The Art of Avoiding Responsibility

by Appealing to a "Moral Authority"


Elisa had had it with her husband. She has been to the emergency room twice after he punched her in the gut and twisted her arm badly. She has taken abuse from him for years. Elisa had had it…that is until this past week. The therapist asked if she wanted to press charges against him as she had been seriously considering doing. No, Elisa replies, he's found God, he says he's mending his ways. He now insists that she and her children read the Bible, go to Bible classes and live their lives in lock step with the "moral principles" of the Bible. She tells the therapist that her husband no longer wants her to go to therapy since it promotes a secular, heathen view. She drops out of  therapy. She can't fight him on those terms. He has the Lord and the power of religion on his side.

Bill Clinton allows himself the executive privilege of using the Oval Office for sex.  When caught, he lies.  When cornered, he turns to a reverend. This is a private matter between Bill Clinton and his God and God will forgive him, we are told.

Terry has not done anything with his life. He was given opportunities to go to college and to go into  business. His siblings were not as bright as he was. They are now remarkably successful. His sister is an executive in a large retail firm; his brother opened his own trucking company. Terry  hates their success. Terry sponges off his girlfriends until they catch on and leave. Deep down, he hates himself. But then he found an "out." The more he read about the environmental movement  and the trend against the business world, the more brazen he became. He became a spokesman for one such organization and went around preaching how it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to be a "steward for the earth" and not to despoil it with material goods and longings for Wall Street.  What a windfall for him. He can now attend family holiday events since he has  adopted the persona of a moral crusader. His family can't chide him for his envy or his primitive, unambitious lifestyle since it is done in the name of the environment – a moral cover.

Manny has been the mastermind of some fairly corrupt and very successful "business" ventures. He has tricked many unsuspecting, honest people into investing in his  various schemes. Over time, he finds it harder and harder to look in the mirror in the morning.  It becomes harder to evade his own corrupt character. He then discovers the community service movement and uses his same dishonest tactics to rise to the top and become the head spokesman. He is now seen as a "great" man – helping "humanity". Many of his associates see through him and  are disgusted with his lust for power, but refrain from criticizing him since he now has the veneer of a "moral crusader".

Elisa's husband who "found God", Bill Clinton who found a reverend, Terry who found an anti-business moral cover and Manny who found a philanthropist cover for his desire to control others – all these cases have something in common. All are  using the veneer of morality to evade the responsibility of facing up to their own bad choices. They present a whitewashed image of themselves to the world.

Will Elisa  be happy with her born again husband? Will Bill Clinton be able to face his immoral behavior, make amends and make significant improvements in his character?  Will Terry be able to become a  productive person whom he himself can admire? Will Manny face up to his dishonesty and make fundamental improvements in his character?  Unlikely!

What explains such individuals' attraction to "moral" crusades? Do they genuinely want to improve? In what other ways could these people have dealt with their problems? Elisa's husband could admit to his wrongdoings, come to therapy with Elisa and work very hard to find healthy ways to express his anger rather than by abusing Elisa. Bill Clinton could have openly and sincerely apologized and resigned. Terry could admit to himself and to a therapist that he has had a history of sponging off of girlfriends and do the thinking required to become productive and self-supporting. He could  openly address his envy of his siblings and work to make himself a better person. Manny could have made a sincere switch to a healthy career and over time, he could have paid back the people he  swindled.

All were running from the responsibility of thinking, of taking their own character seriously. They ran for cover – the bogus cover of an alleged "moral  cause."  All of them know, on some level, that it is a cover – that they are the same ugly souls underneath the moral flamboyancy.

Dr. Ferris, a corrupt character in Atlas Shrugged, unveils the thinking behind such "run for moral cover" schemes: "You see…people don't want to think. And  the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they'll bless and follow anyone who  gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue – a highly intellectual virtue – out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness, their guilt…. That is the road to  popularity".  (p. 324)

Who gives them a justification for not thinking?

Elisa's husband, the wifebeater wants to control his  wife. The church gives him a justification through its policy of "forgiveness".

Terry doesn't want to work. His siblings are an affront to him.  The  environmental movement gives him a justification for not working by means of its anti-business rhetoric.  It's a handy cover for those who want to evade the responsibility of productive achievement.

Manny wants to dupe people but be known as a decent person. The mandatory community service movement gives him a justification through its policy of  ignoring his character and focusing only on his "helping the needy", regardless of who helps them or how.

How would one stand up to such a person?  If you buy  into their guise of "moral cover," you cannot stand up to them. You cannot fight them on their terms. To protect yourself, you must discover what morality genuinely is and why their chosen cover represents additional corruption of their character – not a genuine effort to change.

It helps to know the difference between what true moral behavior is and how it differs from a moral-cover-up.

For example, how can Elisa stand up to her husband who has just found "the Lord"?

Here is what Elisa might  tell her husband (protected by the police standing next to her):

"You tell me that you have found God and I tell you that that has no weight with me. I am sick of  being controlled by you. First I was told what I could and couldn't do. Then, when I tried to voice my own opinion, or pursue my own interests, I found myself physically beaten again and again—by you. Now that I have found help and I've been able to do some serious thinking about this situation, I recognize that what you have done over the years is wrong. I am disgusted that you run  for the cover of religion, and try to use that as a new weapon in your arsenal to control me. I am pressing charges against you and I have filed a restraining order on you."

Don't let anyone use the window dressing of "morality" to intimidate or abuse you.   The only proper moral code is one that respects your rights as an individual.