The implied conception of human nature is not flattering. We are weak creatures impelled by animal drives. Once you step onto the slippery slope, natural
impulses whisk you down toward Satan's door.
This is, in a sense, one reason God's forgiveness is an endless resource--because sin is so understandable; however grave our ultimate transgressions, they
often begin with a slight all-too-human misstep, and the rest is all too human as well. "I am like anyone else," Edwards said in a 2007 interview. "I revert to
bad, selfish behavior." But, "No matter what you do, he [God] will forgive you."
If you ask people why they find Edwards's behavior so outrageous, most would probably mention the magnitude of his deception. He didn't just have an
extramarital affair in secret--something that isn't exactly unheard of these days and doesn't by itself draw incredulous condemnation; he denied he'd
fathered a child he fathered. And he didn't stop there. He tried to get somebody to pose as the child's father! That dwarfs the petty frauds that ordinary
But does it? Doesn't pretty much everyone who has an extramarital affair engage in whatever deceit is necessary to conceal it? Sure, many would stop short
of the lengths Edwards went to and fess up. But then again for many of them the revelation of the affair wouldn't be the devastating career setback it
would have been for Edwards in the midst of his presidential campaign. Besides, most people don't have access to the resources it would take to create a
whole fake family. A Bunny Mellon is a rare thing.
In other words, maybe the rest of us, by virtue of the careers we've chosen, our social landscapes, the constraints we face, are poised over different
slippery slopes than the one Edwards was poised over. But pretty much all of us, if we stepped onto the slope, could fall into deeper and deeper deception,
until the point where the cost of the deception was no longer justified by the cost of being found out.
To be sure, if we don't take that first step--don't have the extramarital affair--we get some credit that Edwards doesn't get. Then again, most of us aren't
handed the lengthy menu of potential extramarital affairs that a handsome presidential candidate faces. More to the point: again, the condemnation raining
down on Edwards isn't so much about his taking the first step as about the subsequent deception. What I'm suggesting is just that the deception, however
massive its scale, was more or less immanent in the affair--in keeping with the slippery slope view of sin.
And, according to that view of sin, the affair was itself immanent in some lesser lapse--having an innocent drink with Rielle Hunter or something like that.
The handsome southern Baptist evangelist Billy Graham, if I recall correctly, early on implemented a rule that he would never do anything alone with a woman other than his wife--not even
have lunch. Call it prudish, call it sexist, but it sure makes it hard to wind up in an extramarital affair (a pre-internet affair, at least). The slippery
slope view of sin can be burdensome, but if applied religiously it can be effective.