The Sad Tale Of Eliot Spitzer, and What it Tells Us (and What it Doesn’t)

Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, has resigned after it became public that he had hired prostitutes through a “high-end clientele” business. The story is sordid, and very sad for the people whom Mr. Spitzer has let down. This would include, significantly, his wife, and, not insignificantly, the state of New York.

In looking at web coverage of this event, I came across this article in the LA Times by an evolutionary biologist. David Barash argues in “Want a Man, or a Worm?” that it is natural for males of many species to copulate with a wide variety of females from their species. Barash notes that among men who seek a number of female sex partners that “Even if, thanks to birth control technology, they do not actually reproduce as a result (and thus enhance their evolutionary “fitness”), they are responding to the biological pressures that whisper within men.” This is a good point. If one looks through most any type of human history, biblical or otherwise, one sees that men often seek out a number of women for sex. Speaking rather broadly, many men have struggled greatly to confine their sexual drive to one woman, particularly men in positions of power like Mr. Spitzer.

Here’s the fascinating thing about Barash’s opinion piece, though. Right after acknowledging this historically proven situation, he says the following: “That doesn’t justify adultery, by either sex, especially because human beings — even those burdened by a Y chromosome and suffering from testosterone poisoning — are presumed capable of exercising control over their impulses. Especially if, via wedding vows, they have promised to do so. After all, “doing what comes naturally” is what nonhuman animals do. People, most of us like to think, have the unique capacity to act contrary to their biologically given inclinations. Maybe, in fact, it is what makes us human.” One wonders why the evolutionary biologist–who has just taken numerous paragraphs to explain polygamous mammalian sexual behavior as entirely natural–suddenly becomes a moralist, and attempts to convince the reader that the natural orientation of men (to avoid monogamy) “doesn’t justify adultery“. Barash has offered us no moral framework, no higher, transcendent cause or reason by which he could justify his judgement that adultery is wrong. If biology explains all, then all that we have an “is”, an explanation for what goes on in the world, but we have no “ought”, for biology in itself cannot bequeath us morality, let alone the spirituality that would birth a moral standard. No, if we explain life in materialistic terms, then we live it, ethically, in materialistic terms, and adultery cannot be judged wrong, and Eliot Spitzer cannot be looked upon in a negative light. Yet this is exactly what even the most learned among us do, and so show us, time and again, that the Christian worldview alone gives us a comprehensive, logical understanding of man and man’s world.

Christian men are reminded by this sad event to seek self-control, or, perhaps, Spirit-control of self. It is no accident that men have sought polygamous relationships throughout history and that men seem far more often than women to destroy marriages and homes through extramarital affairs. This is not to say that women do not ever fall in such ways, or that all women possess less reproductive drive than men, but it is to say that a quick historical scan yields that men are much more likely to stray than women are. We can acknowledge, then, that there are significant “biological pressures that whisper within men”, as Barash argues. We go beyond this, however, to say that adultery involves not merely biology but spirituality. Indeed, it is our sinful nature, our errant spirituality, that drives our biology. Adam would not have cheated on Eve prior to the fall. His biology operated at a cool “faithful” then then. His fall, though, shot that temperature up to “hungry”, and won him a sinful nature, and a part of this sinful nature is the drive to commit the horrible, tragedy-inducing sin of adultery. Biology matters, yes, but so too does spirituality.

Men have been attempting to control themselves (to follow Barash’s moral guidance) for millenia, and we can all see where that’s gotten us. No, we must have the Holy Spirit living inside of us, willing us away from Internet ads and tv shows and stray glances at the mall and extended consideration and appraisal of other men’s spouses and meditation on past objects of lust and spending time alone with women who are not our spouses and so much more. We must have the Spirit, men, and we must strive for holiness, both personally and in the embrace of the local church. It is a difficult thing to be a monogamous man, armed with a sinful nature and existing in a sex-saturated world, but we can resist temptation. We’ve got to fight for holiness, we’ve got to prize Christ and find our joy in obeying Him and turning away from the world, and we’ve got to celebrate marriage and cultivate happy, romantic marriages. Only then will we avoid Mr. Spitzer’s mistake; only then will we avoid his tragedy.

  • Tyler

    The comments Barash are very interesting. In a conversation with four naturalistic evolutionists over the past two weeks, the idea has occurred to me that evolution cannot readily explain depravity. I think you rightfully point out this problem somewhere in Barash’s unfounded jump from “is” to “ought.” I’m sure he has a Darwinian response to why we behave the way we do, but why, on his account, do our natural inclinations lead to death?

    Insightful comments Owen, and good find.

  • Frank Turk

    Owen –

    I think it’s ironic that the evolutionary biologist is actually making the claim that men are actually born with the inclination to do what they know is wrong.

    Sounds familiar to me … read it in a book someplace … very old book … hmmm

  • ZZ

    ” we can resist temptation. We’ve got to fight for holiness, we’ve got to prize Christ and find our joy in obeying Him and turning away from the world, and we’ve got to celebrate marriage and cultivate happy, romantic marriages”

    Spoken like a guy with a young, and probably still fairly attractive wife. Wait ’till the kids are gone, pal, and then let me know how this is workin’ for ya.

  • J.R. Malcolm

    Excellent commentary on the current situation involving Spitzer, and how it relates to us as Christian men. Thank you Owen, this article has greatly served me.


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