Did the Vietnam War destroy American morality...or was it Playboy Magazine? Murphy Brown? The development of LSD? Maybe it was the Grateful Dead and all that marijuana smoke? From what I hear, the world was a decent and law-abiding place to live before evil forces descended from the skies upon the green and morally righteous world of Its a Wonderful Life sensibilities. And the next thing Donna Reed and her friends knew, there was rock music, tie-dyed t-shirts, birth control pills, wife swapping and female condoms.
While it may be a pleasant fiction and a great comfort for conservative social revisionists to believe that people really werent interested in sex, drugs, experimental music and violence in the Good Ole Days...theyre dead wrong. And, to avoid too much embarrassment to the following worlds movers and shakers Im about to out...theyre dead, too.
Since I am told that morality dwells most powerfully among the houses of the holy, I think its only fair that we start this brief encyclopedia of depravity with men and women of the cloth. Im sure they have so much to teach us.
We Shall Know Them By Their Love Aimee Semple McPherson (October 9, 1890 - September 27, 1944) established the International Church of the Four-Square Gospel. Shortly after Aimees birth, her mom, a Salvation Army fanatic, devoted her daughters life to serving the Lord. Aimee wanted to be an actress. Ultimately, she kept everybody happy by becoming a hugely successful revivalist. Sister Aimee was a widow shortly after saying I do and becoming a mother. Robert Semple had helped get his young bride (17) started on the dollars-for-Jesus trail. Her second hubby, a grocery clerk, tried to play along but grew disgusted and ordered her, and their infant son, home. The good woman refused and found herself divorced. It was nothing to the bleach-blonde holy woman. She had her Paris gowns, her make-up and her fame. She got more of the latter after she broke her mothers nose in a fight. She bothered to marry once more (against her own religions dictates) but still didnt have the hang of it. Her month-long affair with a married agnostic (covered up as a kidnapping to Mexico) got her unwanted publicity. Ah, traditional family values. She was able to keep her other affairs quieter...even the one with a popular young comic named Milton Berle, who remembers her aggressively making love with him in her apartment in front of a homemade altar complete with candles, crucifix and Calvary scene.
Brigham Young (June 1, 1801 - August 29, 1877) was the second president of the Mormon Church, a position he held for 33 years. In 1852 he officially incorporated polygamy into church canon in spite of the fact the Book of Mormon expressly forbids it. Young declared that, upon learning that church founder Joseph Smith had received a revelation that it was required for salvation, it was the first time in my life that I desired the grave...knowing the toil and labor that my body would have to undergo. Young was a trooper, however, marrying at least 22 women. Mormon records credit him with 53 wives while others insist the number is in the 70s. Some of these women, he explained, were wives in name only. It was his duty to provide lone women with a last name, keep them from prostitution, adultery, and spinsterhood. Some wives, however, were brought into the Young clan by intimidation and threats designed to force suitors away. One bride, before bowing reluctantly to family pressure, proclaimed, I wouldnt have him if he asked me a thousand times -- hateful old thing. Marriage was of vital importance to Young and his church. In fact, he commanded his fellow Saints, Make haste and get married. Let me see no boys above 16 and girls above 14 unmarried. No wonder they didnt have a problem with illegitimacy.
Floundering Forefathers -- We hear a lot about how virtuous Americas early statesmen and politicians were. But reality has this nasty way of revealing that even great humans act in human ways.
Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 - July 4, 1826) was the author of the Declaration of Independence, and our third president. A towering 62 redhead, Jefferson was a brilliant and complex man. A man who asked the Virginia legislature for permission to free his slaves and later included a condemnation of slavery in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence also complained about a very strong and disagreeable odor, laziness and inferior intellect in blacks. Isnt this the same argument used to oppose raising the minimum wage? The shy mans only love affair with a socially acceptable, marriageable virgin failed because another man wooed faster. Years later, a duel with a cuckolded friend, 34 years after Jefferson had dallied with the mans wife, was narrowly averted. When the president-to-be finally did marry, it was the widow of yet another friend. Being of a frail constitution, she died, having produced three children, all of whom died in their infancy. After her death he took solace in a relationship with a wretchedly married woman he had met in France. Her Catholicism kept her from maintaining their friendship, however. Finally, scholars still debate whether black historians are correct when they claim that Jeffersons privileged mulatto slave, Sally, bore the President seven children.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 - April 12, 1945) was a well-loved president. He spent 12 years in the Oval Office, seeing the country through most of the Depression and WW II. The young man, partially paralyzed by polio, married a distant cousin, Eleanor, in 1905. Together they raised five children to maturity. Women loved him, and he loved women, especially tall, straightlaced, even prudish women. Eleanor had been raised to be a proper Victorian lady, for instance. And Lucy Mercer, Roosevelts first affair and his wifes secretary, was a good Catholic woman...as was Marguerite Missy LeHand, another secretary, with whom he may very well also have had an affair. Once Eleanor learned of his affair with Lucy, they remained fondly married, but no longer sexually involved. The president may well have had more affairs in later years. His wife, not immune to loneliness and a need for human warmth, undertook a 30 year relationship with lesbian reporter Lorena Hickock. When Roosevelt died, Lucy was with him. Eleanor was not.
John F. Kennedy. One of Kennedys contemporaries summed the situation up. According to Senator Smathers, No one was off limits to Jack not your wife, your mother, your sister. Sounds pretty wholesome and all-American to me.
Whats my point with all of these examples? None, really. Mostly this has been for fun. But there is one very important fact that most of us have figured out but which has eluded the likes of Pat Buchanan, proponents of Oregons anti-pornography/anti-free speech Measure 31 and anyone appearing on the 700 Club. This factoid is that humans will be human in any given situation. And a vital part of our humanity is our sexuality. Were not always as sensitive, as responsible or as considerate as we should be. But neither are our sexual behaviors always wrong, even if they go against popular convention. And most importantly, as creative as we are in this world of microchips and cellular technology...were not doing anything that our ancestors, with their heavy illusions of superhuman morality, werent doing long before we started touching ourselves under the sheets.
Allow me to leave you with an amusing story by the quiet man who helped found the League of Nations, president Calvin Coolidge. Sexologists refer to something called the Coolidge effect which relates to the phenomenon of male rearousal by a new female. Its based on this amusing tale: The President and Mrs. Coolidge were visiting a government farm and took off on separate tours. Mrs. Coolidge passed a chicken coop and asked if the rooster copulated more than once each day. Oh, dozens of times, she was assured. Please tell that to the president, she requested. Later, the president passed the same coop and was told about the rooster. He responded with a question of his own. Same hen every time? he asked. Oh no, Mr. President! A different one each time. Coolidge nodded slowly and said, Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.
Our serious and thoughtful president the teller of bawdy moral tales? What hope can there be for the future?