Sin City Delights in Sins Distracting From Its Own

As every American football fan knows, the coach for the Las Vegas Raiders, Jon Gruden, was fired recently for having made hurtful comments about a variety of people, in several emails over the course of seven or eight years. The Las Vegas Raiders, as every fan also knows, are the erstwhile Oakland Raiders, who left a city that very much needed them for a city that very much did not. Cherchez l’argent.

Las Vegas, jocularly called Sin City, includes in its metropolitan area more than two million people, 15 times as many as lived there in 1960, and eight times as many as then lived in the whole state of Nevada. They use up water, per capita, at three times the rate of residents in Oakland. The only reason why there is a Las Vegas at all is that casinos set up shop there, with legalized prostitution. It might be interesting to find out how many human lives are destroyed yearly by the gambling that the casinos feed upon. It might be interesting to find out how many of those ruined people were not rich to begin with.

It is as if Nero were to condemn a senator to the island of Pandateria for belching at the imperial table. But Jon Gruden belched, and he must go.

I hold no brief for Gruden. But I cannot get past the staggering irony. Set Las Vegas aside. What about the Raiders themselves? Which is worse, to say something unflattering about a female football referee, or to father a child out of wedlock, without trying to make up for the wrong by marriage—to mention one of the commonest sins of our time, and in the aggregate the most destructive? 

Am I to believe that the Raiders and their various employees never lie, never cheat on their taxes, never speak evil of others, never use porn, never commit adultery, never covet what belongs to their neighbors, are never proud, never idle, never irreverent, never unforgiving, never cruel, never self-indulgent at a cost to others, never vindictive, never cowardly?

Unrepentant sinners make bad judges. So do self-righteous people, and for many of the same reasons.

The more truly righteous you are, the more painfully do you feel your own inadequacy. The saint is the true realist; the rest of us but live in a fantasyland, where we can pretend we are good enough. For one sort of person, good enough is good enough: for those who sin, who know it, and who will shrug at your sin if you shrug at theirs, so long as the sin poses no great inconvenience to a life of easygoing hedonism. Such people cannot build a nation or a culture, but they can get along well in one that is already built.

For two other sorts, good enough is not good enough. On one side we have the saints, and repentant sinners generally. They are the prodigal sons, who know they have done wrong, and who know how little they are worth. On the other, we have unrepentant sinners who want to appear as saints. They are the Pharisees, the whited sepulchers, who tithe their mint and cumin, but leave the great requirements of the law unmet—humility, genuine self-denial, and mercy. And they believe they are worth a great deal.

In our time, to make sure that you do not Say Wrong Things, mainly because you have no inclination to say them anyway, and to parade your Saying Right Things, is to tithe mint and cumin. It is meaningless. Or rather it means this: it means that you deflect attention from the grave sins you do commit, sins you have no intention of repenting. 

You say, with the Pharisee in the parable, that you are not like Coach Gruden, that miserable wretch who says hurtful things, and you thank God or good indoctrination for your law-abiding tongue. You sprinkle in a few vulgarities and obscenities, to show your courage and independence of mind. Then you leave your temple of self-fulfillment and self-celebration, and you prowl about, seeking occasion, no matter how inconsequential, for the delights of ruining other people. You call it by some great and noble name—those are always ready to hand.

How did the Soviets manage to crush the human spirit for so many decades? We must not think that the vast majority of people always cowered in fear. Ordinary people informed on others, not just to protect themselves, but to enjoy the feeling of being politically correct, and of course for more practical purposes, such as to elbow a rival out of his job, and for delights with the real tang of hell to them.

What kind of monster would mill about Calvary, hoping for a good crucifixion to witness? Or about the Place de la Concorde, when the guillotine, the “national barber,” was doing its efficient and bloody work? The kind of monster that stares back at you when you look in the mirror—that kind, unless you remind yourself at all times that you are a sinner, that your sins are worse than those of other people, and that you dare not poke around in other people’s cabinets or wallets or pockets, you dare not put your ear to their keyholes, and, when some sin does come to light, you dare not aim the electron microscope at it, so that it seems to fill the whole universe, crowding out your own more wicked deeds, not the least of which is your desire to bring someone else down.

But all things hidden will come to light, and with what measure we measure, so shall it be measured out to us.

About Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a Distinguished Fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a senior editor for Touchstone Magazine and a contributing editor for Chronicles. He is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan Books, 2016); Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017); Nostalgia (Regnery, 2018); and Sex and the Unreal City (Ignatius, 2020).

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