There is more than a sense of sadness I feel as I survey the world we live in. Despite being blessed with unlimited potential to study Torah in a wonderful environment and an unhindered ability to teach our children the right derech reinforced by an unparalleled standard of living there is something wrong.

This feeling of discontent is not limited to Orthodox Jews. Gregg Easterbrook has authored a new book whose title is quite appropriate for our subject – The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse (Random House).

My problem with life does not stem from a yearning for love and intimacy nor do I visualize a happiness defect. I do not labor under unbearable stress. I am actually quite well-adjusted in these areas.

My concern is a general societal degeneration that I believe is a secondary characteristic of the telecommunication age. We have crossed a Rubicon not from a moral society to an immoral one but rather to a state of A-morality. 

There was a time when we could examine societal norms in the pages of The New York Times – from styles to matrimony fashion to news – and even if some of it was avant-garde and not compatible with our more conservative standards as Orthodox Jews we still could understand them.

But social norms – witness MTV billboards television our heroes in sports and politics and in general our own life experiences – have changed rather drastically. A person who lived only 50 or 100 years ago and returned to earth as a visitor today would be shocked not just by computers and jets but by the absence of a code of living that was the underpinning of society in every generation.

When I was a child homosexuality was never discussed publicly. Even in medical school and later as a colon-rectal surgeon I treated many homosexuals with diseases such as AIDS with dignity and confidentiality. Now however homosexuality is considered an alternative lifestyle in a public fashion.

Biblical standards are not time-related and therefore we are at a loss as to how to react; how to maintain modernity and yet lock out that which we cannot ever accept as moral and ethical. Our task as humans is to be humane but never to condone an abnormal or immoral practice. Our difficult task is to do it with dignity and compassion but without compromise.

Similarly sex out of wedlock although occurring throughout the ages was a private matter. Who would ever have expected to see signs in the maternity ward for partner or significant other under husband or grandparents ??

But that was then and this is now. The increasing acceptance of same sex unions ( marriages ) in feature articles and editorials makes clear that there is no shame in the world and no moral code. If it feels good – flaunt it!

Thus we must support President Bush’s call to codify by constitutional amendment the sanctity of matrimony as an institution involving only a man and a woman.

Still need convincing of the acute situation we find ourselves in? Consider:

* A travel reporter writing her article on hotel rooms clearly states she is searching for the perfect room for her and her boyfriend.

* David Letterman is not ashamed to have a baby out of wedlock. New York not only cheers but the baby’s birth merits a headline on CNN.

* Michael Jackson is accused of a sex crime and motorists run out of their cars in Las Vegas to shake his hand and CBS allegedly rewards him with a hefty bundle of cash for an interview.

* A basketball player admits only adultery (he is accused of rape) and fans cheer and proclaim his innocence. 

* MTV becomes the norm or moral standard of song dress dance behavior. A star can be naked full of tattoos or wear navel earrings – the more audacious the act the greater the public acceptance. Television once saved risque plots and shows for late evening. This is now passe. Sex and violence are the norm. 

* So influential is the gay lobby that few politicians are prepared to stand up for morality. AIDS is a terrible disease of which there are three primary causes of transmission – via tainted blood transfusions in-utero transmission to unborn children from infected mothers and sexual transmission. Although heterosexual contact with an infected partner can cause the disease the push for mega-dollar scientific research came primarily from the homosexual community where AIDS is extremely prevalent.

Certainly AIDS deserves our attention. However when one examines our national health budget for research as noted in the Wall Street Journal of January 2 2004 the dollars spent on research for AIDS are way out of proportion to the disease’s American mortality rate. Thus in 2001 there were 14 175 deaths in the United States from HIV/AIDS and we spent $2.5 billion in National Institutes of Health funding. 71 372 deaths from diabetes mellitus deserved only $790 million and breast cancer with 41 809 deaths yielded $640 million in NIH funding. Alzheimers the cause of 53 852 deaths received less than $600 million dollars.

* So great are the economic rewards for companies that sponsor sex and violence that few companies are willing to stand up and buck the trend. Religious leaders become acclimated to their new surroundings and sadly accept the facts. To speak out leads to being labeled a fundamentalist. 

Indeed the lessons we impart to our children are the fundamentals of our faith and religion. A world of tradition has standards rules and precedents and is at odds with a permissive society.

Our society to a great extent does not look upon itself as fostering immorality. When it comes to lifestyles the very term is stripped from our lexicon. A-morality is a condition we can live with. For it obviates a judgmental call by individuals or groups who wish to use yardsticks and standards to measure our daily actions.

Watch a secular high school bus in the spring or summer as the driver discharges the female students in short tight outfits. What are parents thinking? What they are thinking is that these are the outfits advertised in print and TV. These are the fashions – the cool and in clothing without which a child might have psychological problems.

Those of my Orthodox co-religionist who say Yes but it’s not my community not my business are mistaken. Rising rates of divorce drug use spousal abuse children unable to find themselves – all of society’s ills – have permeated even our own world.

This concept of A-morality is seen in a larger sense in geo-political terms in the Middle East. As we learn from public relations experts how to defend Israel we are told by the specialists who base their findings on what they hear from focus groups to never bring up morality and history. History is too complicated while morality can be claimed by each side – a classic example of A-morality. This negates our strongest argument – an unbroken chain of history based upon Torah morality.

This moral climate will not get better by itself but the situation is not hopeless. There is a silent majority that can be motivated. If ever there was a time for inter-religious cooperation this is it.

Let us look at two recent successful ventures:

1) The Reagan movie on CBS was withdrawn after conservatives objected to a gross distortion of a great president’s life.

2) Perhaps even more instructive is the story of the provocative sexually suggestive catalog put out by Abercrombie and Fitch in the hope of attracting young customers. A variety of groups ? some of whom I had never heard of – successfully forced the catalog to be removed.

The voices of decency need not preach censorship nor stifle free speech or artistic freedom. We can say to advertisers We will not support you if you sponsor programs not in touch with family values during family viewing hours.

We might be surprised at our strength if all religious groups unite.

The Seven Mitzvot of the sons of Noah demand morality as do our 613 Mitzvot. It’s time to unite for that morality.


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