Monday, November 21, 2011
The Mad Hermit was interrupted in his musings by Al Jabar Jabar, a professor of Islamic philosophy at the Sultan Qaboos University in Oman. He came by to check on our hermit friend from time to time to discuss issues of the day though, as he always said, the issues of the day are always the same. This time he brought the news of the Penn State sexual child abuse scandal, and wondered about the Hermit’s thoughts.
“An evil,” the hermit said, “always a great evil. But what is new about that?”
“Yes, I believe you are sincere in this, Hermit friend, but I wonder at the sincerity of the horror expressed by most people in your country. Why are they so horrified by something that their culture is also busy endorsing?”
“Eh, what’s that, Jabar?”
“Everything is always upside down in your culture. Your people are always busy denouncing the very thing that they really support. Now that the Internet god allows everyone in the world to see what’s going on in your so-called culture, we know you are frauds pure and simple.”
“Explain, please.” The Hermit idly poked a stick at a hermit crab.
“How many clothing ads do I see in your media that show very young people dressing provocatively? How many discussions do I see among parents that agree that even pre-teens should be dating and going to dances? It would appear that you are encouraging young people to enter the sexual phase of their development at the first possible opportunity, and not for the sake of starting families, but for its own sake, as an end in itself, which is, of course a good definition of sterility as well as of perversion.”
“But Muhammad and his child brides, Jabar, don’t forget that.”
“Yes, Hermit friend, all true, but that was for marriage and children, not for the encouragement of promiscuous behavior as what you call a life-style. Do not confuse the sacred and the profane.”
“But I don’t see how . . .”
“The connection with really promoting sexual child abuse while condemning it? I also understand that the seculars and the liberals in your culture—the very ones who are calling for errant football coaches to be hanged and emasculated—ordinarily take their daughters to the doctor and have them outfitted for birth control at the first sign of puberty. What kind of message is your culture sending thirteen-year old boys and girls? Not only with this kind of behavior but with an entire media—yes, I have seen your movies—blasting away daily to encourage children to think of their sexual lives. Worse, remember the little girl in Colorado? Jon Benét Ramsay? The one who was murdered? Her parents routinely dressed her like a prostitute and displayed her in public as a sexual object.”
“And your point is . . .”
“I’m not through. One more element of my evidence. I see that there are Man-Boy sex organizations in your country, and yes, I know they represent a small minority, but what interests me is the conflict of values among your liberal middle class. When they have to think about this, they experience what you call a brain freeze.
“On the one hand it seems they are outraged at the idea of grown men exploiting young boys for sex, but almost immediately . . . yes, imagine how the levers in their brains operate. . . ‘I am certainly against that, but wait, those men are homosexuals and I must not be a homophobe . . . and they have equal rights. . .perhaps the boys are consenting… but then, what, after all, is consent? . . .. .I don’t want to be like the Boy Scouts . . .that would be fascist and I must be for freedom . . .but some of the members of the Man-Boy-Love thingy are Catholic priests, and that is an outrage …but don’t they have equal sexual rights too that are being frustrated by not being allowed to be married by the guilt-ridden Catholic fascist homophobes?’
“Interesting to see how moral ambivalence operates, isn’t it? Especially on your networks and National Public Radio. Perhaps that is one reason, other than football dollars, that there was no great revulsion and stampede to inform the authorities. Before you ask, my point is that there is no clarity in your culture about what it calls 'values.' How can there be when the culture is simultaneously pretending to be horrified at the sexual abuse of children while doing everything it can to turn children into promiscuous adults? And things for use?”
“I see what you mean, Jabar. I guess I have been in this country for so long that I have lost any sense of the western attitudes toward children and how to dress them and teach them. I guess I am so upset by it that even when I see it—as I sometime do on the televisions in the hotel lobbies in Oman—I write it off to a small minority in our culture—how strange, after all this time, to say those words, ‘our western culture,’ because it isn’t any more and hasn’t been for at least a century, and now it seems that the young ladies I had in my classrooms at SQU, all dressed modestly in black, are more a laudable norm than what I see in glimpses on television—girls nearly naked, in tattoos and facial jewelry—and yes, I have caught glimpses of them in the tourist hotels here . . .why do you think I have become a hermit fleeing to the desert?”
