Profumo, Haggard, and Real Shame

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Perhaps only a few American readers will know the name of John Profumo.  He was a British conservative MP, and married the actress, Valerie Hobson (Dennis Price's love interest in Kind Hearts and Coronets).  In 1963, as Minister of War, he was caught in a scandal involving a prostitute who had connections to a KGB officer.  It finished his political career and contributed to the collapse of the government of Harold Macmillan.  Sadly, that is how he is remembered -- the Tory who slept with a prostitute, lied to the House, and destroyed a government.  Few now recall that he was also a war hero, landing on the Normandy beaches on D-Day itself; nor the fact that, when he died in 2006, he was the last surviving Member of the 1940 Parliament and had been in the House of Commons on that fateful day in 1940 and voted against his own party whip in the Narvik debate, thus helping to destroy the premiership of Neville Chamberlain and bring Winston Churchill to power.   Even fewer perhaps know that, after his fall from grace in 1963, this 5th Baron Profumo hid himself from public life, volunteered as a toilet cleaner for a charity in London's East End, and spent the rest of his days in this way, making humble amends for what he had done. 

I do not know if Profumo had any Christian faith; but I always think of him whenever I see the `rehabilitation' of some American evangelical celebrity, hear their tear-laden confessions on a prime time chat show, or spot their confessional memoirs on the book table at Barnes and Noble. The latest, as brought to my attention yesterday by Todd Pruitt, is Ted Haggard who, it appears, is to appear in his own reality TV show.

It is, of course, great that Ted Haggard's family seems to have survived intact, despite all that  he inflicted on his wife and children.  But I am left wondering if there is any shame or sense of basic decency left in this world; and are there no limits to the American `If you've got lemons, make lemonade' mentality?   Are forgiveness and redemption really appropriate contexts for the marketing of oneself?  Does everything in America have to be celebrified in a manner that would even make Liberace's PJs look tasteful?

As I said above, I do not know if Profumo had any faith at all; but I do know that he understood the nature of shame, decorum, public service and, above all, the seriousness of what he had done.  He wrote no self-justifying memoir; he made no TV show; he gained no money or personal capital from his crime; he did not do the rounds of the chat shows; and even in 1989, in the wake of a movie on the scandal, he maintained a stoic public silence.  Indeed, knowing that he had flushed his career down the toilet, it is perhaps appropriate that he devoted his life to cleaning the same, not airing his dirty laundry in public.   He was ashamed of what he had done, how he had let others, most of all his wife, down, and he devoted his life quietly to serving others from then on, in the humblest of ways.  Presumably, he knew he had inflicted enough pain and shame on his family without adding to it by making his fall the central act of a profitable traveling freak show.  

A man who betrays his wife can be forgiven; but I am not sure he can be forgiven for making it an opportunity to further his career.  When Haggard talks of acceptance and does it on a TV show, and others cover their sleaze with blog talk of `sins of relational mobility', is it any wonder that the world looks on with utter contempt? 

When you hang your head in shame, the last thing you should be thinking about is whether the camera has caught your good side.
Posted January 14, 2011 @ 10:42 AM by Carl Trueman

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