The jury has decided: the picture is fake. But the question remains, “Why does it matter?”
First, let’s be clear about what is supposed to be represented. It appears to be a young Buddhist monk not resisting being kissed by a daring girl about his age. The male appears to have on the traditional 3-piece saffron-colored monk’s robes. According to Buddhist monastic rules once a man has been ordained he is forbidden to touch or be touched by a female, even his mother. A monk caught in this compromised circumstance could expect to be disciplined and possibly defrocked. Furthermore, it is not legal for a person in Thailand to impersonate a monk. It is not legal for a monk to have sexual contact with anyone, and a kiss could count as that kind of contact; both the participants could be liable for arrest. And above all it is not legal to do anything which defames Buddhism (or any other religion).
So that brings us to the question of, “Why does it matter?” The jury (300+ comments on Facebook) was fairly evenly divided between those who thought the picture on the Internet couldn’t touch the heart of Buddhism because this was a picture of an individual couple’s indiscretion. Another group was alarmed that the reputation of Buddhism could be damaged if critics used the pic as evidence of hypocrisy on the part of clergy. Do you think Buddhism is undermined when a rogue clergyman appears? It has happened before, without apparent lasting ill effects. Nevertheless, Buddhism is one of the three institutions, along with the state and royalty, that are constitutionally protected from criticism and defamation, inasmuch as they theoretically hold up the Thai social structure. As it happens, two of these three institutions are under a degree of debate unprecedented in recent times. If Buddhism were also seriously jeopardized, everything might topple, so the theory says.
However, the picture is a fake. The jury noticed the monk’s intact hair and eyebrows. A real monk has head and eyebrows shaved every 15 days. The guy’s hair is impossibly long. He is faking.
Why was this scene concocted, if it is fake? We cannot know why until he is identified and interviewed. My guess is that this is another attempt by two members of the young postmodernist generation to create a stir. If you put something on the Internet that “goes viral” that is a fleeting moment of glory. Nothing succeeds quite as well as something that generates indignation.
But if this sort of callous egotism is what now matters and is valued, society is already undermined.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.