These days, you never can tell what source wisdom will come. God is constantly humbling us by manifesting truth in all sorts of ways and from all types of people. A few days ago, I was on the phone with my teacher and was asking him what the mood was like in America (I am an American living abroad). He then proceeded to tell me that he had an interesting conversation with his plumber that day.
The plumber? What bit of insight into world events could a plumber from New Jersey have?, I thought. The plumber from small-town America, driving his pick-up truck and proudly displaying the Stars and Stripes bandanna on his head, came up with an important observation: The laws of this country (America) have made us weak. Whenever we have a problem, our first reaction is to call our lawyer or someone else to take away our problems for us. This has made us weak. We have forgotten how to take care of our own business.
My teacher was in complete agreement with him. In fact, during his 11 years of living in America, he has commented frequently on this very thing. While he was growing up outside America, everything about America was cowboys and Indians and rugged individualism. America represented strength, bravery, and toughness. Now, while actually living in America, he sees a society of illness and weakness that is buried under materialism, violence, and greed. With the tragedy of September 11, the illusion of the my country's collective consciousness that America, is somehow immune to external aggression was dealt a major blow, as was the psyche of the American public and its ability to cope with the reality of vulnerability.
What the plumber meant
The plumber's statements alluded to a nation and people that once prided itself on its toughness, self-reliance, and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps outlook on life driven by the Protestant work ethic. Too much material success, too many lawyers and psychiatrists, and too many service industries doing everything for everyone, however, is causing America to lose its edge and. essentially, its Americanness.
If you carefully recall how America once was and then notice where contemporary American culture is heading, you can see the signs clearly. The nature, not just the statistics, of social ills in America today point to deep-seated problems and stem from a loss of soulfulness. Go to your local bookstore or turn on Oprah, and almost daily you will see some show or read some article about a social or psychological malaise affecting some man or woman, child or group. Emotionally, people are hurting, confused, and depressed. Many are shunning traditional remedies for alternative or more eastern approaches to their problems.
Sadly, Americans are suffering and America is running out of ideas about how to save itself. Take schools and education. Now, American children essentially run the schools. Teachers everywhere, particularly in inner-city schools, are scared of their students. They find it nearly impossible to control them, let alone discipline them. Parents today are more prone to back their children in contentious teacher-student situations, no matter what the child does to earn the teacher's displeasure, than to defend the teacher. Gone are the days when parents and teachers formed a united front to teach and enforce respect and correct children's behavior. Now, teachers are under attack, and students are leading the assault. This is an example of the social backwardness that the Prophets warned us about as we approach the end of time.
The weakening of America, as put by the plumber, also is being facilitated by the never-ending lawsuits in which society is literally drowning. (In)famous cases like the woman who won $2 million from McDonald's because she spilled hot coffee on herself while driving is just an example of how the extreme litigiousness of American society is manufacturing greed to the point where people become fixated on suing over every little thing in the hope of making a quick buck. Judges frequently are forced to throw cases out of court due to superfluous lawsuits brought about by people trying to capitalize on the slightest misfortune.
This mentality of whatever wrong is done to me means that I am owed something, which often translates into large sums of money, has added a great deal to America's psychological fragility. It is also another indicator of an increasingly atheistic worldview, one in which there is little belief that everything happens to us for a reason, even if that thing is as mundane as spilling hot coffee on ourselves. Such a mentality represents a major step backward for those who believe in the importance of meeting responsibilities before being granted rights and privileges. American culture today, however, teaches us to demand our rights regardless as to whether or not we meet our responsibilities. We have the right to sue for huge sums of money if we act like fools and put scolding hot coffee between are legs, even though commonsense would teach us that we have a responsibility to ourselves not to do it because it is physically dangerous.
These developments, which have evolved primarily over the past half century, have been heavily influenced by Western psychology, which is atheistic, materialistic, and has no soul or spirit. This is in stark contrast to religion and the concept of spirituality, which views human being as the complex meeting point of mental, physical, and spiritual faculties. The Western psychological schools of thought and their ranks of foot soldiers have greatly influenced Western society through the systematic application of God-less psychology. With their widespread application and influence on mainstream culture, psychological schools such as Freud's admittedly do not address such human aspects as the soul, because such concepts are outside of the measurable, positivist scientific scope. In fact, Ahmed writes, Freud and many of his followers explained religion as nothing more than the universal obsessional neurosis.
