed has that right and, clearly, his wife is not a sap. Also, I have never really understood people who are willing to give a pass to anyone so long as they weren’t the ones victimized. By that rule of thumb, most people alive today would not be in a position to condemn the likes of Hitler, Stalin or Mao.

    Regards, Burt

  • Roger Ward

    We all harken back to the “good old days” when everything was better …. but of course, things weren’t better. Our population had the same percentage of murderers, adulterers, child molesters and other criminals then as we do now. The difference is that in those days, transgressors had the good grace to not flaunt their wrongdoing in a continuing, public display. Shame and judgment existed and were used to good effect.

    Of course, it is unlikely that the guilty ever felt any true shame personally but shame was heaped on them by a population that was willing to make a judgment, unlike the moral relativists of today. Shame can’t exist without someone making a judgment and then placing that blame.

    If you want to be afraid for our country’s future, look at the principles of moral relativitism being advanced by the liberals (and a few conservatives.) The prevailing thought in today’s colleges and universities is that no one is qualified to judge the innocence or guilt of another …. because you weren’t there, you can’t know what was in another’s heart, so you’re not allowed to judge or to shame him. I remember reading an poll on the views of today’s college students in which one of the questions asked was whether they felt Hitler’s actions were wrong. Over half of them replied that they couldn’t make a judgment because they weren’t alive then and didn’t know Hitler’s real feelings. Frightening.

  • Steve

    That’s a simplistic rebuttal, Ron. While I agree that we haven’t completely removed God from people’s lives, the severe limitations on religious expression in those parts of our lives that are touched by any aspect of government involvement, coupled with the burgeoning, frequently mandatory, impact of government on our daily lives over the past several decades, has the de facto effect of severely restricting the role of God in our lives.
    Trying to find that fine line where my religious belief, and consequent moral development, is encouraged without encroaching on the rights of others with different beliefs is very difficult. While our current approach- which borders on the establishment of non-religion as our national religion- has the apparent virtue of moral simplicity, the impact of present policy has significant social consequences. It would behoove us to give serious consideration to this effect from time to time.

  • Wing Wong

    Regarding children, it’s more about the fact that parents aren’t actually parenting their children… they confuse no corporal punishment with no discipline. Or if discipline is applied, it is done so inconsistently.

    It’s not that a few people are out of whack, it’s that alot of people are not willing to speak up. It’s that we see time and again, people with money, power, and/or a convincing attitude walk when they should have been punished, that people have become unconvinced that justice will be served. And when you don’t believe justice will be served, you no longer seek justice.

    Whether you need a god/gods or fear of being beaten to set you on the right path… ultimately, you are still the one person making the choices for yourself and for those around you. Perhaps it isn’t so much that peoples’ moral compass has changed direction. Perhaps it’s a matter of people lacking initiative and conviction to actually do something.

  • Ron

    I am not sure our moral compass is heading south. These are a few people. My guess is that they are the exception, not the rule. I do not think they represent a majority of people. I am not sure the hero worship today is any different than before. My favorite baseball player when I was young was Mickey Mantle. He was a drunk. Babe Ruth was a drunk. The issue in Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing was not whether perjury was wrong but whether it rose to the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachment purposes. Didn’t Dick Morris let a hooker listen in on telephone conversations with the President and didn’t Newt Gingrich have an affair while in office. Newt Gingrich is now being considered as a Presidential candidate.

  • JDO

    Our moral compass has been heading south for a long, long time, well before Clinton got caught with his pants down (again) and, basically, got away with it with nothing more than a hand slap.

    If you know any teachers (I’m married to one), just ask how kids behave in school. My wife teaches middle-schoolers (an awkward age, to be sure), and I’m not talking in an “inner-city” school, either. The overall lack of respect and decency she tells me about is appalling. We often tend to talk about the “good old days” as if they were all goodness and light but, you know, in reality kids did NOT act like that when I was in middle school, and that was a mere 30 years ago! Not coincidentally, I think, schools were allowed to discipline kids back then …

  • Chief

    I can’t agree with you David. There may be 2 ways to view a situation but wrong is wrong and no amount of mental gymnastics will change that fact. Your reference to the witch trials only goes to show that critical thinking and questioning of the media is vital to a free society. Have you ever known a prostitute? I have represented many and have come to know about their sad lives. Yes, you are correct, it will always be part of life but that still doesn’t make it right.

