Bill Cosby’s finest hour could be at hand. His moral luster would be redeemed and more if he asked forgiveness from the women who have publicly accused him of sexual assault. (Twelve have asserted he first provided them drugs, which suggests a modus operandi). Forgiveness from his accusers should be unbegrudgingly forthcoming. And Mr. Cosby should live out his remaining years free of spots on his escutcheon.
Acknowledgement of past moral shortcomings combined with a steely resolve to live a saintly future deserves admiration and emulation. That is the story of St. Ignatius of Loyola. That is the story of King Lear.
Mr. Cosby will need to summon great strength and courage to confess sinfulness after long years of sermonizing from a high moral pedestal.
But as Alexander Pope instructed in his Essay on Criticism, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
Mr. Cosby would exert moral influence around the globe by an example of sublime humility — one of the seven Christian virtues. In so doing, he might live for the ages.
In Mr. Cosby’s defense, no court has found him guilty of a sexual offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In the eyes of the law, he is presumed innocent.
But truths in law seldom if ever reflect truths in life. Mr. Cosby’s problem is with moral truths and public judgments, not with winning a court case. And the public record is damning according to the front-page story in Sunday’s Washington Post.
The sexual assault allegations are not isolated. There are 16 discrete public accusations. (Celebrity experts say that for every woman willing to speak out publicly against a sexual offense, there are 10 who are too frightened or intimidated to do so). Collusion has not been suggested. And the allegations are both detailed and humiliating to the accusers.
Mr. Cosby himself has testified that he paid $100,000 to keep secret an adulterous affair with Shawn Berkes, a secretary he met at a Los Angeles nightclub. In 2005, Andrea Constand filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Cosby alleging sexual assault. Thirteen Jane Does agreed to testify against him. In 2006, Ms. Constand and Mr. Cosby reached an undisclosed settlement. Cosby projects scheduled for NBC and Netflix have been canceled.
Mr. Cosby’s life has not been monkish. The Washington Post recounts: “He partied with Hugh Hefner and was a regular at the magazine mogul’s Playboy Mansion bacchanals. He co-owned a restaurant and hit the hottest clubs.” it is a safe bet that Mr. Cosby did not use these opportunities to discuss John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or papal encyclicals counseling poverty, chastity and obedience.
Bill Cosby is not the first celebrity to fall from grace. Nor will he be the last. Power, money and fame tend to corrupt morals, and the greater the power, money and fame, the greater the corruption. Think of Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and John Edwards.
There is a common explanation. The DNA of the species inclines every member instinctively to covet power, riches, sex, and creature comforts. Thus, lives of hedonism will be relished and will prevail absent instruction and inculcation in moral philosophy. It teaches the lifelong thrill of virtuous living, including the search for truth without ulterior motives and living accordingly. Instincts for vice must be vanquished, not exalted.
But in the same manner as Jesus chased the money changers from the Temple, Hollywood and the entertainment, fashion, and sports industries have chased moral philosophy from our schools and culture.
Until it returns, the Bill Cosby spectacle will be re-enacted again and again.
For more information about Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.