Arts & Culture

Primal Scream Therapy with Tortured Authors, Part 2: From one freak to another

To: Marty Beckerman From: Matthue Roth Subject: From one freak to another Marty, You’re right. I know I shouldn’t admit you’re right — I am, after all, one of those fundamentalist zealots you’re talking about — but the fact is, … Read More

By / September 30, 2008

To: Marty Beckerman From: Matthue Roth Subject: From one freak to another

Marty,

You’re right. I know I shouldn’t admit you’re right — I am, after all, one of those fundamentalist zealots you’re talking about — but the fact is, religion often gives people an excuse for idiocy.

It’s not what Jewish Law is supposed to be. Jewish Law is supposed to place the responsibility on the individual — if you screw up, you’re culpable to God. But that’s not how it plays out in contemporary religion. Instead, we let rabbis and priests tell us what the books say. When the religious leaders have that power, either through ignorance or a lack of dissent, the power has a tendency to get abused. The attitude is that, as long as you have a rabbi saying something’s okay, you’re covered. Some of them — again, not most — have learned to manipulate the system, and they use their power for no good, or even straight-up evil.

You proposed that there’s a link between the degree of someone’s fundamentalism and his/her kink. I feel duly obliged to note that, in Judaism, many forms of consensual kink are both acceptable and welcomed (and many others are debatably acceptable).

The greater world likes to divide religious fundamentalists as either incredibly knowledgeable, having the entire Bible memorized, or as totally ignorant, only thinking what, like, Meir Kahane or Pat Robertson or Swami Prabhubada tells them to think.  The reality is more of a bell curve. There are people who don’t know very much — or who are the least fundamental of the fundamentalists — who are struggling (in prayer, with a job, in life itself) just to keep up.

Then there are the people who are on top of everything. Some of those people are totally comfortable with their station in life. Some of them are even really good at it, and some are obsessed with condescension and moralizing, but you can find others who don’t make it a central issue. In a weird way, it’s kind of the same phenomenon that happened with cable TV and Internet music: we’re decentralized now. You can find a community that shares your own interests, quirks, and even kinks.

But fundamentalism is not merely about sexuality. There are tzaddikim of every faith who run soup kitchens and strive for the betterment of humanity. Their every thought comes back to God, but we never see 99% of these people because they are too damn busy saving others instead of condemning others.

Religious people aren’t the only ones who condemn the ills of society; that’s actually a big part of your persona, and certainly the approach of many comedians. This morning, getting off the subway, I saw Chris Rock on a fifteen-foot-tall video screen, promoting his new HBO special. I couldn’t help but notice that his physical movements and posturing were remarkably similar to yours in the Dumbocracy promo video.

I think it’s more than coincidental. You and Rock both possess both a drive and confidence that what you’re saying has weight, and, more directly, is both correct and needs to be said, but neither of you is totally sure you’re the right guy to say it. I suppose if I were a better person, I’d call it modesty, but I actually think it’s closer to awkwardness, as if you’re unsure you can handle that responsibility. Rock has learned to cover it up better, but he’s had more practice.

Marty Beckerman, author of Dumbocracy, and Matthue Roth, author of Losers, are blogging together on Jewcy, and they’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.