1. Desensitization & Brutalization
In the military ‘boot camp,’ “brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms” and cause you “to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence, and death as a way of life,” explained Col. Grossman. “In the end, you are desensitized to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill…. Something very similar … is happening to our children through violence in the media—but instead of 18-year-olds, it begins at the age of 18 months. At that age, a child can watch something happening on television and mimic that action. … When young children see somebody shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized, degraded, or murdered on TV, to them it is as though it were actually happening.” He gave this example:
“The Journal of the American Medical Association published the definitive study on the impact of TV violence. It compared two nations or regions that were demographically and ethnically identical; only one variable is different: the presence of television. ‘In every nation, region, or city with television, there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate.
“Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three-to five-year-old to reach the ‘prime crime age.’”
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation published another revealing study last fall: “43% of the kids age 2 and younger watched TV on a typical day and… 26% had a TV in their room. The median amount of time spent watching: two hours a day.” Small wonder our elementary schools are changing!
“Temper tantrums are nothing new in kindergarten and first grade,” wrote Claudia Wallis in a Time Magazine article last December, “but the behavior of a 6-year-old girl this fall at a school in Fort Worth, Texas, had even the most experienced staff members wanting to run for cover.” She described the crisis:
“Asked to put a toy away, the youngster began to scream. Told to calm down, she knocked over her desk and crawled under the teacher’s desk, kicking it and dumping out the contents of the drawers. Then things really began to deteriorate. Still shrieking, the child stood up and began hurling books at her terrified classmates, who had to be ushered from the room to safety.
“Just a bad day at school? More like a bad season. The desk-dumping incident followed scores of other outrageous acts by some of the youngest Fort Worth students at schools across the district. Among them: a 6-year-old who told his teacher to ‘shut up, bitch,’ a first-grader whose fits of anger ended with his peeling off his clothes and throwing them at the school psychologist, and hysterical kindergartners who bit teachers so hard they left tooth marks.
“‘I’m clearly seeing an increasing number of kindergartners and first-graders coming to our attention for aggressive behavior,’ says Michael Parker, program director of psychological services at the Fort Worth Independent School District.'”
The child-advocacy group Partnership for Children confirms this observation. A preliminary report of its study “shows that 93% of the 39 schools that responded to the survey said kindergartners today have ‘more emotional and behavioral problems’ than were seen five years ago. More than half the day-care centers said ‘incidents of rage and anger’ had increased over the past three years. ‘We’re talking about children—a 3-year-old in one instance—who will take a fork and stab another child in the forehead.'”
“Violence is getting younger and younger,” said Ronald Stephens, director of California’s National School Safety Center. “Initially, it was high schools that created these schools [for disruptive students], then middle schools. Now it’s elementary. Who would have thought years ago that this would be happening?”
Actually, Col. Grossman did. He cited a study by Journal of the American Medical Association (June 10, 1992) on the impact of TV violence:
“Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social impact of brutalization by the media. The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that ‘the introduction of television in the 1950’s caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate, i.e., long-term childhood exposure to television is a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides committed in the United States, or approximately 10,000 homicides annually.’ The article went on to say that ‘… if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults.”
Of course, if children spent less time in front of the TV screen, they would have more time to learn about God and the wonders of the real world. Consider these sad statistics:
“More than half of 2-to-7-year-olds and 82 percent of 8-to-18-year-olds live in homes with at least one video game console.”
“The average child watches 27 hrs of TV each week.”
“The average child gets more one-on-one communication from TV than from parents & teachers combined.
“60% of men on TV are involved in violence…. 11% are killers.”
“20% of suburban high schoolers endorse shooting someone ‘who has stolen something from you.'”
“After TV was introduced to a Canadian town in 1973, a 160 percent increase in aggression, hitting, shoving, and biting was documented in 1st and 2nd graders.” No change was seen in two control communities.
“15 years after introduction of TV in USA, homicides, rapes and assaults doubled.”
2. Classical Conditioning
You may remember Pavlov’s dogs. Week after week, those four-legged Soviet laboratory specimens were fed at the sound of a bell, and eventually they learned to associate the ringing bell with their tasty morsels. Once conditioned, they would salivate whenever the bell rang. This study—together with the Hegelian dialectic process—helped lay the foundation for Communist brainwashing. Col. Grossman explained its relevance today:
“What is happening to our children is the reverse of the aversion therapy portrayed in the movie A Clockwork Orange. In A Clockwork Orange, a brutal sociopath, a mass murderer, is strapped to a chair and forced to watch violent movies while he is injected with a drug that nauseates him. So he sits and gags and retches as he watches the movies. After hundreds of repetitions of this, he associates violence with nausea, and it limits his ability to be violent….
