Eros and Forgiveness:
Mike Bowers misses the point

by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative Loafing, 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 ideals.

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 his action.

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 a disease.

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 and freedom?

Copyright 1997 by Creative Loafing | Published Jun. 21, 1997


"Did the Greeks Believe in Their Mythology," Paul Veyne, translated by Paula Wissing, University of Chicago, 1988.

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