[Viewpoint]Adultery not a crime for the courtsIn his best-selling book, “Father Joe,” Tony Hendra, an English writer who has worked mostly in the United States, wrote, “The sweetest of all crimes committed by human beings must be adultery.”
He did not mean to praise adultery.
The novel was a story about a 14-year-old having an affair with a married woman. It created quite a stir and heated debate in the United States after it was published. Through Father Joseph Warrilow, a spiritual mentor of wretched souls, the author preached how to love people.
Perhaps because of its sweetness, adultery is traced back to the beginning of human history.
One of the biblical 10 Commandments says, “Neither shall you commit adultery.” Even in the biblical era, many people committed adultery with the wives of their neighbors.
In Korea, too, there are records of this sweet crime throughout history. In historical records, such as the “Chronicles of the Joseon Dynasty,” there are more than 1,775 written records of adultery cases.
Of course, adultery has been seen from different perspectives depending on times.
Adultery became a crime after the birth of monogamy. It became institutionalized when ancient kingdoms began to rule the world. Making adultery a crime served as a means of preventing men and women from being unfaithful to their spouses for a long time.
There are historical records that say, “Old Joseon women kept their chastity,” and “Buyeo women who were jealous were punished by death.” Historical records also say the Baekje Kingdom punished any woman who committed adultery with her slave “by making her a slave for her husband’s family.”
According to the laws of the Joseon Dynasty, “a person who commits adultery voluntarily is liable to be flogged 80 times; a married woman who commits adultery is liable to be flogged 90 times; a person who seduces an innocent woman is liable to be flogged 100 times and a rapist shall be hanged.”
In most cases, there were differences in the strength of punishments between men and women. Here is a report the minister of law made to King Sejong: “Seeungai, the wife of Hwang Sun-ji, a former officer in charge of the temple, betrayed her husband and committed adultery with Yu Heung-su. The Law Ministry recommends that Your Majesty put Seeungai to death by hanging and flog Yu Heung-su 100 times, then send him into exile in a remote place.”
In most cases, men did not face the death penalty for committing adultery except when they committed adultery with the wife of their master.
However, the concept of punishing adulterers has changed in the modern age. Suddenly, adultery has become a dagger, especially in Korea, aimed at men. Korea has steadfastly kept adultery as a crime as the last bastion to protect “socially weak women,” even though almost every country abolished it a long time ago.
After all that, the situation has completely turned upside-down.
According to an article in the latest edition of the JoongAng Sunday, women no longer need such protection in our society. An analysis of court decisions since 2005 showed more husbands have filed lawsuits against their wives for committing adultery than vice versa.
Even a large number of feminist movement organizations now support the abolition of adultery, according to the report.
We live in a different country now.
Adultery is no longer a problem related to affairs between men and women in Korea. Instead, it is a problem to be dealt with on a personal basis.
So how can the government still intervene? How can the authorities categorize things that happen in the bed as lawful or unlawful?
We can no longer call other people’s sexual affairs a scandal while calling our own a romance.
However, it does not mean that you are encouraged to have affairs with your neighbors. Even though adultery as a crime has essentially been abolished, you cannot evade the moral responsibility.
Marriage is a promise by couples to not have sexual intercourse with others. The act of betraying that promise cannot be justified for the reason that the person has fallen in love with someone else. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the love affair with the other person will end happily.
In the popular TV drama, “My Man’s woman,” the woman who steals the husband of a friend turns away from him later, saying, “Aren’t our feelings toward each other already getting cold?”
Father Joe said sex was not a bad thing, as it was a gift from God. He also said it was a crime to use sex to hurt others or to satisfy personal greed. For him, the only crime a human being commits is the crime of pursuing egotistical desire.
If people take care of their spouse and others well before pursuing their own desires, and thinks of the wounds they will receive from their actions, they will change their attitude about whether adultery should be a punishable crime.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom