Friday, September 9, 2011

“Reversing the Moral Decay Behind the London Riots”

Jewish date:  10 ’Elul 5771 (Parashath Ki Theṣe’).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Peter Claver (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Dean Corll (Church of the SubGenius).


Recently Harold sent me a link to an article worth mentioning, “Reversing the Moral Decay Behind the London Riots” by Rav Jonathan Sacks, which deals with the decline of morality (as an extension of religion) starting in the 1960s in the United Kingdom and the West in general as a factor leading to the recent London riots.  And I do think that he has a point.  Human societies are governed by rules, and a what we do is influenced by what we see others do.  When people jettison rules which exist for perfectly good reasons (like rules against selfishness), bad consequences are unsurprising.

Clearly things have changed since the 1960s.  Very apparent is that there have been changes in what is considered acceptable in the media.  For a humorous example, if you will recall the 1960s sit-com Gilligan’s Island, it was followed up in 1978 with Rescue from Gilligan’s Island, which brings the castaways back to civilization after 15 years of isolation; of all the characters, it is Ginger, the sex symbol of the series, who criticizes many of the movies of that time for gratuitous sex and foul language.  I am well aware that things have not gotten better in this regard since 1978.  In fact, a lot of stuff I watch these days (over the Internet) is decades old, not merely out of curiosity of things I have only heard about or nostalgia, but also because of content.  If Gilligan’s Island were made today—and there have been repeated threats of a movie version from time to time—it would almost certainly be a very different show; there is a high probability there would be a good deal of that gratuitous sex that Ginger complained about (certainly something beyond the teasing and manipulation that Ginger actually did), quite likely some foul language, probably more infighting and a good deal less of a sense of community, and probably more violence than the Skipper hitting Gilligan with his hat.

On the other hand, I find myself wondering how much of a trend of moral decay there really is.  Human society consists of billions of people, and thus lots of different trends can happen simultaneously in all sorts of directions.  And I do not think things have been going down uniformly.  For example, there has been a lot of emphasis placed on eliminating racism and creating a more just world starting in the 1960s.  I have also heard that Judaism was largely dying out in the United States until 1948, after which there has been an increasing ba‘al teshuvah movement (to put it in Christian terms, Jews “getting religion”).  To Rav Sacks’s credit, he avoids the clichéd falsehood that moral decline is inevitable and even notes that in the 1820s that the United States and Britain became more religious.

Paradoxically, you can even get things going both ways at the same time in the same group of people.  The United States has a large population of religious Christians—many of which politically take positions which are difficult or impossible to reconcile with anything Jesus taught.  (Republicans, take heed.  This means you.  I am no fan of Jesus, but I know full well that “kick the poor when they’re down” is the exact opposite of what he preached.)  Go figure.

Peace and Shabbath shalom.


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