It's tempting to view the sex scandal surrounding retired Army Gen. David Petraeus through a religious lens.

After all, most faiths forbid adultery, and even before his fall from grace, some Pentagon colleagues compared Petraeus to the biblical King David—another proud and powerful warrior.

The comparison seemed even more apt after the former four-star general's resignation from the CIA on Friday. "More than one officer cited the biblical adultery of King David and Bathsheba," wrote The New York Times.

The Bible says that David acted righteously and kept God's commandments—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba's husband.

"Will history remember David Petraeus with the same caveat?" asked Jim Denison, a Southern Baptist scholar in Dallas.

Even liberals saw the scandal in religious terms, albeit from an opposite pole.

"Don't understand why `adultery' is quasi-illegal in a nation in which church & state are separate," tweeted the renowned novelist Joyce Carol Oates. "The ugly word `bastard' has been phased out of usage & next should come `adultery' with its Biblical rectitude & cruelty."

But the military's anti-adultery rules are not based on religion, biblical or otherwise, said Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman.

"To be clear, it has nothing to do with a religious version of what morality is and everything to do with maintaining good order and discipline," he said.

Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice criminalizes adultery when three elements are met: two people had sex, one of them was married, and their conduct compromised military discipline and order or brought "discredit upon the armed forces."

The rules may seem archaic to modern ...

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