“We are doing the exact opposite: Our children watch vivid pictures of human suffering and death, learning to associate it with their favorite soft drink and candy bar, or their girlfriend’s perfume.
“The result is a phenomenon that functions much like AIDS, which I call AVIDS–Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS has never killed anybody. It destroys your immune system, and then other diseases that shouldn’t kill you become fatal. Television violence by itself does not kill you. It destroys your violence immune system and conditions you to derive pleasure from violence.”
3. Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is based on the simple psycho-social formula: stimulus-response, stimulus-response….. A modern example of this procedure is the use of flight simulators to train pilots. “An airline pilot in training sits in front of a flight simulator for endless hours,” wrote Col. Grossman. “When a particular warning light goes on, he is taught to react in a certain way. When another warning light goes on, a different reaction is required. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response. One day the pilot is actually flying a jumbo jet; the plane is going down, and 300 people are screaming behind him…. But he has been conditioned to respond reflexively to this particular crisis.”
The reverse of this principle is used to train both our soldiers and our police force. According to Col. Grossman,
“The military and law enforcement community have made killing a conditioned response This has substantially raised the firing rate on the modern battlefield. Whereas infantry training in World War II used bull’s-eye targets, now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The trainees have only a split second to engage the target. The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response….
“Later, when soldiers are on the battlefield or a police officer is walking a beat and somebody pops up with a gun, they will shoot reflexively and shoot to kill. We know that 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.
“Now, if you’re a little troubled by that, how much more should we be troubled by the fact that every time a child plays an interactive point-and-shoot video game, he is learning the exact same conditioned reflex and motor skills….
“This process is extraordinarily powerful and frightening. The result is ever more homemade pseudo-sociopaths who kill reflexively and show no remorse. Our children are learning to kill and learning to like it; and then we have the audacity to say, ‘Oh my goodness, what’s wrong?'”
A report from the Schiller Institute in Washington D.C. shows an even more sobering side of the problem:
“Recently released medical studies indicate that violent video games damage the brain, possibly permanently. Video games may be more dangerous to your health than cigarettes or alcohol. This national scandal has been covered for the benefit of the $10 billion-a-year video-game industry, of which violent games rated ‘M,’ for Mature, are the fastest-growing segment. Approximately 20 million Americans, many under 18, play these ‘M’ games. The studies, many years in the making, show that repeated playing of violent video games ‘desensitizes’ the activities of the brain involved in reasoning and planning, while activating those functions that respond to violence. The studies include scientific data indicating that these games may actually cause destructive behavior.”
Who can forget the tragedies that awakened all of America to the dark side of our youth culture? Most memorable in the string of cold-blooded shooting sprees may be Columbine High School in Colorado, where two students addicted to Doom, Mortal Combat and other violent role-playing games (RPGs) shot 27 students and teachers.
But those who are obsessed with point-and-shoot RPGs learn more than a killer instinct. Many embrace the occultism that drive the myth behind the violence. “Peter,” a former occultist who became a committed Christian several decades ago, helped me to understand this phenomenon. Today, he serves his Lord by warning and equipping vulnerable youth to resist and overcome the deadly dangers of occult RPGs. [See Role-Playing Games & Popular Occultism]
“Are you familiar with aviation simulators?” he asked me during a telephone call. “They simulate the inside of a cockpit in flying a plane. You can learn how to fly a plane in a flight simulator. But in a simulator there is no risk. All personal danger has been removed. When you play these occult games, you’re doing the exact same thing that you would be dong in a flight simulator. No risk. So why not try the real thing?
Many players do. “These kids are easily drawn into occult groups through [role-playing] tournaments,” Peter explained. “When kids transition from simulation—when they actually experience the POWER that is available to them through the rituals they are learning to perform under the guise of ‘fantasy’—that power becomes like an addiction and they get hooked. But they don’t see that.”
“I could walk up to any of these teens who showed promise,” he continued, “and I could put my hand on their shoulder, look them in the eye and say, ‘If you get a rush from this, how would like to do it for real?’ No one has ever answered no.”
