And many spiritual leaders would argue that a life without commitments is a life without meaning. So what do Americans do to fill that void? They take on another addiction -- which leaves them feeling even emptier -- and the vicious cycle begins. Some activists even claim the result of living in such a morally-vacuous, alienating, consumer-driven culture is an entire nation suffering from "a collective wounding" (Shaw, 2008). Author Chellis Glendinning wrote in 1994 that our primary needs are "those we were born to have satisfied: nourishment, love, meaning, purpose and spirit. When they are not met, we turn to the 'secondary' sources, which include 'drugs, violence, sex, material possessions and machines.' Eventually we become obsessed with the secondary sources 'as if our lives depended on them.'" (Shaw, 2008)
Behind the Mask
"Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included." ~Karl Marx
"Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendor, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself -- in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity -- is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them." ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Among women today, there is very little distinction between beauty and self-worth. Even men are becoming increasingly concerned about their looks, with more and more men turning to plastic surgery and eating disorders (Boghosian Arden, 2003). The media teaches Americans to worship beauty as power, no matter the price and no matter how artificial the final product may be (Anelauskas, 1999). Among Americans, it is normal, acceptable, and in some circles encouraged to hide behind a mask of: make-up, trendy clothing, trendy hair, fake hair, fake body parts, fake teeth, fake tans, a fake physique from liposuction or an eating disorder, fake nails, a fake smile, fake concern, fake morality, fake happy marriages, fake happy families, fake happy jobs, and even fake friendships. Today, children grow up in the culture of Facebook and Twitter, cell phones and texting, where the "most popular wins" and that popularity has nothing to do with genuine friendship or genuinely virtuous personality traits. People have become commodified like everything else, and use one another as stepping stones to social power (Twitchell, 2002; Goff & Fleisher III, 1999). As one author remarked, Americans "are living in a time of intense extropersonal relationships, in which the focus on things, on people as things, on relationships as things, defines modern meanings" (Twitchell, 2002). Even "romantic" relationships are defined in terms of economics: Is she worth the trouble? Is it worth investing in this relationship? Is he/she "a keeper"? What am I getting out of this? What have you done for me lately? (Twitchell, 2002).
The Fall of the Super-Empire
"History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." ~Karl Marx
"As I have looked back across the ruins and landmarks of antiquity, I have been stunned by the parallels between those societies and our own. For most of us the destruction of Carthage, the rise of the Greek city-states, and the Fall of Rome are mere ghosts of the past, history lessons long forgotten. And such things as the capture of Constantinople, the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the collapse of the kingdoms of France and Spain, and the slow withering decline of the British Empire are much less clear and less memorable. Most of us do not remember much from our history lessons about the French Enlightenment or, for that matter, the issues that led to the American Revolution. But this is the legitimate background of our own place in history, it is vital that we reconsider the nature of life in those earlier times. For within those eras and movements are the seeds of the troubles we face today." ~Jim Nelson Black (Anderson, 2002)
Is America really headed for an apocalypse? Wild stories abound about the world ending in 2012, about a vast conspiracy among the most elite to wipe out the crowding masses in a "great culling," about the powerful being saved and the poor perishing. While it's likely the downfall of America won't be that sudden and dramatic, it is clear that something dramatic must be done soon to change the course of history from repeating itself yet again.
Experts claim the fall of a nation occurs for many reasons, many of which are occurring in the United States right now (Anderson, 2002). These include moral decay, social decay, and cultural decay (Anderson, 2002).
As for cultural decay, the great civilizations of history have arisen out of "cults," of religions that lead to a cohesive culture (Anderson, 2002), and America is no exception. Anyone who's travelled across the country knows that there was a church on every block before there was a McDonald's or Starbucks. As the historian Will Durant said: "There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion" (Anderson, 2002). Yet today, more and more children are growing up in households without any spiritual guidance or belief system to rely upon (Anelauskas, 1999). The stability of a nation, like the stability of a family, depends upon "discipline and custom" (Anderson, 2002). In additon, cultural decay is evinced by a decline in education, cultural foundations, and traditions, accompanied by a rise in materialism (Anderson, 2002).
Social decay is said to be marked by lawlessness, economic immorality, and "rising bureaucracy" (Anderson, 2002). Art loses meaning, adolescents and the elderly are degraded, criticism of all aspects of society is rampant and leads to a general attitude of disrespect (Boghosian Arden, 2003). In just one example from history, Carthage -- once considered a rival of Rome -- fell to the Romans after sinking into "debauchery and dissipation as a result of great wealth and luxury" (Anderson, 2002). And Rome followed suit, worshipping lust and gluttony as Americans today worship pornography and "super size fries." As the Roman poet Livy noted before the fall of Rome: "greed and self-indulgence led Romans to dangerous excesses. He said, "For it is true that when men had fewer possessions, they were also modest in their desires. Lately riches have brought avarice and abundant pleasures, and the desire to carry luxury and lust to the point of ruin and universal perdition" (Anderson, 2002).
Therefore, social decay naturally leads to moral decay -- the last hallmark of a declining society. Moral decay is not just a loss of morality, it also involves the degradation and devaluation of human life (Anderson, 2002). One historian has noted the parallel between America and Rome in terms of birth control practices: "contraception, abortion, and exposure were common ways to prevent childbirth in Rome. Husbands refused to recognize any child they did not believe to be their own" (Anderson, 2002). Even infanticide became common as children were seen as disposable (Anderson, 2002).
In Greece, as in Rome, as in America today, moral decay could be seen in the arts and sexual practices: "entertainment grew bawdier and more bizarre. Orgies and love feasts were common…the music of the young people became wild and coarse. Popular entertainment was brutal and vulgar. Promiscuity, homosexuality, and drunkenness became a daily part of life. And all moral and social restraints were lost leading to greater decadence" (Anderson, 2002).
The Path to Authenticity
"All the spiritual leaders and great minds of history -- including the Buddha, Christ, Socrates, and Jung -- emphasized the importance of awareness. And contemporary teachers like Eckhart Tolle have made the concept more familiar to people today. However, there remains a great chasm between the desire to practice consciousness and the actual application of it. For most people, living in the present is so hard to do. Nonetheless, it is the single most essential tool of personal liberation available to us." (Rose, 2009)
One priest noted recently in a blog that the antidote of complacency is solidarity, because solidarity opposes the sin of selfishness and inspires courage through the recognition of all human beings as "interconnected"(http://www.fatherbillsblog.com/heart/2010/09/25/index.html). He also said: "Complacency builds on the vices of greed, self-indulgence and blindness to the needs of others. And complacency's reward is boredom." No wonder so many Americans walk around with a look of boredom and disdain.
If America is to be saved, the law of excesses must be replaced with the law of moderation, or as Buddha put it, "the Middle Path." And the complex and self-righteous religions of the world can distill their message down to the five simple laws of respect (also from Buddha): "Respect for life (no…