Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What Is Causing America's Decline?

This is a fabulous essay written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach,  founder of This World: The Values Network and has just published Honoring the Child Spirit: Inspiration and Learning from Our Children (Vanguard).  In this article, writtten for the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Shmuley causes one of those moments which make us say:  "We wish we'd written that!"  We didn't, but it expresses our sentiments exactly
Two Sisters

The rot in values that is causing America’s decline

By SHMULEY BOTEACH

Thrift, hard work, close-knit families, a pioneering spiritlove of adventure, a rejection of indolence, faith-based ethics, a God-centric society, a belief in spreading freedom and democracy – where did that all go?

Science and math. Science and math. President Barack Obama’s new mantra is science and math. If only America’s students focused on science and math, he told us in his State of the Union address, then we’ll be as innovative as China and will no longer have to farm out the building of wondrous handheld gadgets. The gods of science and math will make our economy blossom.

But missing from the president’s new, post-midterm vision for America is any mention of the rot in values that is causing our decline. The reason we don’t excel in education is not because our schools focus on philosophy and the humanities to the exclusion of science and math, but rather because we are becoming a pack of ignoramuses watching inane TV shows, following the lives of mostly decadent celebrities, and engaging in an endless orgy of consumption. Our problem is not that we read too much Nietzsche and too little astrophysics, but rather that our character is becoming corrupt.

The solution for America is not to raise an army of sterile drones, engineered into productive obedience by a government that emphasizes equations. I have no interest in living in China; communist totalitarianism dare not be our model. Rather, our solution is to reembrace the values that made America great: thrift, hard work, close-knit families, a pioneering spirit, entrepreneurship, a love of adventure, fearlessness, a rejection of indolence, faith-based ethics, a God-centric society, and a belief in spreading freedom and democracy.

Thomas Jefferson knew tons of science and math. So did Benjamin Franklin. But George Washington did not. No historian claims that Abraham Lincoln knew calculus like Einstein. The point is that science and math made some Americans great, but were passed over by others who were equally great.

But what all these men possessed in abundance was a sense of mission. Whether it was a hatred of oppression and tyranny, or a desire to see the dynamic American spirit supplant the ossified European aristocracy, or contempt for brutal institutions like slavery, they all embraced America as a great idea, a living dream, one that could lift men and women and inspire children.

IS ANY of that greatness captured in Jersey Shore or in MTV’s new ode to childhood corruption, Skins? Is American exceptionalism evident in the millions trampling each other at the crack of dawn to get 20% off a new HDTV on Black Friday? Was American greatness in evidence at the recent Golden Globe Awards, where the most ‘beautiful’ among us got up to thank hairdressers and fashion consultants, but not a single star thanked God, with the sole exception of Ricky Gervais, who thanked God for being an atheist? The obsession with celebrity is especially startling. Our founding fathers did not idolize humans. That’s what the British, French and Russians did, lifting ordinary mortals to positions of ‘divine’ grandeur. Rather, the founders idolized God alone – faith in Him was stamped even on our money – and brooked no shallow imitation.

Yes, Mr. President. We need better schools and more accountable teachers. But more than anything, we need new values undergirding the schools, the parents and the teachers. So long as we have books out like Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom, which says the only thing that matters is getting your kid into Yale and to play violin at Julliard, we are going to have a nation which, even if it remains wealthy and prosperous, will still be selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic.

OBAMA SURPRISES me. How much science or math does he know? He was elected because he inspired people with oratory rather than engineering. He gave them a renewed vision of American greatness – something that most mathematicians and nuclear physicists would be hard pressed to do. How appalling that the limits of his vision have now come down to simple, shallow materialism.

Without proper values, we will squander whatever wealth we generate. Without proper values, we will produce world-renowned scientists who don’t know how to stay married, and who have no relationship with their children. Without proper values, one generation will make all the money and the next will waste it.

Many looked to Obama as the embodiment of a new American dream, one of hope and change. But is this the hope we waited for? The hope that our kids will work on the next iPhone? Was the change we waited for so utterly literal that it refers to coins? I thought the Pilgrims risked drowning because they wished to have the freedom to develop their full godly potential, unencumbered by European prejudice. If it was money they wanted, they should never have left the fleshpots of Europe.

Yes, America is still the wealthiest nation on Earth, thank God, and yes, I like money as much as the next person. But if life is simply about accumulation, and if this great nation embraces the soulless Chinese society as a model, where wealth is not accompanied by a reverence for human dignity and where a family is allowed to make millions but to have more than one child is a forbidden nuisance, then I say their wealth is a curse, a curse which I reject, and proudly proclaim “in God we trust” and “God bless America!”


© The Jerusalem Post

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