4. Role Models
Children who watch television and youth who play violent and occult role playing games find plenty of shocking role models that shape their dreams and mold their values. Britney Spears and Eminem are among today’s best known pied pipers, but the imaginary heroes hidden in popular anime, slasher movies and RPGs can be just as influential—if not more so. So can the young killers who win their moment of media fame through televised fanfare that drill the exploits of young sociopaths into the consciousness of vulnerable and envious viewers. According to Col. Grossman,
“Research in the 1970s demonstrated the existence of ‘cluster suicides‘ in which the local TV reporting of teen suicides directly caused numerous copycat suicides of impressionable teenagers. Somewhere in every population there are potentially suicidal kids who will say to themselves, ‘Well, I’ll show all those people who have been mean to me. I know how to get my picture on TV, too.’… Thus we get copycat, cluster murders that work their way across America like a virus spread by the six o’clock news. No matter what someone has done, if you put his picture on TV, you have made him a celebrity, and someone, somewhere, will emulate him.
“The lineage of the Jonesboro shootings began at Pearl, Mississippi, fewer than six months before. In Pearl, a 16-year-old boy was accused of killing his mother and then going to his school and shooting nine students, two of whom died, including his ex-girlfriend. Two months later, this virus spread to Paducah, Kentucky, where a 14-year-old boy was arrested for killing three students and wounding five others.”
Resisting the Violence
What can parents do to monitor and restrict violent and occult media messages? There are no simple answers. They certainly can’t trust the video labels. In his article, “Lazy cops on the video game beat,” columnist Brent Brozell writes,
“Two Harvard researchers, Kimberly Thompson and Kevin Haninger, recently discovered that parents of teenagers can’t rely very heavily on the video game ratings system created by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulating body….
“A graver problem for parents is that the games that many youngsters desire and chatter about are not rated ‘T,’ but rated ‘M,’ for supposedly ‘mature’ audiences. This is the TV-land of ultraviolence, casual sex and casual profanity best known through the best seller ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.’
“Rockstar Games, the sleaze merchants behind the ‘Vice City’ cop-killing, woman-abusing fantasy, has a newer game out called ‘Manhunt.’ The goal of ‘Manhunt’ is delivering the nastiest killings for filming…. USA Today’s reviewer explained: ‘I got plenty of one and two-star ratings by sneaking up behind thugs and stabbing them in the neck. Higher ratings are awarded depending on how much additional carnage you can add to the execution.'”
Such “entertaining” images mold the minds of children and youth around the world! Do you wonder what will happen to our nation and culture when these conditioned youth reach adulthood? Might the civilized world be following a path to corruption and chaos that makes the decadence in ancient Rome seem mild by comparison? Even if our own children refuse to participate in this dark and depraved world of the imagination, will they live in a world eventually subjugated to barbarians and thugs?
We can only touch the children in the sphere of influence God has given us. But we can’t afford to be silent! So here are a few suggestions:
1. Pray! Our Shepherd will show each of us what we can do to equip our personal and our Christian family.
2. Put on the Armor of God. The greatest weapon against the world’s deceptions is God’s Word. The Armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) provides an outline of the vital truth that can expose and resist any of Satan’s lies.
3. Be watchful. Explain the danger of RPG’s to your children. Share the statistics and the horrendous consequences of the conditioning process. Show them items in the newspaper that provide current and relevant examples and warnings.
4. Understand the Nature and Tactics of Satan. Children need to be alert to both his timeless and his current strategies. We are all engaged in a spiritual war—and we cannot close our eyes to the realities of the foes that assault us.
5. Keep praising God who gives us the victory. Know His Names and count on His promises. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is that life does not begin with birth, nor does it end with death. This is articulated in the verse in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), “And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G‑d, who gave it.”1
The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often point out that a basic law of physics (known as the First Law of Thermodynamics) is that no energy is ever “lost” or destroyed; it only assumes another form. If such is the case with physical energy, how much more so a spiritual entity such as the soul, whose existence is not limited by time, space, or any of the other delineators of the physical state. Certainly, the spiritual energy that in the human being is the source of sight and hearing, emotion and intellect, will and consciousness does not cease to exist merely because the physical body has ceased to function; rather, it passes from one form of existence (physical life as expressed and acted via the body) to a higher, exclusively spiritual form of existence.
While there are numerous stations in a soul’s journey, these can generally be grouped into four general phases:
- the wholly spiritual existence of the soul before it enters the body;
- physical life;
- post-physical life in Gan Eden (the “Garden of Eden,” also called “Heaven” and “Paradise”);
- the “world to come” (olam haba) that follows the resurrection of the dead.
What are these four phases, and why are all four necessary?
To See or Not to See: The Free Choice Paradox
As discussed at length in chassidic teaching,2 the ultimate purpose of the soul is fulfilled during the time it spends in this physical world making this world “a dwelling-place for G‑d” by finding and expressing G‑dliness in everyday life through its fulfillment of the mitzvot.
