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Recently the London Telegraph reported that rising numbers of toddlers are so addicted to iPads they are unable to play with toy building blocks. Young kids increasingly “lack the motor skills needed to play with building blocks because of an ‘addiction’ to tablet computers and smartphones,” revealed the story, citing school teachers’ observations that “many children aged just three or four can ‘swipe a screen,’ but have little or no dexterity in their fingers after spending hours glued to iPads.”

Another shadowy category of casualties of the digital revolution, video-game addicts, attained official recognition in January when a new mental condition, “Internet Gaming Disorder,” was added to psychiatrists’ “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” used for diagnosing mental illness. “When these individuals are engrossed in Internet games,” says the updated fifth edition, (“DSM-V”), “certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance.”

Previously, video-game addiction broke into the news cycle only when it led to horrible crimes – such as when 16-year-old Daniel Petric shot both of his parents in the head, his mother fatally, for taking away his Halo 3 game, or when Rebecca Colleen Christie allowed her 3-year-old daughter to starve to death because mom was so obsessed with playing World of Warcraft online. Most recently, Santa Barbara mass murderer Elliot Rodger, known to be obsessed with the same game, was reported to have been “mimicking a specific character from the violent Warcraft video game.”

Of course, toddler iPad problems, video-game addiction, even the mushrooming epidemic of online gambling as well as the massive numbers of people reportedly “addicted” to the Internet itself, to Facebook, to texting and so on – all these pale in comparison to the truly gargantuan and society-ravaging problem of Internet pornography.

In previous eras, an inclination to view porn might have required one to order smut through the mail or to drive to a sleazy “adult” store, providing plenty of opportunities along the way for one’s “better angel” to say, in effect, “Hey idiot, what are you doing?” But in the Internet age, it takes just a split second to instantly “beam” oneself, as via a Star Trek transporter, directly into pornographic quicksand. Thus, even a fleeting impulse to view porn can be acted on in mere seconds, slipping past one’s moral defenses (conscience) with the end-result that hardcore porn has invaded the once-safe inner sanctum of millions of suburban family rooms. The resulting statistics are truly ominous:

Eighty-five percent of young men and nearly half of young women watch porn at least once a month, while one in eight online searches and one in five mobile searches are for porn, 24 percent of smartphone owners admit to having pornographic material on their mobile handset, and 69 percent of the pay-per-view Internet content market is pornography.

Children are not spared: Nine out of 10 boys and six out of 10 girls are exposed to porn before age 18, and 20 percent of 16-year-olds and 30 percent of 17-year-olds have received a sext, while nearly one in five young people 18-24 have sent a sext.

And it gets worse. Fifteen percent of boys and 9 percent of girls have seen child pornography, while 32 percent of boys and 18 percent of girls have seen bestiality online, 39 percent of boys and 23 percent of girls have seen sexual bondage online, 83 percent of boys and 57 percent of girls have seen group sex online, and 69 percent of boys and 55 percent of girls have seen homosexual sex online.

Ubiquitous graphic sex. It is fundamentally transforming American culture, morals and sanity, and is not only a major instigator of divorce and family breakdown and their resulting misery and bondage for millions of adults, but is corrupting the next generation. As psychologist Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D, former deputy assistant Health and Human Services secretary, explains it:

“Two recent reports, one by the American Psychological Association on hyper-sexualized girls, and the other by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy on the pornographic content of phone texting among teenagers, make clear that the digital revolution is being used by younger and younger children to dismantle the barriers that channel sexuality into family life.”

Not by accident

Moving along in our brief survey of Americans’ addictions: As I chronicled recently, more than 70 million of us are currently taking powerful mind-altering drugs, both legally from doctors and psychiatrists, and illegally from dealers and “friends,” and another 60 million have an alcohol problem. That’s at least 130 million souls who feel compelled to chemically alter their consciousness just to get through life. In a nation of 318 million, that’s simply an astonishing number.

What about food? With more than one in three American adults clinically obese, as well as 17 percent of the nation’s youths, food addiction is an ever-expanding problem – and it’s not by accident.

