America As Pagan Nation

             (Warnings, this article contains depictions of secular society that are not suitable for children or for people who been insulated from it)

             The Abarbanel says that one function of Christianity is to give Jews a monotheistic environment in golus to help secure our attachment to Judaism. The explanation would be that despite all the hardships imposed on us by the Christians the influence of their culture is preferable to that of a pagan people such as the Hindus. To my mind, this is yet another argument why Moshiach’s arrival is imminent as the Western World is no longer Christian. It has become pagan. Allow me to explain.  
Approaching my half-century mark of 50, I remember the days when America was a Christian country. I see in my mind’s eye little things such as joining the Wilder family on my block for dinner and, as I reached for the potatoes, Mr. Wilder bowing his head to say grace. I had no idea what he was doing. Then after somebody at the table explained it to me I felt a rush of embarrassment. I’m bolting for food and he is thanking God.  
On that point, I remember when neighbors talked to each other and had each other over for dinner. I remember when the new person on the block was met with a welcome wagon, rather than today where they stay strangers for years.  
I remember Sunday in my hometown as my friends got in their Sunday clothes and went off to church. What were Sunday clothes? The boys wore suits and ties and the girls wore wool or cotton dresses that reached below the knee and covered the shoulders and arms at least to the elbow. Sometimes the dresses bore little designs like flowers. There wasn’t a tattoo within a mile.  
I remember my co-worker in college in Michigan who told me that he and his girlfriend were “waiting for marriage”. I knew others like that. Admittedly, by 1983, this had become much rarer, but you still saw it.  
I remember television in the old days. We all know the story of how the network censors wouldn't allow the I Love Lucy Show to utter the word pregnant on the air. Lucy and Ricky were married as you may recall. The Mary Tyler Moore show was considered radical because it showed a woman living alone. In the late 1970s, the network censors wouldn't allow the show Happy Days to show the character Fonzi wearing a black leather jacket and sitting on a motorcycle at the same time. They considered it scandalous to show such a wild character. So the early days of the show often showed him wearing his jacket while he worked on his motorcycle. Sometimes, you’d see him sitting on the bike in a wind breaker; but never the two together.  
I recall my fifth grade teacher telling me, after I gave her a belt for her Christmas gift, (Americans didn’t have a term like holiday gift back then, I think it would have offended them because they cared about being Christians) that she could wear it on the weekend because sometimes she wore slacks. At school, she always wore dresses. All of my grade school teachers did.  
Fast forward to 2011. Yesterday, I found myself for the first time in thirty years at the Garden State Plaza. Oh my goodness. I felt like Rip van Winkle What a scene I beheld. Somebody get me a chair and a wet towel.  
My first shock was the sheer size of the place. The Plaza used to consist of a few stores. The place yesterday went on for miles. I recall years ago only parking outside and accessing stores from the outside. That’s why they called it a Plaza and not a mall. At least that’s how I remember it. Now they have stacked garages that lead you right into shopping areas, elegant stores and seemingly infinite mall space. I walked so far that I was ready to drop. I felt as if I had walked into an alternate universe the place was so big. And the wealth. I recall from the old days a department store called Korvettes, one of the original Walmart type of stores, that sold sweatshirts. The Plaza now is like Rodeo Drive. Every tile was perfect and polished. The merchandise seemed more expensive to me now when I actually make a living then it did when I was 16 and had nothing. Designer suits, sweaters with jewelry bolted on, leather coats going for $1,000. Italian shoes for $250.  
I recall a similar shock when I first returned to New York after living for two years in Jerusalem back in 1990. Even though I had grown up in New York, I had adjusted to the humility of Jerusalem. I was stunned by the size of the cars and buildings outside JFK airport. I recall thinking that one would have to take the intensity that many in Jerusalem poured into spirituality and pour it into materialism to arrive at man-made objects this big.  
I had similar thoughts at the Garden State Plaza. The sheer amount of wealth here reflects a life orientation. Wow, such focus.  
Then we come to the people. I must have passed a thousand people yesterday, mostly walking fast and aggressively, none dressed modestly or in a dignified fashion.  