But for our actions in this world to have true significance, they must be the product of our free choice. If we were to experience the power and beauty of the divine presence we bring into the world with our mitzvot, we would always choose what is right, and thereby lose our autonomy. The obvious becomes robotic. Our accomplishments would not be ours, any more than it is an “accomplishment” that we eat three meals a day and avoid jumping into fire.
Hence, this crucial stage of our lives is enacted under the conditions of almost total spiritual blackout: in a world in which the divine reality is hidden, in which our purpose in life is not obvious; a world in which “all its affairs are severe and evil, and wicked men prevail.”3 In such a world, our positive and godly actions are truly our own choice and achievement.
On the other hand, however, how would it be possible at all to discover, and act upon, goodness and truth under such conditions? If the soul is plunged into such a godless world, and cut off from all knowledge of the divine, by what means could it ever discover the path of truth?
This is why the soul exists in a purely spiritual state before it descends in to this world. In its pre-physical existence, the soul is fortified with the divine wisdom, knowledge and vision that will empower it in its struggles to transcend and transform the physical reality.
In the words of the Talmud: “The fetus in its mother’s womb is taught the entire Torah . . . When its time comes to emerge into the atmosphere of the world, an angel comes and slaps it on its mouth, making it forget everything.”4
An obvious question: If we’re made to forget it all, why teach it to us in the first place? But herein lies the entire paradox of knowledge and choice: we can’t see the truth, we can’t even manifestly know it, but at the same time we do know it, deep inside us. Deep enough that we can choose to ignore it, but also deep enough that wherever we are and whatever we become, we can always choose to unearth it. This, in the final analysis, is choice: our choice to pursue the knowledge implanted in our soul, or to suppress it.
The Mutual Exclusivity of Achievement and Reward
Thus the stage is set for phase 2: the tests, trials and tribulations of physical life. The characteristics of the physical—its finiteness, its opaqueness, its self-centeredness, its tendency to conceal what lies behind it—form a heavy veil that obscures virtually all knowledge and memory of our divine source. And yet, deep down we know right from wrong. Somehow we know that life is meaningful, that we are here to fulfill a divine purpose; somehow, when confronted with a choice between a G‑dly action and an unG‑dly one, we know the difference. The knowledge is faint—a dim, subconscious memory from a prior, spiritual state. We can silence it, or amplify it—the choice is ours.
Everything physical is, by definition, finite; indeed, that is what makes it a concealment of the infinitude of the divine. Intrinsic to physical life is that it is finite in time: it ends. Once it ends—once our soul is freed from its physical embodiment—we can no longer achieve and accomplish. But now, finally, we can behold and derive satisfaction from what we have accomplished.
The two are mutually exclusive: achievement precludes satisfaction; satisfaction precludes achievement. Achievement can take place only in the spiritual blindness of the physical world; satisfaction can take place only in the choice-less environment of the spiritual reality.
The Talmud quotes the verse: “You shall keep the mitzvah, the decrees and the laws which I command you today to do them.”5 “Today to do them,” explains the Talmud, “but not to do them tomorrow. Today to do them, and tomorrow to receive their reward.”6 The Ethics expresses it thus: “A single moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all of the world to come. And a single moment of bliss in the world to come is greater than all of this world.”7
It’s as if we spent a hundred years watching an orchestra performing a symphony on television—with the sound turned off. We watched the hand movements of the conductor and the musicians. Sometimes we asked: why are the people on the screen making all these strange motions to no purpose? Sometimes we understood that a great piece of music was being played, but didn’t hear a single note. After a hundred years of watching in silence, we watch it again—this time with the sound turned on.
The orchestra is ourselves, and the music—played well or poorly—is the deeds of our lives.
What is Heaven and Hell?
Heaven and hell are where the soul receives its reward and punishment after death. Yes, Judaism believes in, and Jewish traditional sources extensively discuss, punishment and reward in the afterlife (indeed, it is one of the “Thirteen Principles” of Judaism enumerated by Maimonides). But these are a very different “heaven” and “hell” than what one finds described in medieval Christian texts or New Yorker cartoons. Heaven is not a place of halos and harps, nor is hell populated by those red creatures with pitchforks depicted on the label of non-kosher canned meat.
After death, the soul returns to its divine Source, together with all the G‑dliness it has “extracted” from the physical world by using it for meaningful purposes. The soul now relives its experiences on another plane, and experiences the good it accomplished during its physical lifetime as incredible happiness and pleasure, and the negative as incredibly painful.