“Data suggest that hyperpalatable foods may be capable of triggering an addictive process,” says a major Yale research paper published by the National Institutes of Health. “Hyperpalatable” is the industry buzzword for highly processed foods (“junk food,” “fast food”) manufactured, critics claim, for the purpose of addicting consumers.

Such foods, warn researchers, “are engineered in ways that appear to surpass the rewarding properties of traditional foods (e.g., vegetables, fruits, nuts) by increasing fat, sugar, salt, flavors, and food additives to high levels. Foods share multiple features with addictive drugs. Food cues and consumption can activate neurocircuitry (e.g., meso-cortico-limbic pathways) implicated in drug addiction.”

In fact, the study’s authors conclude, “Foods and abused drugs may induce similar behavioral sequelae [resulting conditions] including craving, continued use despite negative consequences, and diminished control over consumption.”

Consider what David A. Kessler, M.D., chief of the FDA for both the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations, says about food addiction. Kessler’s book, “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite,” was the subject of a New York Times profile provocatively headlined “How the food makers captured our brains”:

… Dr. Kessler is perhaps best known for his efforts to investigate and regulate the tobacco industry, and his accusation that cigarette makers intentionally manipulated nicotine content to make their products more addictive.

In “The End of Overeating,” Dr. Kessler finds some similarities in the food industry, which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more.

When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full.

And what could drive Kessler’s point home more clearly than a recent report by neuroscientists who concluded that Oreo cookies may be more addictive than cocaine?

‘To feed a growing appetite’

Addiction permeates the news. Eight former National Football League players have launched a class-action lawsuit alleging the NFL supplied them with illegally prescribed painkillers – leading to their later addiction. A Daily Mail headline trumpets, “Rosie O’Donnell compares her sugar addiction to being an ‘alcoholic.” Reports abound of marijuana addiction in the wake of legalization. Meanwhile, heroin trafficking into New York City is at a 20-year high, reports the New York Times, to “feed a growing appetite along the East Coast.”

But while drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, food and sex may comprise the “traditional” addictive scourges of yesteryear, augmented in the digital age with new problems like “iPad addiction” and “Internet Gaming Disorder,” in truth, there seems to be nothing people are not becoming obsessively entangled with today. The focus of addiction can range from normal activities like eating, exercising and shopping, to criminal behaviors like kleptomania (compulsive stealing) and pyromania (compulsive setting of fires). Even self-injury (cutting) is at epidemic levels, with a shocking one in 12 teens – including one in 10 girls – engaging in repeated self-harm, usually in the form of cutting their bodies with a knife or razor blade.

What is going on here? How did America become so conflicted and addicted? And most important, how can this alarming trend be reversed?

Nonstop bribery and distraction

For some helpful perspective on what’s going on in our nation, let’s temporarily leave behind all the arm cutting, drug taking, alcohol guzzling, hyperpalatable food gorging and porn wallowing, and take a quick trip back in time – way back to the 1830s, when Alexis de Tocqueville, the famed French political philosopher, was touring America while the republic was young and vibrant. In “Democracy in America,” Tocqueville described with admiration and astonishment two great notions, uniquely intertwined, that he observed again and again during his travels here:

The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other … Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.

If the marriage of “Christianity and liberty” were the animating spirit of the early decades of America, what then is the prevailing spirit today?

Some would say it’s “bread and circuses” – two modes of mass seduction which, joined together, work like epoxy glue to hold untold millions of souls firmly in their grasp.

“Bread and circuses,” of course, is how the Roman poet Juvenal famously described Emperor Augustus’ nonstop bribery and distraction of the restless masses during the period of Rome’s rapid decay and disintegration, after having been the world’s greatest republic for 400 years.

Providing free grain meant no one would starve. And providing free entertainment, from chariot races to lethal gladiator fights held in great amphitheaters and stadiums, meant the people were constantly excited, entertained, enthralled – not to mention totally distracted from realizing what expendable serfs they were becoming while growing progressively shallower, coarse and corrupted by the whole process.