And the new fashion for the young women? I won’t go into detail except to say there’s not much detail to it. I do not exaggerate in saying that thirty years ago prostitutes on the streets of New York dressed more modestly. I saw this everywhere I looked. It wasn’t an occasional young woman who sank to these depths. It seemed like all of them. Such grotesque pritzus is the norm today, even for pre-teens!  
I was confused. I knew the beach to be termed osur but I had never heard that about shopping malls. I wasn’t sure if I just shouldn’t look or if I should leave.  I should have left immediately. And I’ll poskin for all of you now, shopping malls are osur for Jewish men and women 
But what is an American who still pursues Christianity to do. The government requires attendance in the cesspools we call schools. The penalty is prison. The typical family cannot afford private school and cannot homeschool due to, if nothing else, the financial need for both parents to work. I often reflect on the irony that children by law must go to school where they learn they are free. From ages 5 to 17 the government tells you where to sit all day long and what to think– but you are free or so they say. Forced public education is the rough equivalent of Romans banning Torah study. It is forced secularity and immorality. Remember the Gemara in Gittin where the kids jumped into the sea rather than being forced to sin with each other. What we have today is not a far cry from that.  
And the men? Schleppy one after the next. Not a dress shirt in sight and certainly not a jacket. I saw lots of waist high leather jackets. I saw shaved heads. I saw wrap around sunglasses 
Meanwhile I walked around in a tan raincoat, a blue Oxford shirt, a hack cap, and a pair of black slacks. Not wearing a Lakewood outfit by any means, I looked as out of place as an Amish man in Manhattan.  
In the 1940s, men dressed with dignity. Their clothing reflected a belief that man was created in the image of the Almighty. They were jackets and hats to baseball games. They looked like men. They looked respectable. Today, they look like 2 year olds.  
I don’t mean to harp on clothing, but the outside reflects the inside. So does the expression on a person’s face. I don’t recall seeing a smile in an hour. The people looked crazed as they dashed about in pursuit of acquisitions and food. I recall the days when families strolled down the street, enjoying the sun, and perhaps even one another’s company. I had three kids with me and I spent a considerable energy protecting them from the rush. People held their ground as they barreled forward. They weren’t going to move for anyone. I recall the days when boy scouts would escort old ladies across the street. An old lady wouldn’t have stood a chance in that mall.  
The selfishness was palpable. We stopped at a juice bar to buy some bottled water and kosher energy bars. Clearly having my hands full with three kids, I asked the young man at the counter if he had any straws. Over there he said to me with a frown, glancing for a moment to the other side of the counter. He didn’t reach over to grab one as he easily could have.  
I realize that we are in the New York area here but the grumpiness was a bit startling. Even the shopkeepers looked angry. Of course, these really aren’t shopkeepers. They are minimum wage hired help working for corporations. More on that in a bit.  
You don’t see the grumpiness when you look at the store displays. The gentiles have perfected the art of the fake smile. Their corporate reports and advertisements are replete with smiling faces. The cruise must be wonderful, after all the ad shows a boatload of smiling faces. The CEO must be a wonderful guy. Look at his nice smile. But it’s not reality. As Rabbi Avigdor Miller once wrote, the goyim are unhappy.  A life of giva and tiva will generally do that to a person because the giva and tiva are never satisfied.  
I see this selfishness at work too. People just use each other. I always know when somebody wants something from me a work, wants some kind of favor, because that morning they’ll actually say hello. Next day, nothing.  
Admittedly, these remarks are anecdotal. But we all know the statistics: divorce rate at 50%, 53 million abortions in the US since 1973 (World War II resulted in less deaths), pre-martial sex rate of 95% (Guttmacher Institute), 2 million people in prison. In 1900, the ratio of marriages to divorces was 13 to 1. In 1989 it was 2 to 1. In 2006, thirty-six percent of Americans between the ages 18 to 25, and 40 percent of those ages 26 to 40, had at least one tattoo. Tattoos are a classic sign of paganism, one reason for the Torah’s forbidding them. The National Geographic News stated in April 2000 that 40 million Americans have tattoos. The US homicide rate was 1 per 100,000 in 1900. In 1990 it was over 10 per 100,000.  
