December 2010
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Beware the little black [Face]book!

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Has Facebook replaced “the little black book”? Marriage crusaders and others given to artificial moral panic seem to think so.

Facebook, we’re told, is being used by cheaters to facilitate their cheating. Or, as Rev. Cedric Miller essentially proclaimed to his congregation, Facebook is an evil portal to the seedy world of adultery.

He first told his married church leaders to delete their Facebook accounts or resign, and suggested congregants share their user names and passwords to the social networking site (a tacit endorsement of husbands and wives spying on each other; so much for trust, eh?). Then he went further: Couples, he said, must pull the plug on Facebook to “save” their marriages.

It was a peculiar commandment. Forget, for a moment, that it assumes extreme weakness and immorality on the part of every parishioner at his New Jersey church.

The more salient point is, some old fashioned muckraking by the the Asbury Park Press revealed 2003 court documents proving Miller has an insider’s view of adultery: His wife had an affair with a church assistant. And sometimes, he joined them, as did the assistant’s wife. During — wait for it; it gets worse — church meetings and Bible studies, when apparently, everyone gave the Seventh Commandment a miss.

Miller admitted his behavior only after the article appeared. (A telling point.) Later still, he offered to resign, apologizing for his “foolishness” when the paper’s “old news” hit the stand. But it didn’t change his stance on Facebook by an iota. That tawdry foursome business happened a long time ago, he told reporters.

A long time ago — without the aid of Facebook. And that’s precisely the point. Technology is not the problem, people are. Facebook has no inherent power that can force anyone to stray from wedding vows. It has no ability, on its own, to force feral brats to bully other kids, or cause complicit parents to indulge this atrocious behavior. Nor can it bring about dozens of other social calamities unless a human being makes a deliberate choice.

We’ve been making bad choices for centuries, quite without the lure of Facebook. We’ve been making excuses and finding scapegoats for just as long, especially when it comes to failures at properly tending society’s No. 1 sacred cow: marriage.

Women are temptresses, history claims, while men can’t help themselves because they’re “not getting enough at home,” or “have needs” (while women don’t!).

In past decades, we blamed women for going to work with men, thereby creating “opportunity.” To this day, single women are stereotyped as predatory beasts — because, wink, wink, single women can’t possibly be happy as they are, or fulfilled without a man — and the married man is himself cast as their passive victim.

We’ve blamed the Internet in general, to the extent of claiming there’s such a thing as a “virtual affair.” We’ve even begun labeling as “emotional affairs” the innocent friendships between members of the opposite sex, if one or both friends are married. It’s a new twist on the old standby belief that men and women cannot possibly be just friends, because we’re all inherently lustful and lack control.

Explore the blogs of certain websites for married folks, and you’ll find them lit up with “rules” husbands and wives proudly announce having imposed on the supposed loves of their lives. Much as we know the marrieds can’t really have meant to mimic the control-and-isolate dynamic of domestic violence, that’s how many of these “rules” strike objective viewers. At a minimum, they reveal staggering immaturity on the part of the very people society has anointed the “real” grown-ups.

But all of this distracts from a reality that is no less true just because it’s hard to admit: Adultery, like marriage, is a choice. Human beings, not Facebook, make choices; the worst that can be said of technology is that it facilitates choices and can be misused.

Miller’s parishioners have a choice to make, too. They can choose to recognize that if a social networking site threatens their marriage, it’s the strength of their marriage that needs re-evaluated, and not just in terms of their Facebook use. They can choose to conclude — via a confidence vote pending at the time of this writing — that a pastor who is an adulterer (and, technically, a liar and a hypocrite) might more easily lead them astray than Facebook. They might choose to blame adultery on, uh, adulterers. Wacky, I know!

They can also choose to simply ignore Miller’s absurd dictum, on the basis that he is not God.

Far from it.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is a journalist in Montrose, Colo.


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