How Adultery Is Like Cheating on Taxes

The newspaper I read every morning is Google News. OK, I’m lazy, I admit it. I could read the New York Times or Wall Street Journal from cover to cover (wait a minute, newspapers don’t have covers). But I figure that if anything has happened in the world overnight that I need to know about, it will be on Google News in the morning. It takes 5 minutes to scan down all the headlines in all the sections, and then you have a pretty good idea of “That’s the way it is…” Google breaks down the news into sections (Top Stories, US News, World News, Sports, etc.) which you can edit and rearrange. The problem is that the same stories can show up over several of the sections, so sometimes all the news seems familiar.

And the story that has been dominated Google News lately has been the woes of Tiger Woods. This story is covered in just about all the sections—Top Stories, US News, Sports (those all make sense). But there are stories in Health News (stress-related health issue brought on by extramarital affairs), Business News (impact on Tiger’s endorsement deals) and even Sci-Tech (cell phones and extramarital affairs). It’s been all Tiger all the time. It’s all so sad.

How common is infidelity? It depends on who you talk to. According to a survey done by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, about 25% of men and 17% of women have had extramarital affairs. But several other surveys put the statistics much higher (55% of men and 45% of women). What seems clear is that most marriages (between 65% and 75%) don’t survive the affair. No matter how “enlightened” our time, there is still nothing that destroys a marriage faster than marital infidelity.

I ran across an interesting statistic on the Pew Research Center website. The article is entitled “A Barometer of Modern Morals.” It reports on a study that covered wide range of moral questions and issues that was designed to give a picture of the moral climate in America. The most offensive immoral behavior was marital infidelity (88% believed that was morally offensive). The least offensive behavior was overeating (only 32% saw that as wrong). What caught my eye was what was the second most offensive immoral behavior according to the list—“not reporting all income on your taxes.” A whopping 79% of us believe that is morally offensive, more so than using alcohol excessively (61%), having an abortion (52%) or homosexual activity (50%). On the survey, about the same number of people thought adultery and under-reporting income on your taxes was morally wrong.

So how many people fudge on their taxes? Do you really think only 21% ever fudge on their taxes? We’ve had members do work for the church that wanted to be paid “under the table.” Is the average American really such a stickler about taxes that they see it as being just as immoral as adultery? And maybe that is the problem—we see tax evasion as morally wrong in the abstract, but can turn a blind eye when it occurs to us. After all, a few bucks here or there is really not so big a deal. And maybe that’s why almost everyone believes adultery is wrong but one-fourth to one-half of us are doing it anyway! Morality isn’t very useful if we go ahead and do what we think is wrong!

Solomon gives some very wise and poetic advice in Proverbs 5:15-20. I realize this is poetry, and most of us don’t do poetry, but read this very carefully and you might get the impression that Solomon isn't really be talking about cisterns here--

15 Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
16 Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
17 Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.
18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
20 Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?

Maybe it’s the next verse that should get our attention when we want to entertain a gap between our moral beliefs and our behavior, “For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.” (Proverbs 5:21)