Providing free food is the best way to conquer and domesticate animals and to lead them into cages. But human beings are not animals, and a “bread and circuses” society basically amounts to treating people as though they were, appealing to their lower nature. And that causes huge problems.

For in the deepest sense, “bread and circuses” (where politicians and “experts” become our gods, and continual distraction and escape from reality become a way of life) is the diametric opposite of early America’s “Christianity and liberty” (faith in God, and the real freedom that keeping His commandments brings).

Brave new world

A few words about all that “free bread” from the government: As journalist Terrence P. Jeffrey recently documented, 86 million full-time private-sector U.S. workers are now sustaining 148 million Americans receiving government benefits. In fact, adds economist and author Stephen Moore, America’s “welfare state is now larger than the gross domestic product of 175 of the 190 wealthiest countries.”

While politicians and other members of the elite “leader” and “expert” class are guilty of seducing the public into becoming serfs in a welfare state, in a real sense the people have chosen it. In this arrangement, government gains ever-expanding power while the public gains a promise of sustenance and security. But there’s a problem. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Moreover, those who foolishly enter into this deal incur tremendous guilt and anxiety, simply because we were not created to live as dependent serfs, but as free people, following an inner teacher and leader.

So what do we do with this great anxiety, this low-level awareness that we are headed in a very bad direction?

Enter the circuses! To assuage our angst and anxiety, we need to be continually entertained and distracted so we cannot hear the still small voice within us that is desperately saying, “Something is terribly wrong with the way you’re going.”

As I have noted previously, in documenting the astronomical number of people strung out on mind-altering drugs, the difference between the legal drug world and the illegal drug world is not nearly as distinct as we might think. In reality, tens of millions of us with tremendous angst in our lives are seeking relief through drugs, whether provided by a physician or a pusher. Either way, the problem (anxiety, guilt, resentment, depression, insecurity and so on) is the same, just as the questionable solution (mind-altering drugs that at best mask symptoms, don’t resolve causes and bring fierce side effects) is much the same.

The big question: Why do so many of us – apparently a sizable majority of the population – have such an overwhelming need for intense and all-consuming distraction, entertainment, pain relief, adrenaline, pleasure, excitement and escape? Why do we have to get high?

At the root of the bread-and-circuses welfare state is our country’s de facto abandonment of God, with the government and a rotten culture acting as our gods. And many people – to assuage their anxiety for living a life separated from God – easily fall into getting high on something, as in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

Blotting out reminders of God is relatively easy to accomplish on the outside. It’s simple for political demagogues and left-wing entertainers to demonize Christianity, or for an activist judge to order the removal of the Ten Commandments or prohibit prayer in school. But it’s a lot more difficult to drown out God’s presence on the inside of us.

“Behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” said Jesus (Luke 27:21), which is, of course, why we’re different from animals. In a very real sense, a tiny little piece of God is lovingly enfolded within each of us, as our most precious gift. But if we fail to follow that true inner compass and align our lives with God’s will and ways, we suffer terrible inner conflict. That’s precisely the purpose inner conflict serves – to alert us that something is wrong! That pain, in turn, is meant to lead us to look to God. Unfortunately, all too often we seek some other form of relief.

Are addicts ‘morally flawed’?

For years, experts assured us addiction was caused by particular substances contained in alcohol, tobacco (nicotine) and certain powerful drugs and was triggered when such addictive psychoactive substances crossed the blood-brain barrier. But their understanding was both limited and flawed.

“Neuroimaging technologies and more recent research, however, have shown that certain pleasurable activities, such as gambling, shopping, and sex, can also co-opt the brain,” notes a Harvard Medical School bulletin. That’s an understatement, as virtually anything can become the focus of a powerful, all-consuming addiction.

