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Essay: Moral failing? Seek instant redemption


(CNN) -- Question: What do Robert Downey Jr., Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton have in common? Answer: Each has been seeking instant redemption for personal failings.

We see Robert Downey Jr. on "Ally McBeal" following a year in prison on drug charges. Released on probation, he was flooded with offers to rebuild his career: Redemption through talent, celebrity -- and a Golden Globe award.

Now, he faces new drug possession charges, and possibly prison again. Downey may wonder whether forgiveness from fans and employers came too quickly -- before he could defeat his demons.

Look at Jesse Jackson. When the news broke that he had fathered a love child, he acknowledged it.

As an ordained minister it was not surprising that Jackson would announce his withdrawal from public activities for a period of time -- a sign of penance.

But five days later he was back on the media stage in full voice and visibility.

Penance appears to have lost its moral force in an era that values speed and assertiveness.

And then there is Bill Clinton.

Was anyone truly surprised that the soon-to-depart president and the special prosecutor would settle their dispute over Clinton's false testimony in a last-minute agreement?

Redemption through negotiation. Dispensation through presidential pardons.

Perhaps Bill Clinton is only one example of a shifting American view of moral failings. From earliest times, in formal religions or daily community life, transgressions have required some form of penance. It could be time spent in prayer, in performing good deeds -- or in prison. Penance required patience and sacrifice.

Today, there is less interest, or reward, in looking back than in moving forward.

The ability to "move on" with your life becomes an act of redemption itself.

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