All of this reflects a life of tiva, a lack of discipline. The life of the religious man is a life of self-discipline. As Rav Avigdor Miller said, “We are a nation of self-discipline,” referring to the Jews of course. We Orthodox Jews strive for self-discipline in all areas of life, but American goyim once knew the term too. Today, in the US, 1/3 of adults are obese. In 1960, the rate was 1 in 12.  
The undisciplined person has an undisciplined mind and such a person makes a mess of life. American politics swings from extreme to extreme every election because the electorate doesn’t grasp the meaning of a middle ground. That would take intellectual discipline.  
What I have described so far is just one part of paganism. Rav Joseph Soloveitchik notes that there are two aspects to paganism. The first is hedonism, the undisciplined life, the baal tiva. This I would say is dor haflaga, the generation of the flood. The second aspect is the corporate state which fuels the hedonism. The pagan corporate state says Rabbi Soloveitchik is impersonal. Its goal is production. As we saw with the tower of Bavel, the bricks were more important than people. Such is the corporate state in the United States where “roughly 13 to 17% of Americans live below the federal poverty line at any given point in time, and roughly 40% fall below the poverty line at some point within a 10-year time span.”  Former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, a yid, has noted that “In the mid-1970s, for example, the top 1 percent got around 9 percent of total income. By 2007, they got 23.5 percent.” The income of the bottom 40% has decreased by roughly half since then. Middle class incomes (if such a group exists anymore) are a bit higher over the 30 years but that is due almost entirely to the creation of the two earner families, the ones where kids come home to an empty house. In thirty years, the income of the male bread winners has remained flat. Where did all the money go, thirty years of GNP growth. Basically it went to rich.  
As for wealth, Mr. Reich has pointed out that 90% of the wealth ownership in stocks and bonds belongs to the top 10% of the economic hierarchy with 50% going to the top 1%.  
Meanwhile people work longer hours and endure intense pressure and stress at work. People from other countries are shocked by the pressure in the US workplace. The old timers are shocked by it too. Today, we work harder for less. The corporations absolutely crush people and toss them aside when they are no longer needed. It’s all part of the pagan corporate state.  
The American Christians were never perfect. They always had crime and divorce and premarital relations to an extent that is alarming to Orthodox Jews. But the difference between gentile American society in 1900 or even 1950 and that of today is night and day, shocking, revolting, terrifying. We are somewhat used to it like the proverbial frog in the water that is brought slowly to a boil. Go on the Internet sometime and look at videos of even Hollywood events from the 1970s. You won’t believe the difference between then and now with regard to humility, modesty of dress, simplicity of lifestyle, fidelity, and the way people treated each other. Wow. The difference is mind blowing.  
A person is not a Christian just because his grandfather was. The same kind of logic applies to us. When a Jewish immigrant threw his tefillin into New York harbor and then proceeded to work on Shabbos, he ceased to be an Orthodox Jew. And his descendants, likely further from observance than he was, are not Orthodox just because their great grandfather was. Religion requires effort and commitment and sacrifice. General Gaddafi was not a Moslem even though he boasted that he was. Boasting is not enough. The proof is in the pudding, in actions. American society has become a cesspool.  A Christian man dresses like a gentleman. A Christian woman covers her body. A Christian waits until marriage for relations and stays married, making the marriage work, except in extreme circumstances. A Christian doesn’t murder babies in the womb, certainly not 53 million of them. A Christian loves mankind or tries to. What we have in America is an obsession with winning, with defeating the opposition.  
The cruelty of this country is evidenced everywhere: Police handcuffing a twelve year old girl for scribbling on her desk, police arresting a grandmother for slapping a fresh grand-daughter, police tasering an elderly man who didn’t want to leave his house, police handcuffing a 11 year old boy for drawing stick figures on a paper, “mothers” taping babies to chairs or stuffing them in dryers, parents beating children to death on a daily basis, the State housing 40,000 prisoners in solitary confinement for months and years on end, wool industry workers stripping the skin off of live sheep (mule slinging they call it) or chopping off their legs while they are alive, food industry workers locking chickens and pigs in boxes where they can’t move two inches for their entire lives, university researchers pinning rabbits to a board and flashing blinking lights in their eyes for weeks at time. These are not the acts of Christians. You don’t get to call yourself a Christian while engaged in these activities. Christianity like Judaism takes effort, takes sacrifice. When a businessman works to keep people employed even if it proves a bit costly to his company – that is Christianity. If he throws people in the street like used rubber, then he is not a Christian.  
