Sunday, June 23, 2013

You would be surprised

In a news report published today about allegations concerning the sexual abuse of boys in Jewish schools, a New York-based ultra-Orthodox rabbi – formerly based in Sydney – was quoted as making some remarks which illustrate the extent to which religious groups and sects can create and maintain their own realities and remain virtually untouched by modern ways of thinking.

I don't want to quote any passages here, and I do wonder about the appropriateness of Fairfax Media making these comments public. (They were taken from "a legally recorded telephone conversation heard by Fairfax Media and provided to N[ew] S[outh] W[ales] detectives ...")

But I just couldn't resist highlighting the strangeness (and, frankly, the comicality) of the context of the rabbi's use of the expression 'you would be surprised'. The implicit suggestion is that the rabbi's naïve interlocutor has not been vouchsafed true and accurate knowledge of the extent to which ordinary people (including children!) are actively driven by their carnal natures – such matters, presumably, as routinely come to the attention of holy men in the course of their religious duties.

I feel sorry for the old guy, actually, who seems to have managed to remain completely outside the modern world which most of us inhabit.

And, though I remain critical of current social and legal trends, the rabbi's remarks make me appreciate that, in the end, I am a part of, and committed to, that world. Modernity, for all its flaws and mixed blessings, is to be cherished.

And, in my opinion, it's not entirely a bad thing that the privileges given to religious communities – arguably hard-earned by previous generations of devout Christians and Jews and now being exploited by extremist Islamic groups and other cults – are increasingly being called into question.