Today’s addiction therapies are diverse and run the gamut from traditional 12-step programs, detox centers and so-called “relapse-prevention medications” like methadone to new, exotic treatments like “deep brain stimulation,” or DBS, which involves implanting electrodes within certain parts of the brain to electrically regulate abnormal impulses, and the development of vaccines to neutralize the effects of highly addictive substances like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Whatever their merits, however, neither the current mental-health explanation for addiction nor the main therapies offered appear to have made much of a dent in Americans’ ever-increasing addiction problem.

One possible problem with their approach: Alongside whatever therapy is offered, the message delivered to addicts by the psychiatric establishment, repeated endlessly like a mantra, is that addiction “is not a moral issue” – in other words, that being an alcoholic or heroin addict, or a gambling or porn addict, has nothing whatsoever to do with any possible defects in your character.

Wow. Does anyone really believe that?

“In the 1930s, when researchers first began to investigate what caused addictive behavior, they believed that people who developed addictions were somehow morally flawed or lacking in willpower,” explains Harvard’s HelpGuide.org. “The scientific consensus has changed since then. Today we recognize addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain.”

Pause button, please. Without a doubt, today’s understanding of the mechanics of addiction, in terms of brain chemistry and the complex role of neurotransmitters like dopamine, is superior to that of a generation or two ago.

But let’s rewind just a bit and examine the underlying message implicit in today’s assurances to addicts that there’s no “moral flaw” or character defect worth exploring. In essence, it’s like whispering into their ear: Don’t bother being introspective. Even if you’re full of anxiety, confusion, resentment, rage, unforgiveness, perverse cravings, blame for others, excuse-making and envy – even if you nurse grudges, are dishonest and two-faced, and are unwilling to face unpleasant truths, no matter what kinds of dark thoughts and feelings you have rattling around inside you – never mind, because your addiction has nothing to do with morals, weak character or sin. It’s just a chronic disease like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Got it?

And yet, how are alcoholics, heroin addicts and people whose lives, marriages and families have been utterly destroyed by pornography supposed to find genuine lasting healing if they listen to such inane assurances from supposed “experts,” which clearly defy common sense?

How our culture creates addicts

If a nation’s people are basically moral and decent, and if that morality and decency are reinforced by a widely shared culture, religion and education system so that these common values are, metaphorically, “in the air we breathe,” this constitutes a powerfully stabilizing force for each of us. It’s like a gyroscope – an external one, but one largely in-sync with our God-given internal gyroscope we call conscience.

But in our troubled society, one in 10 girls becomes addicted to “cutting,” which is both painful and disfiguring. Why do they do it? Because, as any former cutter will affirm, the physical pain of making knife cuts in her arm is preferable to the intolerable emotional pain she is experiencing. These young people at some point discover they can find a measure of temporarily relief by cutting themselves.

What, then, is it about our contemporary society that is driving astronomical numbers of us, young and old, to suicide, drug abuse, addiction and other compulsive, self-destructive behaviors?

Let us reason together.

Do you think telling children, in a multitude of ways as today’s culture and government constantly do, that God is not real has no effect on their mental health and happiness?

Do you think aborting more than 55 million American children in the four decades since the Supreme Court legalized it in 1973 – and the not-subtle message this sanitized slaughter sends throughout society about the lack of sacredness of human life – has no effect on the mental health and sense of wellbeing of Americans?

Do you think watching the greatest, freest and most productive nation in history – one based on “Christianity and liberty” – being dismantled by arrogant elitists, addicted to power and enthralled by a delusional utopian system that always fails, has no part in driving people to addiction?

Do you think the miserable economy that results when a far-left, capitalism-hating president tries to reshape a free-market capitalist economy doesn’t drive people to addiction? When we hear that the nation’s gross domestic product is contracting and that the current labor participation rate is the lowest in 36 years with more than 92 million Americans not in the labor force, we don’t necessarily connect with the full reality behind these mind-numbing numbers. For that reality is not merely economic – the struggle, hardship and dislocation of the chronically unemployed and their families – but also mental, emotional and spiritual. Not being employed when one wants and needs to work causes tremendous stress, fear, guilt, insecurity and feelings of inadequacy and desperation that can easily, if one is not strongly grounded, lead to escape into drugs, alcohol, pornography and other addictions.

