Church of God, New World Ministries

America - The Modern Romans - Part Five

A Mad Craze for Pleasure

We live in a society where “anything goes.” The consequences are manifested in a society of escapists, gripped in history’s greatest pleasure binge, in excessive cravings for luxury and ease, in materialistic lust and money-worship!

“Anything goes” shows itself in entertainment obsessed with sex-ploitation, violence and the depths of human perversion. It is found in a drug-inundated culture that is ill at ease outside a continual state of drug-induced euphoria or “kicks.”

We have our “anything –to-make-a-buck” business ethic, our “New Morality” (or rather immorality), our loose-living subculture, our white-collar thief and the shoplifting housewife. We see the “anything goes” philosophy in the furtive support of a multibillion-dollar organized vice and pornography industry, in the topless and bottomless nightclubs and restaurants in the subtle message that preaches “crimes pays – just don’t get caught.”

Our commercial society shouts and screams its materialistic goals and values at very corner, on our billboards, with nearly every flip of a magazine page, with many a TV broadcast. The tempting message says, “Live this way,” “live a little more”; “it’s the ‘in’ thing”; “don’t worry, everybody does it” or as Madison Avenue says, “Happiness is.”

What is happiness supposed to be? “Happiness is,” continues the unrelenting bombardment, “buying our car, purchasing this style of clothing, eating this food, drinking this beer, seeing this movie, taking this trip, indulging in this sporting activity.” Or it is “joining our gang, popping this pill, freaking out pot, speed, free love, the Pill.” As if this were life’s ultimate achievements!

“Indulge yourself” “you owe it to yourself” “buy now, pay later” “live it up – now!” goes the swan song of an indulgent society. And millions ignorantly throw caution to the wind. In an age of selfish materialism, few seriously question whether all this rapid consumption of indulgences is really good for them or where it will all lead!

Only the strong can resist the temptation to immediately overindulge themselves; only the wise with a strong sense of values can see through the superficiality, sham, deceit and emptiness of much of it. Only those with an eye on the lessons of history understand the subtle dangers of careless, excessive self-indulgence, self-seeking and hedonism, while the nation faces the greatest problems in its history, demanding the great effort and sacrifice However, millions would rather play, escape and indulge themselves in temporary, selfish goals.

What does history teach us about such trends? Again, let Rome tell her story.

As mentioned earlier, with the conquering of many nations, wealth, trade and fortunes were to be made. But with wealth came a crucial problem.

A Roman historian explains: “The ‘Pax Romana’ brought many blessings; it made possible the greatest luxury, the most active commercial life the world ever saw though a few savage tribes might ravage the frontiers, the quiet interior provinces were destined to perpetual peace and prosperity (so the Roman citizens thought).

“And so in this dream of the absolute fixity of the Roman system, men went on getting, studying, enjoying, dissipating – doing everything except to prepare for fighting until Alaric sacked the Eternal City. And so the barbarians in short length destroyed a society that was more slowly destroying itself” (The Influence of Wealth in Imperial Rome, pp. 314, 317, 330).

What were the Roman’s highest social values and goals? “The excessive desire for wealth without regard to methods or to duty toward posterity and the downright sensuality were accomplishing their perfect work. The economic evil was at the bottom. First Italy, then a vast Empire, devoted itself for centuries to a feverish effort for getting money by any means, and to spending that money on selfish enjoyment. Other things went for little.”

“Their fall was great while the lesson of their fall lies patent to the 21st century” (ibid, pp. 334-335).

The noted Roman historian Edward Gibbon commented on the pleasure-crazed ruin of the Roman character in his famous treaties, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. He wrote: “From the morning to the evening, careless of the sun or of the rain, the spectators, who sometimes amounted to the number of four hundred thousand (the giant Circus Maximus in Rome seated this many), remained in eager attention; their eyes fixed on the horses and charioteers, their minds agitated with hope and fear for the success of the colours which they espoused; and the happiness of Rome appeared to hang on the event of a race” (vol. II, p. 147, Modern Library edition).

Games lasting one day soon became games lasting seven, nine or fifteen days. But the Roman people could never have too much. They were not much different from the crowds who sleep overnight in front of the ticket offices waiting to buy World Series or Super Bowl tickets in the United States.

Few people realize just how closely contemporary American and British life parallels that of Imperial Rome before its collapse. The gripping book; Those About to Die, by Daniel P. Mannix (pp. 6-7; 139-140), portrays startling conditions about Roman life. Notice the interplay between Mannix’s observations of ancient Roman life and conditions today.

“In a sense, the people were trapped. Rome had over extended herself. She had become, as much by accident as design, the dominant nation of the world. The cost of maintaining the ‘Pax Romana’ – the Peace of Rome – over most of the known world was proving too great even for the enormous resources of the mighty empire.   

“The cost of its gigantic military program was only one of Rome’s headaches. To encourage industry in her various satellite nations, Rome attempted a policy of unrestricted trade, but the Roman workingman was unable to compete with the cheap foreign labor and demanded high tariffs. The government was finally forced to subsidize the Roman working class to make up the difference between their ‘real wages’ (the actual value of what they were producing) and the wages required to keep up their relatively high standard of living.”

