You have probably heard by now the rather shocking news about Jian Ghomeshi, who was until last Sunday the celebrated host of the CBC radio program Q. Although the truth of the situation is not yet clear, reports suggest that his contract with the CBC was terminated due to claims by three women that he physically assaulted them by engaging in non-consensual “rough sex”. Additionally, it is claimed that he verbally and sexually harassed at least one woman in his former workplace. The Star newspaper broke the story on Sunday, and by Monday Ghomeshi was no longer an employee of the CBC.
According to The Star:
“On Sunday, the Star published detailed allegations against former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. Three women quoted in the story claim that Ghomeshi physically attacked them without their consent during sexual encounters. A fourth woman, who worked at CBC, claimed Ghomeshi told her at work: ‘I want to hate f--- you.’
In a Facebook post Sunday, Ghomeshi denied engaging in non-consensual sexual acts and claimed he is the subject of ‘harassment, vengeance and demonization.’ Ghomeshi is suing the CBC for $55 million.”
Since then, the rumour mill has been in overdrive, with stories popping up all over the interweb about the former radio celebrity’s behaviour toward women. Until we know more, however, let’s not assume more than we should about Ghomeshi. After all, according to our justice system, one must be considered innocent until proven guilty.
On the other hand, let’s not assume less than we should about Ghomeshi. Which is that he is a depraved, immoral, selfish, and hateful sinner. I’m not talking about Ghomeshi’s now publicly known sexual proclivities. Neither am I referring to the allegations against him. I am talking about the fact that Jian Ghomeshi is a failed human being. A failure who has broken God’s law because he has failed to love God and failed to love his neighbour with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.
This is also true of me. This is also true of you.
We are failures, all of us. This is the burden of our human condition. Our only hope is to recognise our helplessness, confess it, and entrust ourselves to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. As the ancient Latin prayer of confession says:
Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa. ("Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.")
I have no idea if Ghomeshi is a religious or 'spiritual' person (regardless of the specific god/s he may or may-not believe in), but his facebook post from this week - written in response to the allegations raised against him - suggests that if he is religious it hasn’t sunk in very deep. I’m not out to judge Ghomeshi, honestly, but his post troubled me for a couple of reasons I want explore here. (Before I do, I want to be clear that I’m not addressing the allegations against Ghomeshi, or the scenarios he refers to in his post. Instead, I want to make some comments arising from his post about the culture we inhabit and the gospel we believe.)
First of all, Ghomeshi plays the card that people in his predicament usually play: the “what-I-do-in-private-is-my-own-business” card. Unfortunately, for all of us, but especially so for celebrities, there is no such thing as a public vs private life anymore. Since the proliferation of social media and smart phones with powerful cameras, everything we do is public. Often instantaneously. We live in a surveillance culture, and it isn’t (only) the government who is doing the spying: we all are. Although I understand the principle Ghomeshi is appealing to, “what I do and who I am in my own (that is, non-work) time, is my own thing, and I don’t have to answer to anyone about it, so long as I’m not hurting anyone and consenting adults and etcetera...” the problem is that this has never really been true. It is a false binary. Who we are and what we do cannot be separated so easily. Perhaps we can pull it off for a while, but not indefinitely. We might present a public image that is vastly different from who we are privately, but eventually the two will crash into one another, and “the end result”, to quote the unfortunate Rev. Jay Reinke from the recent documentary The Overnighters (see it!): “is always pain”. Ancient wisdom (James 1:8) tells us that the best policy is to live an undivided life.
Fairly recent history is filled with the stories of these tragic figures, from Marilyn Monroe to Richard Nixon to Bernie Madoff to Eliot Spitzer to Lance Armstrong, reminding us - even if the behaviour isn’t technically illegal - the truth will out, sooner or later, one way or another (cf. Hebrews 9:27). Until then, we are playing a Ponzi scheme with our soul. The response that the Gospel offers here is this: indeed, we are all duplicitous, we are all double-minded, proud, inconsistent and faithless. This is the truth about us. If we feel the weight of it, and want to be free, we must start there, and choose not to hide in the darkness, but bring who we are and what we have done into the light. We must lay it bare before Christ and ask forgiveness.
This is what we call confession.
