In Defense of Sin by John Portmann
rating: 2 of 5 stars
In Defense of Sin is guilty of bait-and-switch. The book purports to be an anthology of writings (both essays and snippets from classic literature) extolling the virtues of what are commonly regarded as sins—greed, deceit, adultery, suicide, and more. It’s an intriguing idea, but few and far between are the writings that truly speak to this end. To cite one egregious example, the section titled “In Defense of Lust” features an essay that argues not that lust has some sort of intrinsic merit or inherent value, but that engaging in cybersex does not constitute infidelity. In my mind, this is not a matter of an essay going off-topic, it is a matter of the essay never being on-topic to begin with! An even more convoluted example is Jonathan Swift’s satire “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents or the Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public” being touted as a “defense of murder.” Though this tongue-in-cheek endorsement of infanticide is humorous, it in no way gives the reader any new considerations about murder, pro or con. (Leaving one to ask, “so what was the point?”)
There are a couple of thought-provoking chapters included here (Anthony Ellis’ article on casual sex, which is questionably tagged as a “defense of promiscuity,” is quite good and does a much better job of addressing lust than does the aforementioned article on cybersex), but overall the book is off-base. It misrepresents itself and in turn has the propensity to insult the reader who expects the book to live up to the description on its cover, which states that it will “surprise, intrigue, and provoke you.” Funny … when I was told not to judge a book by its cover, I somehow thought the book description was the one exception!