Just as in America and Britain today! Spiraling wage increases are helping to cause inflation and are pricing American goods right out of the world market. And lower cost imports are threatening our own domestic market.

“As a result, thousands of workmen lived on this subsidy and did nothing whatever, sacrificing their standard of living for a life of ease.”

Today, we find America and Britain are becoming welfare states. This is taxing our resources and setting in motion unhealthy attitudes toward work and productivity. “Attempts were made to abolish slave labor in the factories but the free workman’s demand for short hours and high wages had grown so great that only slaves could be used economically.”

What effect did all this have on the average Roman citizen? Continues Mannix: “With the economic and military position of the empire too hopelessly complicated for the crowd to comprehend, they turn more and more toward the only thing that they could understand - the arena”.

“The name of a great general or of a brilliant statesman meant no more to the Roman mob than the name of a great scientist does to us today. But the average Roman could tell you every detail of the last games, just as today the average man can tell you all bout the latest football or basketball standings, but has only the foggiest idea what NATO is doing or what steps are being taken to fight inflation.”

Life simply became too complex for the average Roman. But the continuous staging of games and spectacles – cleverly promoted by the Caesars to keep the people’s minds occupied – was something to which he could relate. The Caesars, said one historian, “exhausted their ingenuity to provide the public with more festivals than any people, in any country, at any time, has ever seen.” Until our time, that is.

Rome endowed its professional sports heroes with great glory. “The charioteers knew glory too, and more. Though they were of low-born origin, mainly slaves emancipated only after recurrent success, they were lifted out of their humble estates by the fame they acquired and the fortunes they rapidly amassed from the gifts of magistrates and emperors, and the exorbitant salaries they extracted as the price of remaining with the colours” (Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, p. 219).

Professional athletes today are demanding, and receiving whopping salaries. Some football and basketball “superstars” have negotiated multiyear contracts for several million dollars. Highly touted by unproved “rookies” straight out of college (and some high school) are virtually financially set up for life. Some of them are paid four or five times the salary of their former professor (who have doctor’s degrees).

And there is the matter of gambling on sports activities. Affluent Rome thrived on it. “But the passionate devotion which they (the charioteers) inspired in a whole people was fed also from more tainted sources. It was related to the passion for gambling. The victory of one chariot enriched some, impoverished others; the hope of winning unearned money held the Roman crowd all the more tyrannically in its grip in that the larger proportion was unemployed. The rich would stake a fortune, the poor the last penny” (ibid,. pp. 220-221).

Gambling is a major and traditional ingredient of modern Britain’s way of life. No one knows for certain, but it may even by Britain’s number one industry. Surely it is her number one pastime. Every since Parliament passed the Betting and Gaming Act in 1960, establishing betting shops and permitting gaming for charity and other purposes, the gambling industry has taken off like a rocket. In 2010 in Britain the income of the gambling industry equaled 6 billion pounds (9.4 billion US dollars).

Every week in the winter, football pools pay out small fortunes that may range from 50,000 to 500,000 or more. Although the pools themselves are taxed, the winnings are not.

In almost every town in Britain today, at least one of the major cinemas has been turned into a bingo hall. In some towns all the cinemas have become bingo halls. Everywhere one sees storefront signs reading “Turf Accountant” – referring to a bookmaker’s shop.

But there are other trends which manifest the growing craze for unrestrained pleasures and thrills.

Rock festivals attended by hundreds of thousands of youths have become orgies of several days of music, drugs and free love. Increasingly, near-naked youths walk around in these crowds, unashamed and unabashed. Massive groups gather for “nude ins” or frolic on nude beaches.

The moral mood of the nation is simple:”Let’s have an orgy” – not unlike a Roman orgy!

For vast segments of the American and British public, the “orgy” continues as television fills the need for vicarious thrills and violence. For frankness, it is hard to top some of the shows on the “telly” in Britain and America. Staff members of a large American newspaper tabulated TV violence in the prime evening hours for seven consecutive nights. The results?  Eighty-one murders and killings and 210 incidents or threat of violence.

Studies show that the average American child between the ages of 5 and 15 watches the violent destruction of over 17,000 persons on television during his childhood years.  Just like the Romans, watching the gory spectacles in the arenas, our young people are “learning nothing but contempt for human life and dignity” (Carcopino, p. 243).

An almost unbelievable avalanche of sex, perversion, pornography, “blue” films, sadism, masochism, bestiality, murder, rape and brutality has flooded into public view through motion pictures, stage productions, cable TV. satellite TV, lurid magazines and pulp novels.

It was much the same way in Rome before that great empire was swept into oblivion.

“Almost from the beginning the Roman stage was gross and immoral. It was one of the main agencies to which must be attributed the undermining of the originally sound moral life of Roman society. So absorbed did the people become in the indecent representations of the stage that they lost all thought and cares of the affairs of real life” (Myers, Rome,  Its Rise and Fall, pp. 515-516).

