Eros and Forgiveness:
Mike Bowers misses the point
by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of
Atlanta, Jun. 21, 1997)
"How does it happen that the truth is so little true? Truth is the thin layer
of gregarious self-satisfaction that separates us from the will to power."
-- Paul Veyne, "Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?"
When the gods of antiquity gathered on Olympus, they
did not meet to pray in piety. Zeus was a colossally unfaithful and bisexual
lover, Demeter cursed the Earth for a time. Dionysos cross-dressed and poured
ecstasy into the flagellated breast.
In the mind of antiquity, the gods were not immune from the passions of human
experience because, as Paul Veyne writes, they were understood to be products
of the constitutive imagination. How could a god whose very manifestation
depends upon the invocation and worship of mortals be other than imperfect?
Centuries later, Carl Jung would write that "the gods have become diseases."
Although his meaning is subject to other interpretations, I take him to mean
that we came in modernity to pathologize what is at once dark and ennobling
in our natures. By banishing the gods -- yes, it began with Plato -- we subjected
ourselves to a fantasy of perfection that culminated in the impossible Christian
Olympus, in short, was replaced by the fantasy of the higher moral ground.
And that brings me to Mike Bowers.
And pseudo-married Rev. Charles Stanley. And bilking Jim Bakker. And philandering
Jimmy Swaggart. And (viciously homophobic) Eddie Murphy (will chauffeur
transvestites, it turns out). And the editorial page writers of the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution. And an uncountable number of other gods who have recently
fallen from the throne of their own fantasies.
Mike Bowers, the former state attorney general and Republican candidate for
governor, is a professed hypocrite. The only thing that distinguishes him
from, say, the Rev. Charles Stanley, is his confession of hypocrisy. (Stanley,
minister of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, maintains a sham for a marriage
so that he can maintain his position. He denies divorced people service as
deacons and, had he granted his wife the divorce she wanted, he would have
had to follow his own rule and give up his position. His own son, pastor
of a "satellite" church, even resigned in disgust.) Stanley has never confessed
his hypocrisy, but then he's not running for office, and, more to the point,
the citizens of his kingdom have a true choice about serving his rhetoric
(which is all he really offers).
Not so with Mike Bowers. Bowers, a traditional zealot, has used the power
of the Georgia Constitution to impose moral prejudice on the rest of us,
causing direct and enormous suffering and pain to an estimated 10 percent
of the population (gay people). The 10 percent doesn't have the choice members
of Stanley's congregation do -- to easily leave and find another law.
Bowers of course has made lots of political hay for himself by exploiting
homophobia. He successfully defended the state's sodomy law before the Supreme
Court and, most recently, withdrew a job offer to a lesbian because, he argued,
her hiring would compromise the Attorney General's office by seeming to validate
an illegal marriage (to another woman). An appellate court recently upheld
Now, of course, it emerges that Bowers was himself in violation of the state's
morality laws. He is an adulterer. We're not talking one little roll in the
hay, folks. We're talking a 10-year extramarital relationship. We are talking,
obviously, about a deep experience of love that just happens to be illegal.
Obviously it was no "mistake"! Naturally, now that he's running for governor
and can't hide his hypocrisy with a badge, we are expected to forgive him
for his 10-year "mistake" (whose date of actual termination remains "strangely"
indefinite, shrouded in mystery, even causing the suspicious to wonder if
it wasn't terminated, uh, the day after it was exposed).
We are told that we should "forgive" because, after all, his wife and family
have forgiven him.
Even the geniuses at the "Atlanta Journal Constitution" (June 6, 1997) have,
in a sentence tacked onto an otherwise insightful editorial, suggested the
same: "Georgians] should not judge him as he has judged others."
Although the problem is not Mike Bowers' unconventional love life, but the
inflated, vainglorious attempt to maintain the higher moral ground in the
first place, the solution he and the AJC offer is, bizarrely, to seize an
even higher piece of moral ground.
What the Greeks understood, what has been lost in the modern mind, is that
nobody ultimately has a right to claim the higher moral ground, which is
ever shifting according to circumstance. The issue here isn't Mike Bowers'
sin but the transparency of his motivations -- his willingness to bring misery
on one people on a legally enabled moral basis while he reserves for himself
something else. Adultery should not be illegal any more than sodomy should
be illegal. These are words that criminalize and pathologize the difficult
experience of love in a hostile world whose institutions are corroded.
But Bowers and his advocates do not scent in this nasty affair the need to
abandon all moral superiority in the arena of consensual sex and love. They
don't see that the problem is their vocabulary of demonization. Nor are we
likely to see them come to that recognition. What would it mean for Mike
Bowers, family man, to talk about how his love spilled out of the bounds
of convention and found fulfillment in another, who, we can assume, offered
something rich in 10 years, something he could not find in his marriage?
What would it mean for him to sit still long enough to hear of the unconventional
love his new hire held for another woman and to hear of the pain he has caused
in prosecuting people because of their love?
We won't hear such attention to the real issue. Instead, Bowers and his advocates
will plead forgiveness (for loving!) while leaving the definition of sin
and crime synonymously intact. To paraphrase Jung again, Eros will remain
That is the unforgivable. The AJC doesn't get it. It is foolish to lend any
approbation to a man who misses the point so completely. By rejecting the
lesson of his own public heartbreak -- that love cannot be contained by law
or religion, that the very effort to do so guarantees its rebellion -- Bowers
is certain to continue his zealotry, just as certainly as Charles Stanley
continues to demonize divorce.
Here is another quote from Veyne. Consider it when Bowers and his wife emerge
all misty-eyed and begging forgiveness: "Fraud is easily recognized by the
human warmth it exudes."
Can we really not see in this "scandal" that love is begging for recognition
Copyright 1997 by Creative Loafing | Published Jun. 21,
"Did the Greeks Believe in Their Mythology," Paul Veyne, translated by Paula
Wissing, University of Chicago, 1988.
Archetypal Advice |