An example of this from my time spent at an academy in New Jersey is of one particular teenage boy. His parents, unable to his behavior that included drug use, alcohol use, and free sex, sent him to a psychiatrist out of desperation. But after treating the boy several times, the psychiatrist, far from helping the boy understand why he needed to be more obedient and respectful to his parents so as to help mend the family according to its correct structure, sided with the boy and told the parents that their requiring him to pray regularly was borderline abusive and excessive, and that they should let him have more freedom to do what he wants.
Although only an example, this is how people in America”children more than anyone else”are being stripped of their humanness. They are being spoon-fed the notion that they need to indulge every urge, want, and desire in order to be happy. Ironically, the opposite effect has taken hold and its proof is in the pudding. As of 1998, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five American adults were considered to have suffered from some sort of diagnosable mental disorder. In addition, 4 of the 10 in America and other developed countries are such mental disorders as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Creating a culture of dependency
The psychic deterioration of America is thus being facilitated through the use of modern-day psychology and exaggerated notions of mental illness to make people dependent on everything and everyone but God and themselves. Although modern psychology has made some positive contributions toward understanding human behavior, its atheistic roots and assumptions often make it work against religion and the critical role of spirituality in each individual's development. Thus, it essentially goes against our very nature as human beings. As a result, religion has been reduced from a way of life to an extracurricular activity. Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike who are avid practitioners of their faiths often get strange looks and clich d labels such as fundamentalists if they speak publicly about religion or even use the word god in a professional context.
People all over the world who are experiencing more Western culture in their daily lives have to guard against the dangers of dependency culture. This is one of the downsides to Western culture, for it promotes a way of life that encourages individuals to do less for themselves, to look away from themselves, to complain when they do not get their way, to blame others for their problems, and to shy away from critiquing the man or woman in the mirror. As a result, we start to believe that we are owed things or that certain luxuries and status are due to us, regardless of whether or not we are meeting our responsibilities, are grateful to God for what we have, and are busy with the ongoing work of self-improvement and reflection.
In many parts of the world today, we are seeing larger numbers of believers devoted to God getting sucked into the traps of dependency culture. This is precisely how God is being replaced. This is how Western cultural elites have been able to systematically remove God and religion from everyday life with atheistic and materialist psychology”by making us dependent on things and people rather than God. On the contrary, however, as human beings we must seek help in constant prayer and dependence on God in order to rediscover our essential nature. We also should know how to resist any dependency culture devoid of God and religion.
Following the Prophets
Looking back on human history, we see that those most heroic of people, the Prophets, always relied on God. They did not pursue positions, take concessions from rulers, or complain to anyone other than God about their situation and the lack of support and humiliation they were made to receive.
From one's own personal perspective, the drive toward self-perfection can be quite a challenge at times. The idea that everything comes to us from God, and that we have to train and condition ourselves to understand this and be grateful for whatever God sends us, is truly a struggle to put into practice. Every moment we have to fight the urge to complain about this, complain about that, demand to know why this happened or why that happened, blame our misfortunes on others, and just lie down and give in to our lower selves. Believers, however, must differentiate themselves through quiet determination and resignation to the fact that God is always in charge. Naturally, this includes improving the world around us, standing up to oppression, and doing our best to correct falsehoods. It is part of our collective responsibility, and must be conducted correctly.
People everywhere today are being conditioned to look outside of themselves first to solve their problems, and thus are becoming more and more incapable of keeping their own houses in order. This is the formula that is creating societies replete with self-hatred and weakness, which is what the plumber from New Jersey so poignantly picked up on. The signs are there in the form of social ills growing out of control. This is surely the path to self-destruction first, and societal destruction second.
As people who understand this, we must avoid making these same mistakes and help others by bringing them into the light of God's grace and formula for ultimate success. The results of not doing so could be disastrous for all of humanity. In addition, America must take stock of itself and see if this is really the path it wants to follow. As the world looks to it for all types of leadership, among them moral leadership, America could help solve many of these problems by resurrecting and then following the ideals that made it great: spirituality, accountability to God and self, self-confidence, and individual striving to reach one's full potential.
- Ahmed, B. Islamic Values and Ethics in Prevention and Treatment of Emotional Disorders. (2001). Online at www.crescentlife.com.
- National Institute of Mental Health. (1998). Online at: www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/numbers.cfm.
- Salahi, A. Muhammad, Man and Prophet: A Complete Study of the Life of the Prophet of Islam. Shaftesbury, UK: Element, 1995, 167.
- This article originally appeared online at www.islam-online.net. Reprinted with permission.