Pills and Religion

June 14, 2013 2:07 pm 4 comments

Bazooka gum. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As a child in the UK, we used to make fun of Americans with their bottles of vitamins and supplements: a pill for every hour of the day, every limb of the body, and every possible deficiency known to man and animal. The GIs who came over to rescue Europe seemed bigger and stronger and more handsome than the local infantrymen. Some thought it was because of the Bazooka bubblegum and soda they consumed. But perhaps the real secret was that they took all those fortifying pills. We were trained to think of going to a doctor and taking pills as a sign of weakness, of namby pamby overindulgence. We were brought up on Arnold of Rugby’s robust empire-building ideology. No, we decided that we were morally superior because we did not take pills.

We Brits had been forced to be basic. We had to eat our unappetizing food and not leave any on the plate because the poor Chinese were starving (how the tables have turned). We were urged to eat carrots for our eyesight and spinach for iron, bland local vegetables (swedes, turnips, and rhubarb) and (as soon as rationing ended) fruit. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. We hated all that healthy stuff. All we wanted were “chips with everything.” After the war, returning sergeant majors took jobs teaching physical education in our schools. I remember being yelled at often enough “Rosen! Chin in, chest out, you lily-livered little weakling! You have got sparrows kneecaps for biceps!” We tried. But still the Americans won more competitions (perhaps because they had many more millions to choose from). They looked bigger and handsomer and took the girls. Perhaps there was a value in taking pills after all.

Later on, of course, it became clear America was indeed addicted to pills. Not just the vitamins but all kinds of horrid stuff, from steroids and artificial stimulants to Lance Armstrong’s blood replacement and everything that now makes American sport as dirty and dishonest as the old East German sports teams. America is a society in which pills are the answer to everyone’s problems. Pop a pill and it will all be better.

Antibiotics became so popular that people ended up becoming resistant to them. And once you started popping one kind of stuff, you popped others. Then the mentality spread into other areas of instant solutions. Gurus, mystical healers, and kabbalists. Like snake oil salesmen, they all had the answer. Sure, Charles Atlas urged us to exercise, and we had home exercises, then gyms, then spinning clubs. But it is so much easier to pop a diet pill. And even reading became like taking pills, easy, quick instant cliff notes and a self-help culture that inevitably fall back on pills when nothing else worked. Timothy Leary brought us LSD and American hippies made drug taking normal, and then came ecstasy and all the other ways of avoiding reality. Now even many of my Charedi friends are heavily into the game.

If you watch American television today you might think that the most serious threat to our lives is erectile dysfunction. Drug companies dominate the commercials (or “messages” as they facetiously call them). Every American child seems to be on Ritalin and Israelis are imitating them. And adults need a pill to go to sleep, a pill to wake up, and another pill to keep going through the day. Only us older generation Brits still cling to the belief that this pill business is a bit of con, a trick pulled by commercial enterprises in the USA to get us to part with our cash. But we are capitulating too.

And the disease is not simply pills, themselves, but the areas they have completely conquered, like John Wyndham’s triffids. The pill has changed our sex lives in sixties with contraception; it enabled everyone to go at it like rabbits with Viagra. It’s going to ensure that no one should ever go without an orgasm. And the morning-after pill that is now available to everyone (and frankly I am not against it if it means fewer later-term abortions) will ensure that no one has to think before they act. Relationships? An optional extra.

No wonder we have become a species of addicts. From the cradle to the grave we have been trained to take pills for everything. Morphine and opium have morphed into Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, Percodan, and Tramadol, to name the best known. In New York there is pharmacy on every corner.

One of the most influential books in America today is a handbook of the American Psychiatric Association. It is officially called “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” Known as the DSM, the fifth edition has just been released. This is the bible of American psychiatry, a profession that for years advocated lobotomies, misdiagnosed and invented all kinds of mental states that might or might not have been the cause of every ill in American society. This has led to people being institutionalized or even being persuaded that they had traumatic experiences that led to charges that ruined other lives. It had advocated the talking cure for years. But now it has decided that that takes too long and it is cheaper just to give out a pill. Ah yes, here we go again. So doctors can once again prescribe a quick-fix pill.

So far the fun; I fear I have needlessly insulted Americans, Britons, and Israelis. But to be serious, of course many pills in many situations are essential and quite miraculous. It’s the abuse, the idea of an instantaneous solution without effort, quick and easy, that worries me for our future as a species. And religion, which should be a bulwark against this instant gratification, has borrowed and adapted the very mentality it excoriates as corrupt Western materialist paganism. It is all there amongst the black hats and the long black coats. The wonder rabbi solves our problems. If not a magic cure, a drug will do. Of course, this is not new in our tradition, indeed in all religion. But it is getting surprisingly worse, not better. Superstition is a placebo too.

It is there amongst our less religious too, this desperate need for someone else to take responsibility, something else to blame. Someone I know who is not Orthodox agreed to my suggestion that he put on tefilin every morning to start the day in a more spiritual, meditative frame of mind. He did for a while, and he said it helped. But then he made some terrible decisions, and his business plummeted. Off came the tefilin. He had expected the magic to work and it hadn’t so he blamed the pill!!!

Me? I don’t take pills. I eat healthily and carefully, and I exercise. If I want God to do His bit, I had better do mine!

4 Comments

  • YOUR POINT IS AMERICANS ARE NO GOOD IN SIMPLE BROOKLYN LANGUAGE.You think you are humorous do you…
    YET THE BRITS WITH THEIR CROOKED YELLOW TEETH STILL BOW DOWN TO A FAKE QUEEN AND KING FROM ANCIENT TRADITION REPRESNTING THE CRUELTY THE BRITS HAVE DONE AND THE CHURCH HAS DONE TO JEWS AND continued to 1947, to Israel and TO JEWS.

