Indecent 7

We often agree with Dennis Prager. We disagree with him when he talks about religion. (As we do with most conservative columnists and commentators, candidates and Congressmen.)

We wonder continually at the strangeness of the fact that millions of highly intelligent, educated, sane adults living in this age of science believe in the supernatural.

How poor their arguments are when they talk about it. How blindly they insist that religion is the sole source and guarantee of moral behavior.

Dennis Prager, writing in Townhall on the fairly trivial subject of an airline allowing a man dressed only  in women’s underwear to fly, mixes sense and nonsense in a manner typical of religious conservatives:

On June 9, a man boarded a US Airways flight from Fort Lauderdale to Phoenix, dressed in women’s panties, a bra and thigh-high stockings.

No US Airways employee at the Fort Lauderdale airport asked him to cover himself. Nor did any flight attendant ask him to do so. And obviously, no one demanded that he get off the plane.

US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder was asked how the airline allowed a nearly naked cross-dresser to board a plane … She said employees had been correct not to ask the man to cover himself. ‘We don’t have a dress code policy. Obviously, if their private parts are exposed, that’s not appropriate. … So if they’re not exposing their private parts, they’re allowed to fly.’

The decline of American civilization since the 1960s has been so fast and so dramatic that it takes one’s breath away.

That a woman speaking on behalf of a major airline can say with a straight face that her airline allows anyone dressed or undressed to fly on its airplanes so long as they do not expose their genitals perfectly encapsulates this decline.

The only question is: How did we get here?

For one thing, the concept of decency is dying. I suspect that if an adult were to say to a group of randomly chosen American college students that this man indecently exposed himself and should not have been allowed to fly, that adult would be a) not understood — what does “indecent” mean? — and/or b) roundly condemned for intolerance and bigotry.

To judge this man as acting indecently, not to mention to bar him from flying, is to engage in violating the only values a generation of Americans has been taught: not to judge, not to discriminate, to welcome diversity and to fully accept those who are different, especially in the sexual arena.

That is why I think it is very difficult to have a dialogue on this matter. For those who believe in public “decency,” the matter is as clear as a bell — this was profoundly indecent — and for those who do not believe in such a concept, the matter is equally clear — “decency” is an anachronism.

So far, good enough. We agree that the man was not decently covered. It’s possible that some people on the flight found the exposure of most of his body shocking. What he did was not polite. Politeness, which respects the dignity of other people, is necessary to human relations: far more necessary than a saccharine pretense of generalized indiscriminate love.

But then Prager goes on to argue that a “reason for the death of the concept of ‘public decency'” is “the age of secularism in which we live”.

In a more religious America, the human being was regarded as created in God’s image, a being that ideally aspires to a level of holiness. As secularism proceeds with the increasing force of an avalanche, however, man is increasingly regarded as just another animal. One way in which higher civilizations have demonstrated the human-animal difference has been the wearing of clothing. Animals are naked in public; humans are clothed. But secularism eats away at such religious ideals. Thus religion-based concepts such as holiness and decency die out.

God’s image with clothes on?

The argument in Judaism is that man was made in God’s “moral image”, but  Christians say God was incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth. In Christian art, both “God the Father” and Jesus are usually depicted with clothes on – often a sort of woman’s nightgown or a toga-like garment – but not always. Michelangelo’s God on the Sistine Chapel roof is nude. Where but half-awakened Adam / Can disturb globe-trotting madam/ Till her bowels are in a heat, wrote W.B.Yeats.

Of course, though many a madam will trot or fly over half the globe to view that naked God and Adam, she might not enjoy having an almost naked man sitting next to her on her journey. We think Dennis Prager is right that she shouldn’t have to.

But no, Mr Prager, secularism does not destroy decency or politeness. Most secularists wear clothes and are polite. What they don’t do in the name of secularism is sniff out heretical views, punish apostasy, blow up infidels, hang homosexuals, stone adulterers, incarcerate critics, or torture and burn the nerve-threaded bodies of the living.

Such acts are done, have been done millions of times, in the name of religion. We think they are rather worse than indecent.