“Welcome to the desert, my friend, the home of the birth of prophecy and religion. But I am sure you know we are developing some of the same problems in Islam? The Internet, the DVDs, everything you have is creeping into our world. Why do you think there are such things as Al Qaeda and the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood? And more such things form by the hour in the streets of Yemen and Iran and now, the back streets of Egypt again. Because from the time of Sayid Qutb’s visit to the United States, when he saw the West for what it is now, there has fermented a widespread rebellion against the notion that one can mix cultures like cuisines or have a fruitful relationship with the enemy culture. As he put it, the choice of a culture is absolute: it must live in accordance with a system of morality and law that corresponds to the nature of reality. If it does not, it is a society of jahiliyya, that is, ignorance of religious truth. The West, he said, which became great on the strength of its religious values, has turned against its very roots. Your Dostoevsky would agree. And as Kipling put it . . .”
“Yes, The Gods of the Copybook Headings are unforgiving . . .”
“The purpose of all culture is to teach the virtuous life. That is what your culture has forgotten, and why you are dying of your own internal contradictions.
“I visited your country recently. Out of curiosity I visited various places including a suburban Catholic church where I saw altar girls smacking chewing gum and trying to look sultry in makeup. The young women and girls in the pews were also following the sick culture of the day, their skirts and shorts and tattoos and way of walking . . .”
“Please, do not help me to imagine it. I am here to burn out such things.”
“So where is your culture now, including your Catholic culture?"
“I am afraid since the wrong turn of Vatican II—the idea that the way to save the world is to become like the world— it has been driven into tiny enclaves. The Society of Pius X, small traditionalist parishes barely allowed but definitely not encouraged to exist by the Vatican, and the small parishes of Byzantine Catholics still keeping to Orthodox ways and Orthodox theology. So yes, there is a parallel here with Islam, except that in Islam those faithful to Islamic roots are winning, while in the West . . . I recall hearing of one parish where a traditional Latin Mass was permitted, and the modernists joked about the traditionalists as dressing like Mennonites.”
“Perhaps the Mennonites and their offshoots the Amish saw what was coming from the so-called Renaissance . . . but let’s not get into all that, Jabar. I know you have deeper things on your mind with all this talk about sex and culture.”
“Indeed. These minor conflagrations of false or diluted conscience over the Penn State scandal point to deeper ambivalences and contradictions in your culture. The lie about sex is paralleled and underwritten by the lie about the value placed on life itself.”
“Before we get to that, would you suggest that those in the West would be wise to be friends with those in Islam who call for a return to the roots of Islam?”
“Quite the contrary, dear hermit friend. Since you are a devout Chestertonian and a lover of paradox, I would suggest that the best way we can be friends is by being enemies. The best service an enemy provides for me is by showing me what I must fight against, and what I must return to. The enemies of true Islam were the modernizers in the Nasser era. The enemies of true Christianity are those who want to compromise with the devils of secularism.”
“But Jaber, I saw the face of the Islamic radicals when I taught in Kuwait, and I must say I did not like them very much.”
“Excellent, Hermit friend, a very just and honest response. You should continue not to like them, even to hate them, and ask yourself, what is it in your modern culture that they hate so much, and to what extent have you yourself bought in to it?”
There was a long silence from the Hermit. He remembered wondering what message the burning towers of the World Trade Center really carried for the West.
“Every time I talk to you, Jaber, you turn me back to my task. You are like the followers of Muhammad raging in the marketplaces of Mecca.”
“Thank you, my enemy and friend, and tomorrow I will rage again, here, if you will have me.”
“Come, and come armed. It is what I need. It is so easy to forget truths, and so hard to remember them. And that, after all, is what a hermit is supposed to be for.”
“Tomorrow, in sh’Allah, if Allah permits.”