    AND FURTHERMORE YOU PAY HOMAGE TO A 6 HORSES AND CARRIGE MUCH LIKE THE ROMAN CHARIOTS USED TO HUNT DOWN JEWS AND ANYONE ROMANS COULD KILL IN THE INTEREST OF ”SPORT”.
    WOW YOU ARE AN EDUCATED BRIT ARE YOU?
    YOU ARE AN INSULT TO AMERICANS AND TORAH.
    Even if you joke…some things should not be joked about.

    AND THATS ISRAEL,JEWS AND AMERICANS.
    WE LEFT YOU TO FORM A FREE AMERICAN SOCIETY,LEFT YOU FROM YOUR OPPRESSION..
    AND NOW YOU JOINED THE OPPRESSORS…

    MAKE SURE YOU LIFT YOUR LITTLE FINGER HAVING YOUR TEA

  • I really like the author, nice article.

  • A thoughtful, wise, “old school” type of analysis of the pill-popping, instant-gratification culture of today. I’m on the same page.
    But as for the Haredi population, in general my observation and experience are that their problem is the opposite: they avoid vitamin supplements and psychotropic meds (and eat “kosher” food full of sugar, sodium, cholesterol, etc.), thus leaving them with all sorts of physical and mental problems.

    • Jeremy Rosen

      Pinchas
      Thanks for your comments. You are absolutely right. I intend to write about the lack of consideration in the Charedi community for matters such as health education and awareness. And the reluctance to provide green leaf vegetables, to give a recent example, to schools on the basis of extreme chumrot.
      J

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music US & Canada Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Lady Gaga Accepts ADL Award: ‘Your Philosophies Are So in Line With Ours’ (VIDEO)

    Pop superstar Lady Gaga on Thursday accepted an award from Jewish human rights group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on behalf of her Born This Way Foundation, which strives to combat bullying among young people. “Your philosophies are so in line with ours,” she said of the ADL upon accepting the Making a Difference Award in a videotaped message, which was shown at a ceremony in New York City. “We want to help young people know that their feelings and who they are on [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    At 80, Singer-Songwriter Leonard Cohen’s Jewish Roots ‘Very Much Intact’

    JNS.org – Eighty years young, Leonard Cohen fits many descriptions—singer, songwriter, poet, novelist, monk. From his Jewish upbringing in Canada to the present day, Cohen has always explored his spiritual side. This month, the singer-songwriter released the CD (May 12) and iTunes (on May 8 of this year) formats of his latest album, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, which features live recordings from his world tours in 2012 and 2013. Last year, Cohen’s Popular Problems was voted by Rolling Stone [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    FIFA Head Says Israel Should Not be Booted From World Soccer Association

    JNS.org – Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) head Sepp Blatter said during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that contrary to Palestinian complaints, Israel has not violated any FIFA statutes and should not be suspended from international soccer’s governing body. “We should not come to one federation saying we will exclude them,” said Blatter, the Jerusalem Post reported. “If the national association is fulfilling its obligations then there is no need to intervene,” he said. “I’m on a [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Middle East Sports Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish Rights Group Slams Palestinian Attempts to Suspend Israel From FIFA

    Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) said on Tuesday it was “appalled” by a Palestinian Football Association initiative to suspend Israel from FIFA, calling it another “front waged in the context of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign.” “We are appalled at the temerity of the Palestinan Football Association (PFA) demand that FIFA suspend Israel at your forthcoming Congress in Zurich,” wrote the group’s international relations director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, in a letter to FIFA President Joseph [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    Star of Auschwitz Thriller Says ‘God Was Holding the Hand of Every Jew in the Gas Chamber’ (VIDEO)

    The lead actor in Son of Saul, an Auschwitz thriller featured at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, told the UK’s The Guardian that he believes God was “holding the hand” of each Jew who died in the Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust. “I do not for one nanosecond like to pretend that God is off the hook. He could and should have stopped it at a much earlier stage,” Géza Röhrig, 48, said. ”But I would not be able to get [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys Singer Howie D Gushes Over Masada During Israel Trip

    Backstreet Boys singer Howie Dorough took to Instagram on Tuesday to marvel about climbing the famed Masada fortress with his band during their visit to Israel, where they will perform this week for the first time. The group’s second day of sightseeing in the Jewish state included the Masada hike, and taking a mud bath at the Dead Sea. A picture from the band’s official Twitter page shows the five singers covered in mud. While relaxing in the Dead Sea, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews US & Canada ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    ‘Arms and the Dudes:’ New Book, Film Detail How Ex-Orthodox Yeshiva Guys Became Top Suppliers for Afghan Army

    A new book and its upcoming film adaptation tell the true story of how three former yeshiva students who habitually smoked marijuana scored a $300 million contract from the U.S. government to supply weapons for the Afghan Army, the New York Daily News reported on Sunday. Arms and the Dudes details how the Miami Beach potheads became “the most unlikely gunrunners in history,” according to the book’s author, investigative reporter Guy Lawson. The tale begins with Efraim Diveroli, nephew of [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    Natalie Portman: Israel-Themed ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ Not Political

    JNS.org – Natalie Portman, who directs and stars in the new Hebrew-language film adaptation of author Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, says that despite Oz’s record as a vocal left-wing critic of Israel, her film is not political. Like the book on which it is based, Portman’s film is about a young boy at the time of the founding of the state of Israel. “I think the movie is very much about this very particular, specific family story. Of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.