Do you think, for America’s military members, that having a president who – let’s just say it – hates America and therefore logically cannot have American soldiers’ best interests at heart in his decisions as commander in chief, wouldn’t cause tremendous stress and morale problems in the armed forces, perhaps even contributing to the radical level of psychiatric drug use by troops and the 22 military suicides (active-duty and vets) that occur daily?

Do you think indoctrinating and pressuring young children into affirming that two men kissing each other, or getting “married,” is normal and wholesome has no effect on their mental health and happiness? Allow me to spell it out: When a 5-year-old sees two men kissing, the “ick factor” he automatically experiences – “Oh my gosh, that’s so gross!” – is from God. It is gross. That’s basic, obvious reality to every soul who has not yet become confused, intimidated or corrupted by a culture that celebrates perversion. If parents, teachers and other authorities brainwash children to embrace the idea that two men kissing is wonderful – and to feel they’re somehow bigoted and hateful if they don’t embrace two men kissing – those authorities are conditioning those children so completely to doubt their own common sense and intuition that they’re literally capturing those kids’ minds, probably for life.

What about breaking up families? Do you think demonizing men, calling struggling fathers “deadbeat dads,” ripping apart families as easy “no-fault” divorce allows, and then seducing the bereft single mother to “marry” the government and become dependent on this malevolent and unfaithful new “husband,” has no part in promoting addiction in America?

In short, is it any wonder so many of today’s Americans are in such dire distress that they are losing themselves in one addiction or another?

Most important of all, is there any way out?

‘The season of Light’

We live in an age of amazing and almost magical technology, including the Internet, which is both an endless fount of free knowledge and an exponential force multiplier for all things good and evil. However, the sophistication and subtlety of deceit in high places is also unparalleled in today’s world, as is the unprecedentedly vile, almost freakish, culture that surrounds us.

But don’t despair, because the world has always been a mysterious mixture of good and evil. What Charles Dickens famously wrote at the outset of “A Tale of Two Cities” about late 18th-century Paris and London is true also of today’s America:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness …

Whatever age we live in, it’s part of the human condition that there’s always a certain friction between us and God, thanks to the sin nature we inherit – a nature which, like gravity, tends to pull us down into the “darkness.” To escape from our self-consciousness of this uncomfortable rift between us and our Creator, we are easily tempted to escape into distraction, excitement, intoxicants and toxic relationships.

As if that weren’t enough, add to the mix a government run by people addicted to power and control over us, as well as a corrupt culture addicted to celebrating pride and rebellion against basic moral values, and these influences make things immeasurably worse for us.

But God’s plan is still operating, whether we know it or not: Eventually our suffering brings us to our knees and makes us realize our need for a genuine and ongoing communion with our Creator. But, unlike getting high and being entertained, real faith is not a feeling or emotion, nor an intellectual concept or positive affirmation.

Rather, faith and hope come, as the Good Book tells us, on the heels of genuine, sincere repentance. And that requires honest introspection, infused with a little trust in God. Without that trust, self-examination becomes self-condemnation and a spiral of morbid thinking and feeling that leads back to the comfort of our distractions and addictions. But faithful introspection, where we realize God loves us, and that the wrong we’re looking at within us – the sin nature and its tangled web – is not really and truly even us, but rather, something that exists within us, sort of a spiritual parasite. After all, if we are the ones observing the sin and disagreeing with it and wishing to be free of it, how then can it also be us? Are we our own enemy – are we two people? As Paul expressed it in the Bible, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:17). In other words, the wrong nature that dwells within us – that’s the sin self. The part of us that disagrees with and repents of the sin within us and just wants to live unto God, whatever that takes – that’s the real us. Let’s just keep that straight.

As always, the only way out of the great maze of life on earth is upward – by yearning for the Living God and His influence and direction in our lives, to which He responds with His grace in a magical and invisible way nobody else can see.

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