Last week I visited the Gerald R. Ford Museum with my friend Steve and my two boys. We all love studying history so visits to places like that are a blast.
The few exhibits about Ford’s rise to the presidency fascinated me. The machinations associated with Nixon’s entanglements in the Watergate scandal are a perfect illustration of the complications of sin at all levels—personal, inter-personal, and systemic.
Personal idolatries and ambition drive people to sin, which often draws others into participating in the destruction and self-destruction. Others who find out about wrongdoing have their own motivations for responding rightly or wrongly, choosing either to participate in cover-up and denial or to exploit the situation to their advantage. The multiplication of these motivations and decisions results in a bewildering web of deception and staggering personal, inter-personal, and institutional destruction.
Ford behaved admirably in the midst of so much of that mess, understanding and resisting the larger corrupting dynamics of power.
These dynamics of ambition, face-saving, deceit, blame-shifting, and self-protection are all on display in the emerging scandal at Penn State.
Personal, inter-personal, and systemic dynamics of corruption are all involved.
It’s horrifying and tragic to learn of lives destroyed and damage done to young men that will have multiplying destructive effects down the road.
The brilliant horror of the cosmic power of Sin is that sin begets sin on a massive scale and pervades everything. Sin invites and provokes sin. Sin runs down social networks and multiplies exponentially, destroying lives, reputations, and institutions, without respect for reputation or past credentials of honor.
It seems that over the last decade and a half many of these same personal, inter-personal, and institutional motivations were in play to prevent the reporting of horrible wrong-doing. The inevitable accounting for all of that won’t come close to setting things right. And what’s worse, the accounting and reporting will involve the same corrupted personal, inter-personal, and instituional motivations.
It’s an unspeakable tragedy.