What was the case concerning the 11 year old drawer of stick figures? It concerned a boy who suffered from attention deficit disorder. His psychologist suggested that he respond to anxiety by drawing pictures. So he drew pictures of guns pointing at teachers. The school called the cops who arrested him, put in him handcuffs, and locked him by himself in a cell. They wouldn’t even allow his mother to accompany him in the police car.  
This kid is a victim of a sick society. The tireless flashing of the TV and video games, along with a diet of junk food and pesticide might have caused his ADD along with millions of other kids. I don’t know for sure but chances are good that he doesn’t have a stay at home mom either. I don’t know this family but the average American kid watches 1,680 minutes of TV per week and has meaningful conversation with his parents 3.5 minutes per week. By the age of 18, the average American kid has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV. So this kid picked up a little violent imagery along the way. In this country that brags about its freedom of expression, he was arrested for drawing a primitive picture, one that he didn’t show anyone. He is forced by law (in this allegedly free country) to sit in a classroom all day long against his will, in an environment that he can’t handle. 100 years ago he would have worked on a farm and that would have suited him just fine. The police who on a daily basis all over the country show us their utter lack of common sense manhandle him as if he were a bank robber.  
Contemporary television is little other than voyeurism, incivility, violence, salaciousness, and worship of the new pagan gods called celebrities. In agrarian times, the pagans worshiped what they saw as the source of their sustenance: sun, wind, and the like. In the post-industrial era, they worship the tycoon, the scientist, and the entertainer. It’s idol worship and it’s paganism.  
The most popular show in America for several years was American Idol. We can’t miss the irony of the title. The show consists of physically attractive, generally working class young people trying to win a singing contest, the prize for which is a million dollar recording contract and a ticket to “the big-time.” What the audience watches are these pathetic souls desperately trying to break out of poverty, subjecting themselves to horrific pressure week after week before judges who are famous for their rudeness and before millions of voyeuristic TV watchers. Contestants frequently break into tears on the show and have reported nervous breakdowns after leaving it. The contestants master the art of sycophancy along the way. Like workers in corporations, the contestants lose their individuality and personality over time. The successful ones become one with the goal of worldly success and pleasing the people with the bucks. It is a gruesome spectacle of desperation and humiliation.  
The most popular situation comedy for years was called Two and Half Men. Its star, Charlie Sheen, is famous not only for the show but for his addiction to drugs and prostitutes in his private life. As the son of a world famous movie star father, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The show is rife with ribald, even profane humor. You can say quite fairly that the show is built around it.  
In one recent episode, the character Alan opens the front door to find a pregnant woman (who was wearing the tightest possible shirt that a pregnant woman could wear). Alan, who obviously didn’t know the woman, says to the other character, “Charlie, it’s for you.” The suggestion is of course that Charlie must have impregnated this strange woman because Charlie is so promiscuous. This apparently is a running joke in the program, as if such a notion is funny in a country where 40% of births are out of wedlock.  
This takes place before a ten-year old boy. He’s the half in the half-men. He was younger still when the show started in 2003.  
This isn’t a far out case. It is the norm on television. Today it’s hard to find a program or commercial that isn’t chock full of sexual innuendo, hedonism, or greed.  
I remember when television commercials for detergent limited themselves to the topic of “ring around the collar” on dress shirts and commercials for breakfast cereal made their point by showing us a kid named Mikey who never liked to eat anything. But “Hey, Mikey likes it.” Or you might hear the tag line, “More pork sausages mom, please.”  
Today if there’s a mom on a commercial she’s half dressed and insulting dad, if there is one.  
But it’s not only the “moms” who are half-dressed. I saw a commercial recently which featured provocative close-ups of pre-teenage girls putting on stockings. I say provocative because the way they filmed it, you couldn’t tell that the legs belonged to young girls at first. It was only later when the camera pulled back and showed the whole person that one could tell. The commercial was like a training video for child predators.  