  • David

    I problem is that there are two sides to every story. That is likely what the people in Texas were looiking at. The media has led us down the path of judgement many a time, with serious injury to the people that they decide to crucify. Then we find out that the story is much different. Remember the which trials a decade ago? The problem with a religious society is whose religion, whose morals, what are the cost of enforcing morals? Maybe we should stone the man to death as in certain countries. Our government should be Godless and amoral. Your preacher should establish the rules for your life. I extablish the rules for mine and I want the goverrnment out of my life for sure.

    Lets take some examples. Prostitution. Man we do a good job beating up those poor women. But they are still there and always will be. Legalize it. Let them do what they want with supervision. The act would be safer for all.

    • Berg

      There ARE two sides to every coin. That’s why people tend to miss one. But after seeing the other side, the abandoned Ohio family in this case, there’s no justification to ignore it. In my opinion, this is one of the worst actions a parent can take. I’ve been there myself.
      Having said all that, the fact that is is an issue in an important site means that it’s unusual, e.g. man-bite-dog, and therefore against our moral compass.

  • C. Lowe

    Yes; in a hand basket! I guess the old idiom, “crime doesn’t pay”, has become a thing of the past. See what happens when there are no absolutes, no standards–ANYTHING GOES!! (and you have a growing audience that supports and applauds whatever your particular choice may be) The crowd that GETS THIS probably can’t wait until we BB make our exit; God have mercy on our grandchildren!

  • AL

    so true–and then we wonder why our children don’t have a clue as to what a real “hero” is in our society. the immoral have been praised since the beginning of time but these days, it comes with a hefty price tag (to be paid TO the immoral). Unless those in power can find a way to profit off the more positive members of society, I see this problem getting even worse. But we also have a responsibility to stop buying publications, tickets, etc. that support such people and their acts.

  • http://none Robert A. Scalise

    This is the main theme that Glen Beck has been talking about since the beginning of this year on his TV show. Glen Beck is showing us the true history of the original foundation upon which the Founding Fathers used to establish this Republic. This was the thrust of his 8/28 message at the Lincoln Memorial. It is the individual moral foundation which has to be revitalized within each of us through our own personal choice of God to protect our inalienable rights. From this comes Faith, Hope and Charity to help guide the individuals moral compass to distinguish right from wrong and while we do not stone them we certainly should not be condoning and glorifying bad behavior. Illegal and socially unacceptable behavior should not be condoned or socially tolerated. We cannot change the direction of our America without revitalizing the moral fiber of “We The People”. This story is a perfect example of the lack of the moral fiber that exists in our country. The three to five-hundred thousand people that showed up on 8/28 at the Lincoln Memorial and the millions that listen to his TV show and read the books he recommends is a ray of hope we can restore our Constitutional Republic. I just read “George Washington’s God” which greatly increased my admiration for the Father of our Country. I am giving it to my priest to read and I think it necessary for every American and religious leader to read. If you have not read it I strongly suggest you do.

    • Ron

      The book is “George Washington’s Sacred Fire”.

  • B

    Yes, we have become a Godless society. Thing about this is: Without shame, sense of humiliation, etc., there can be no conviction by the Holy Ghost, ergo, no salvation. Why have we taken God out of our children’s lives?? Our schools??

    • Leona Salazar

      Well, if you remember Madalyn Murray O’Hair filed a lawsuit entitled Murray v. Curlett which led to the 1963 Supreme Court ruling ending school-sponsored Bible reading in American public schools. If you will recall, O’Hair was brutally murdered in 1995 and my husband and I have, on occasion, speculated as to what she cried out when that final blow came down upon her.

      • Ron

        We haven’t taken God out of people’s lives, only out government sponsored events. People are still free to attend church, pray and practice their religion except at public schools and other government sponsored events.