Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kosher Sex and the Vatican

OK, the title of this entry might seem like a cheap attempt to get Google hits, but there is a connection.

Last night, I taught the second session (of two) of a class on Kosher Sex. If you don’t know, Kosher Sex is a book by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a Hassidic/Lubavitch/Chabad Rabbi who has become very well known for his book and his related talks. In very quick summary, the book proposes that sex be seen as a powerful force in our lives – one which can be destructive if abused, but which can incredibly holy if used properly (that’s what “Kosher Sex” means – sex that is within proper, religious boundaries).

For what it’s worth, it’s an OK book. He does a lot of asserting that “X is true” or “Judaism believes Y” without actually providing sources, so it’s hard to know where his instincts/insights end and established knowledge begins. In other words, I can’t tell you how much of his thinking is backed by modern psychology, how much is backed by Jewish thought, and how much is just what he thinks is true. That’s a real failing in a book like this. But, he makes some points which are interesting, and it’s worth checking out if you’re interested.

I’ve been aware of the book for a while, and of Rabbi Shmuley, as well. He’s been starring in “Shalom in the Home,” a show where he goes and helps couples rekindle the love in their marriages. He’s been on Oprah. He’s been everywhere. I’ve always had a hard time pinning down exactly what he was. Sometimes, he seems very reasonable – a smart, dedicated religious Jew who really believes, not without reason, that our modern sexual ethic leads to a lot of unhappiness, and that reclaiming the sanctity of sex is good for all of us. Sometimes, he seems like a wolf in sheep’s clothing – someone trying to package old-world thinking into a more palatable form, in order to convince us all to live by one version of Jewish life. Sometimes a moderate; sometimes a fanatic.

Then, today, I see a headline on CNN.com*. Shmuley went to the Vatican and suggested to the Pope that he start pushing Catholics to have family dinners. Why? Because that will make the Church seem more family-friendly, and will help dissipate the anger over the ongoing child-abuse scandal.

* you know, years ago, CNN.com was the best site on the web for updated news. Now, it seems the best place for celebrity gossip and life/culture stories, with a bit of news thrown in. I can’t seem to stop using it to check in on the news, though. Habits die hard. Anyone have any suggestions for a better news site?

Would that work? I’d like to think it wouldn’t, but I can imagine things stranger than a “look how nice we are” campaign actually distracting a very distractible public. But, that isn’t the point, is it?

I think (hope?) that we’d all agree, Catholic, Christian, Jew, atheist, whatever, that the Church’s main problem isn’t a public relations one. The reason that people are appalled by the way that the church has dealt with pedophile priests is that it’s appalling. Outrage is the proper reaction to any religious organization covering up sex abuse.

I would have hoped that we could expect better from a Rabbi. I would have hoped that a Jewish leader would never suggest that the way to deal with a scandal is to distract people from it, rather than dealing with the underlying matter. I would have hoped that someone who claims to be an expert in Judaism would never suggest that PR was more important than substance.

Of course, he got on CNN.com. So, that’s cool. I guess.

1 comment:

Audrey said...

Interesting commentary, Jason. I shared it on FB to help you get more hits!

I like the idea of a religious leader speaking openly about encouraging intimate relationships... too often, the inhibited amongst us pick up on religious messages that just reinforce their inhibitions.