Scraping the bottom of the barrel of utter depravity, stage productions have gone far past mere nudity to include on-stage simulation of intercourse and, in at least one case, bestiality. Pornography alone, in the United States is big business! And most pornographic material finds its way into the hands of youths. Self-indulgence today has reached new lows in morality and new highs in expenditure!

Today, Americans are literally in the midst of a pleasure explosion. Statistics from one year shows that total expenditures on leisure activities in affluent America came to at least $105 billion. This enormous sum was:

1) Higher than the annual defense budget. 2) Roughly one-tenth of the U.S. gross national product. 3) More than the GNP of most of the nations of the world, with the exception of the largest industrial powers.

Of the $105,000,000,000, it is estimated that over $50,000,000,000 will be spent t this year on recreational equipment and leisure-time pursuits other than travel. The equipment ranges from boats, privates planes, motor bikes, snowmobiles, camping equipment and athletic paraphernalia, to in-home items such as color TV’s, “home entertainment” consoles, and musical instruments. The sum also includes the mushrooming hobby business ($800,000,000 a year), purchases of books, magazines and newspapers, club and fraternal organization memberships, admission to movies, plays, athletic events and race track betting. Another $40,000,000,000 will be spent on vacations and travel within the U.S. Foreign travel chalks up an additional $6,300,000,000.

Romans, we are told by Dr. Robert Strausz-Hupe’, were “inveterate sightseers and tourists.” But it is doubtful they topped contemporary Americans.

Let’s not misunderstand! Money, material gadgetry, entertainment, athletics, travel, in themselves, are not necessary wrong. Far from it! Used properly, they can help to maintain a well-balanced, healthy, abundant life. But when an entire nation seems to have nothing but the pursuit of money, gadgetry, pleasure, escape and thrills as its national goals – that nation is in serious trouble!

Today, millions have no higher ideal or purpose than to get out and indulge themselves in a particular personal pleasure. So wrapped up and involved are millions in these short-range pleasures that few are willing to endure any discomfort or privation to solve national problems or threats.

Why has such crass materialism and pleasure become the overriding concern of millions? Because the nation has lost a sense of national purpose or higher ideals other than personal selfish ones.

Andrew Hacker, in his book, The End of the American Era, pointed out that thanks to our material success “a willingness to sacrifice is no longer in the American character.” And “what was once a nation has become simply an agglomeration of self-concerned individuals” –“300 million egos,” as he scathingly captioned one chapter.

No two modern nations have changed so drastically in national character and ideals in recent years as have the British and American peoples.

What has been the main cause of Britain’s decline? The answer is the deterioration of some of those qualities of British character which had been responsible for the achievement of British greatness.

The British Empire was built up and maintained by the devotion of the British people to the cause of their country. That devotion seems to have declined to the vanishing point. Everybody, or at any rate the overwhelming majority, is out for himself and himself alone.

When British author Paul Einzig reads books or sees films on the Battle of Britain period, he finds it somewhat difficult to believe that the people he encounters or reads about today can possibly belong to the same race as the people who gave such a magnificent account of themselves in 1940. Author Einzig then ask: “What has happened to the Spirit of Dunkirk?”

“If it had not been for that spirit,” he says, “Britain could not have survived as an independent nation. Had the men engaged in aircraft production slowed down for the sake of earning more overtime pay, or had they embarked on wildcat strikes at the lightest excuse, or had they been resisting measures aimed at increasing output or saving manpower, the R.A.F. could not possibly have been provided with the addional Spitfires that enabled them to win the Battle of Britain with a narrow margin.

“Unfortunately today the behavior that was the exception in 1940 has become the rule, while the attitude that was the rule in 1940 has now become the rare exception. Everybody, or almost everybody, is trying to get as much as possible out of the community and to give the community as little as possible in return. If the debasement of the British character is allowed to continue too long, the point of no return might be passed at some stage.”

In his State of Union message in January 1960, the late President Eisenhower said: “A rich nation can for a time without noticeable damage to itself pursue a course of self-indulgence, making its single goal the material ease and comfort of its own citizens. But the enmities it will incur, the isolation into which it will descend, and the internal, moral and physical softness that will be engendered will in the long term bring it to disaster.”

“America did not become great through softness and self-indulgence,” he continued. “Her miraculous progress and achievements flow from other qualities far more worthy and substantial. And those were adherence to principles and methods constant with our religious philosophy, of the satisfaction of hard work, the readiness to sacrifice for a worthwhile cause, the courage to meet every challenge to our progress, the intellectual honesty and capacity to recognize the true path of our best interests.”

Sadly, those qualities are rare today. Selfishness, pleasure-seeking, dishonesty, hatred, lying are the watchwords.

How remarkable that a certain Book – the Bible claiming to speak of the “last days” of society as we know it says:”This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof; and from such people turn away” (II Tim. 3:1-5).

And you have witnessed with your own eyes, this very prophesied social revolution in the past three or four decades.

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