Meanwhile, the department of children’s services in Arizona recently took two young girls into “protective custody” because their parents had innocently taken a photo of them covered in a bath towel and sent it to Walmart to have it developed. The mother said that when the police told them their intentions, she started to hyperventilate. Evidently, TV networks and corporations can sully the air with any perversity they please, but innocent parents have to conduct themselves like Victorians. This country is full of confused, hypocritical, and most of all cruel people. It took a month for the parents to reclaim their kids from the State who allegedly looks out “for the best interests of the children.”  
99% of American households have TVs and 66% have three or more TVs. How much do they use them? In a study on leisure time, the bureau of Labor Statistics reported as follows: “Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8 hours per day), accounting for about half of leisure time, on average, for those age 15 and over.”  
The favorite activity of Americans is watching TV and programs like American Idol and Two and A Half Man are what they watch.  
This activity cuts across class and educational level. Everyone is doing it. Even the first lady of the United States, Laura Bush, made perverse jokes at public gatherings. The Bush’s are a classic case of Americans who describe themselves as Christians and conservatives but are far from it.  
Pagans don’t have three heads. Babylonians were people. They owned shops and farmed land. They looked like you and me – aside from the clothing. But they worshiped idols and lived the reckless lives that follow from it. So do Americans.  
Don’t be fooled by technology. The possession of superior technology doesn’t make a nation Christian or monotheistic. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans were all the technological leaders of their day.  
I’m not saying that there aren’t some Christians here but the culture in general, the environment is no longer Christian. It is pagan. America can scarcely call itself a Christian country any more than Rome could. Rome had Christians too but it wasn’t a Christian society.  
Was Rome worse? Does it matter if you are hit in the head with a stone or a brick? The question isn’t whether Rome was more violent or oppressive to the Jews. The question is who is a worse influence on us. Whatever Rome was, it didn’t have the power of technology to invade every home. Rome didn’t have photography and video and digital audio and wireless signals to spread its filth. A Jew in Rome could work his farm. He didn’t have to work for a gentile corporation 60 hours a week, immersed in their unspiritual, frenetic, obsession with money, power, and worldly success. A Jew in Rome might meet the goy in the marketplace where he tried to sell some wool. He didn’t have to ingratiate himself to perverts. He didn’t have to become one of the boys in the corporate machine, destroying his soul in the process. American salaries are based on the labor market, a market where employers have the upper hand, where wealthy investors pressure companies to save money in every place they can, with the exception of executive compensation. This competitive market sets wage levels based on a family sending their 1.89 kids to public school. For a frum man to earn enough money to send  7 kids to private school (the State still taxing him for public school money that he never uses) he has to venture into the depths of money culture. He has to make himself likeable to the pagan goyim. This is something that the masses of Jews probably never had to do before.  
Does all this affect us? We all know that it does. But I will say this, we can be proud of how we have held up in this horrific environment. When I see Bais Yaakov girls head off to school in their modest uniforms I think, what an extraordinary people. However, our goal in life is not merely to be better than the goyim. It is to be holy. And we hardly can accomplish that in this sick country.  
At the mall I saw a pack of Orthodox Jewish boys racing through the corridors. They dressed exactly like the other males except for the wildly colorful kippas on the side of their heads. They moved along with that rap artist saunter, the one where the arms swing rigidly like that of a monkey.  
I could write another six pages about the problems in the Orthodox world, but the first problem is that we no longer are willing to criticize ourselves. We learned that likely from America, a nation more in love with itself than any other in history. Meanwhile the Tanach is one long essay of criticism with a microscope about our flaws. The prophets wouldn’t last a moment in the Jewish world today. Maybe that’s why we no longer have prophets, because we’d never listen to them. Maybe Hashem replaced the prophets with the persecution by the goyim.  
The good news is this, if Hashem allowed Christianity to prosper because Jews could not survive paganism, then what happens now that we live amongst pagans; we, who are incomparably weaker in faith and religious practice than our ancestors from the Abarbanel’s day. Moreover, we are dealing with a paganism that penetrates our lives with the power of technology. We are dealing with a paganism with which we have to involve ourselves likely to an extent we have never seen before. I suggest that Moshiach is imminent. Let us get on our best suit so that we are not embarrassed in the near future when he arrives.

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