But, and this is the second thing that troubled me about Ghomeshi’s post: as far as he’s concerned he has nothing to confess. He doesn’t go there, not even close. In Ghomeshi’s version of the story: everyone else is to blame. Yes, obviously he ‘fessed up to his enjoyment of BDSM, since it was going to get out there anyway, he jumped the gun. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that in Ghomeshi’s world, he has done nothing wrong. He owes no apologies. He’s a “good person”. For all we know, Ghomeshi could be entirely innocent of the allegations, and if that’s true obviously he isn’t going to confess to crimes he hasn’t committed. He’s fighting for his reputation. On the other hand, if he’s guilty, he probably isn’t going to confess for the very same reason. In his version of the story, he’s been fired by the CBC for being kinky and for having a crazy ex-girlfriend. This will be the line until proven otherwise. And if guilt is established, we’ll see a very different Ghomeshi, perhaps finally telling the truth though unlikely to admit that the previous versions of the story were “lies”. We’ll likely hear the language of “mistake” and “error of judgment”, perhaps due to the stress caused by the recent death of his father or a sex addiction or something else. In our culture, no one is bad - it’s our conditions, the circumstances that are to blame. The default position is essential goodness not essential badness.
But that is not the good news we believe in. The good news is that we are all bad, very bad, impossibly bad, and we cannot save ourselves from it. Thankfully, what is impossible for people is possible with God.
It does seem strange to me that Ghomeshi is being so belligerent in his self-justifications; even a small concession can go a long way in these kinds of situations. Nevertheless, for my own part, I simply don’t relate to his moral confidence. I can’t think of a single instance in my own life (despite how good I may have appeared on the surface), where I can truthfully say my character was entirely 'pure'. Whether it is present in a secretly proud attitude or in a hidden selfish motivation, I am never without my “other face”. Once again, according to the gospel, recognizing this is the path to freedom not shame, as Jesus said: “let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Ghomeshi is casting a lot of stones. Me too. Mea Culpa.
For those of us who have encountered the light of Christ, attempting to avoid or mask over our sinfulness is simply not an option. We cannot explain it away or blame it on conditions. I sin because I am a sinner. To come to Christ truthfully means we must be prepared to face this truth about ourselves, which, though it may result in the short-term experience of guilt, in the end produces everlasting joy. We are not saved by our good works, or, to put it in reverse, neither are we saved by an ‘absence of badness’. Ghomeshi’s public statement qua confession amounted to: “Sure, I like doing freaky things in the bedroom, so what? I’m a good person. My problem is that I have a jealous psycho ex who’s out to destroy my reputation.” The “I’m a good person” line is the mantra of our culture. It’s the gospel of self-justification; the gospel of “well-at-least-I’m-not-a-pedophile, so I’m ok, right?”
No. Our perceived position on the goodness or badness scale is not what saves or condemns us. We don’t go to hell because we are a pedophile or a homosexual or into BDSM. And neither do we automatically go to heaven if we aren’t any of those things. Our salvation is in Christ, period. Once again, I’m not judging Ghomeshi, I’m simply wanting to contrast the kind of good news that we often hear in our culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel according to Ghomeshi (and our culture) is that salvation is a matter of remaining ‘default-good’, and trying not to go too far over the line into badness (wherever or whatever the line is). As the band Our Lady Peace reminded us back in 2002: “we’re all innocent.”
But, as the ever brilliant and insightful C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain:
“Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom His words are addressed. When men attempt to be Christians without this preliminary consciousness of sin, the result is almost bound to be a certain resentment against God as to one who is always making impossible demands and always inexplicably angry.
Now at the moment when a man feels real guilt—moments too rare in our lives—all these blasphemies vanish away. This incredibly mean and ugly action which none of our friends would have done, which even such a thorough-going little rotter as X would have been ashamed of, which we would not for the world allow to be published. At such a moment we really do know that our character, as revealed in this action, is, and ought to be, hateful to all good men, and, if there are powers above man, to them.
When we merely say [that is, pay lip-service to the idea] we are bad, the 'wrath' of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable... To keep ever before us the insight derived from such a moment, to learn to detect the same real inexcusable corruption under more and more of its complex disguises, is therefore indispensable to a real understanding of the Christian faith.
This is not, of course, a new doctrine... I am merely trying to get my reader to take the first step out of fools’ paradise and utter illusion.”
None of us like to feel guilty. But guilt, or “the conviction of sin” as we sometimes call it, is an indispensable power designed to wake us up out of our “utter illusion” so we can repent and find the grace we so desperately need. This releases us from guilt into the freedom of love. One of the most powerful descriptions of this is Jesus’ parable of the two debtors (see Luke 7:35-50): those who know the depth and depravity of their evil, and who are forgiven of this much - their great debt - will love much in return. In other words, guilt is the precursor to repentance, which is the doorway to grace. And grace, once tasted, transforms our guilt - like the water into wine at the wedding in Cana - into a rich, deep, and thankful love. And it is this love-producing grace that helps us to sympathise with others, to see ourselves in them, to identify with their sinfulness, their guilt, and their failures. Love, fully matured (Lord have mercy), keeps us from self-righteousness and judgement.
So it is my prayer that when I next look at a picture of Jian Ghomeshi, I will see myself.
I will see all of us.