Rush Limbaugh in the Confessional

Before I was Catholic I often met ex-Catholics who did the standard schtick about “Catholic guilt” and told me all about how going to confession instilled in them this deep-seated guilt that they are only now working through.

Blah, blah, etc.

Sorry. Not buying it. I was raised in a household where I darkened the door of a church or Sunday school maybe 10 times before I started seriously trying to understand Christianity in college (and at least one of those times was because there was a meeting or something at the local Methodist church).

I can tell you all about deep-seated guilt. Crippling, unrelieved guilt. Endless psychic pain and confusion that deeply resonates with St. Paul’s description of his Gentile readers before they came to Christ as “without hope and without God in the world.”

The amazing thing to me in becoming Catholic was the discovery that you could actually go somewhere and unburden your soul of all the miserable, wretched, shameful things you’d been lugging around for years. To my astonishment, delight and intense relief, God would really take that load away and not only forgive you but also give you the grace to be the new person you wished you could be. I get teary just thinking about it.

Some of the most poignantly sweet moments of my life have come in the confessional. It’s one of the rare places where you get to go and be absolutely yourself and find that, so far from being rejected, God tells you how he sees you and teaches you to see yourself (and the world) as he does: with tender love and mercy. I thank God for that mercy, not only because it is sweet but also because it is so rare in this dangerous world. I think of that brutal fact as I have watched Catholics on the Internet make amazingly naïve demands that Rush Limbaugh should have just gone on the air and “come clean” with 20 million people by confessing his addiction struggles, criminal activities (assuming there have been some) and so forth.

Such people appear to have no concept of the reason for the seal of the confessional. The reason is simple: because sinners need to be kept safe. Fallen man is a predator who rends when he detects weakness and kills when he smells blood.

A person struggling with addiction tends to hide that struggle, not only because he is ashamed (particularly when he’s a noisy public figure) but also because he has plenty of good reason to fear that the public (God bless it) is made up of cannibals who would eat their young if they get half a chance.

As it happens, my confidence in the predatory tastes of fallen man was not disappointed. The sheer, unabashed glee over Limbaugh’s struggles was some kind of nadir in human behavior. Indeed, it’s creepy to watch relativist liberalism go all rigid “law ‘n’ order” when it has an enemy in its clutches. Allegedly “compassionate” liberalism (still priding itself on its love of humanity) evinced not a jot of interest in seeing Limbaugh kick his drug habit (brought on, recall, by an attempt to deal with agonizing physical pain). Nope. Just throw the book at the guy! After all, he’d recommended the same thing!

Well, yes. And if you think yourself superior to Limbaugh’s ideology here, then perhaps you should consider not living by it. Me: I think Limbaugh was wrong to recommend locking up addicts, largely for the reasons that Limbaugh himself is now discovering.

The goal is to free people from addiction, not merely to satisfy some abstraction called justice that demands “punishment” – no matter how stupid, unproductive and unredemptive it is. Catholic conceptions of justice are always ordered toward the possibility of redemption. They also take into account the circumstances under which a sin occurred. Nowhere does so-called “liberalism” reveal itself to be more brutal and inhuman than when it embraces with both hands the very things it condemns in “law ‘n’ order conservatism” in order to destroy an enemy. Justice must be ordered toward redemption or it is not real justice but mere vengefulness.

So Limbaugh will face the laws of the United States, have his day in court and pay the piper if he owes the piper. But he has no obligation to make the golden EIB microphone an ersatz confessional and expose himself to the predatory habits of homo sapiens. He is under no obligation to put his weaknesses and sins out there on display for the public to use as a punching bag.

This was, by the way, true of Bill Clinton, too. He was bound to give true testimony under oath in court about criminal matters such as perjury and obstruction of justice. But he did not owe the public an account of his private sins. It was only when he misused his public office or broke the law that it became our concern, since as an elected official he worked for us. Limbaugh is not an elected official. His sins are between him and God and his lawbreaking (if there has been such) is between him and Caesar. Mostly, I feel bad for the guy. Addiction is terrible. Glee over his fall is just a new form of Pharisaism.

My prayers are with the guy in the hope that this situation brings him to deeper conversion and dependence on the grace of God through Jesus Christ.


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