06/06/2011 08:09 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2011

Anthony Weiner and the Dynamics of Penance

Anthony Weiner came clean, or at least he tried to. Speaking to the press, the embarrassed Congressman confessed, and confession is a central part of the process of penance in every tradition I know, religious and political.

But did Mr. Weiner really confess? Did he do the right thing or simply go through what he came to see as the necessary motions when his endless dissembling failed to quiet the stories about the now famous crotch-shot shared on Twitter?

Speaking to gathered representatives of the press, the Congressman declared that he had "not been honest with (him)self". With himself?! How about with the rest of us? Does Weiner not understand that this was not simply a moment for further self-exposure? Does he have any awareness regarding his dishonesty with his constituents and with an American public that grows increasingly alienated from political engagement precisely because of such dishonesty, be it on the left or on the right?

While confession is a critical part of the penance process, it assumes that the one confessing appreciates their transgressions -- something left in doubt by Weiner's words. Of course, he is correct that when you can't be honest with yourself, you can't be honest with others either -- a lesson that we can all learn from Rep. Weiner.

It's bad enough that he can't tell the difference between playing "True Confessions" about his inner life and the need to confront the implications of his actions vis a vis others, even more disturbing is his inability to tell the truth even about the things he is supposedly prepared to address. Weiner can't even come clean about the things to which he is confessing!

When asked about the possibility of other explicit photos of himself which may still be circulating, Rep. Weiner refused to comment. Someone really needed to explain the dynamics of confession and seeking forgiveness to Mr. Weiner, before he went to a microphone.

Having said all that, there is something to be said for Weiner's refusal to step down from office in the wake of this scandal. For starters, this was about pictures on Twitter for God's sake. I am not excusing what he did -- it's not my place to do so, but given the challenges we face both in this country and around the world, it's hardly a game changer. His lying about it may be, but even there it's not clear what he should do.

Weiner's, or any other politician's, ability to admit his fault and correct his behavior without having to endure too much retribution is actually something of value to all of us. Of course, the definition of what constitutes "too much" can be debated, and certainly my contention assumes a fuller and more forthcoming approach than Weiner's, but creating a culture of greater honesty from our politicians demands voters with greater capacity for forgiveness when the politicians are genuinely penitent.

Weiner failed today, to be sure, but the story is not over. The coming days will tell us if we want more than self-serving politicians and voyeuristic voters. The answer to that question lies with both Anthony Weiner's ability to really confess, and the public's capacity for genuine forgiveness. I guess we'll have to wait and see.