This pleasure and pain are not reward and punishment in the conventional sense—in the sense that we might punish a criminal by sending him to jail, or reward a dedicated employee with a raise. It is rather that we experience our own life in its reality—a reality from which we were sheltered during our physical lifetimes. We experience the true import and effect of our actions. Turning up the volume on that TV set with that symphony orchestra can be intensely pleasurable, or intensely painful8—depending on how we played the music of our lives.
When the soul departs from the body, it stands before the heavenly court to give a “judgment and accounting” of its earthly life.9 But the heavenly court does only the “accounting” part; the “judgment” part—that, only the soul itself can do.10 Only the soul can pass judgment on itself; only it can know and sense the true extent of what it accomplished, or neglected to accomplish, in the course of its physical life. Freed from the limitations and concealments of the physical state, it can now see G‑dliness; it can now look back at its own life and experience what it truly was. The soul’s experience of the G‑dliness it brought into the world with its mitzvot and positive actions is the exquisite pleasure of Gan Eden (the “Garden of Eden”—Paradise); its experience of the destructiveness it wrought through its lapses and transgressions is the excruciating pain of Gehinnom (“Gehenna” or “Purgatory”).
The truth hurts. The truth also cleanses and heals. The spiritual pain of Gehinnom—the soul’s pain in facing the truth of its life—cleanses and heals the soul of the spiritual stains and blemishes that its failings and misdeeds have attached to it. Freed of this husk of negativity, the soul is now able to fully enjoy the immeasurable good that its life engendered, and “bask in the divine radiance” emitted by the G‑dliness it brought into the world.
For a G‑dly soul spawns far more good in its lifetime than evil. The core of the soul is unadulterated goodness; the good we accomplish is infinite, the evil but shallow and superficial. So even the most wicked of souls, say our sages, experiences at most twelve months of Gehinnom, followed by an eternity of heaven. Furthermore, a soul’s experience of Gehinnom can be mitigated by the action of his or her children and loved ones, here on earth. Reciting kaddish and engaging in other good deeds “in merit of” and “for the elevation of” the departed soul means that the soul, in effect, is continuing to act positively upon the physical world, thereby adding to the goodness of its physical lifetime.11
The soul, for its part, remains involved in the lives of those it leaves behind when it departs physical life. The soul of a parent continues to watch over the lives of his or her children and grandchildren, to derive pride (or pain) from their deeds and accomplishments, and to intercede on their behalf before the heavenly throne; the same applies to those to whom a soul was connected with bonds of love, friendship and community. In fact, because the soul is no longer constricted by the limitations of the physical state, its relationship with its loved ones is, in many ways, even deeper and more meaningful than before.
However, while the departed soul is aware and cognizant of all that transpires in the lives of its loved ones, the souls remaining in the physical world are limited to what they can perceive via the five senses as facilitated by their physical bodies. We can impact the soul of a departed loved one through our positive actions, but we cannot communicate with it through the conventional means (speech, sight, physical contact, etc.) that, prior to its passing, defined the way that we related to each other. (Indeed, the Torah expressly forbids the idolatrous practices of necromancy, mediumism and similar attempts to “make contact” with the world of the dead.) Hence, the occurrence of death, while signifying an elevation for the soul of the departed, is experienced as a tragic loss for those it leaves behind.
Reincarnation: A Second Go
Each individual soul is dispatched to the physical world with its own individualized mission to accomplish. As Jews, we all have the same Torah with the same 613 mitzvot; but each of us has his or her own set of challenges, distinct talents and capabilities, and particular mitzvot which form the crux of his or her mission in life.
At times, a soul may not conclude its mission in a single lifetime. In such cases, it returns to earth for a “second go” to complete the job. This is the concept of gilgul neshamot—commonly referred to as “reincarnation”—extensively discussed in the teachings of Kabbalah.12 This is why we often find ourselves powerfully drawn to a particular mitzvah or cause and make it the focus of our lives, dedicating to it a seemingly disproportionate part of our time and energy: it is our soul gravitating to the “missing pieces” of its divinely ordained purpose.13
The World to Come
Just as the individual soul passes through three stages—preparation for its mission, the mission itself, and the subsequent phase of satisfaction and reward—so, too, does creation as a whole. A chain of spiritual “worlds” precedes the physical reality, to serve it as a source of divine vitality and empowerment. Then comes the era of olam hazeh (“this world”), in which the divine purpose of creation is played out. Finally, once humanity as a whole has completed its mission of making the physical world a “dwelling-place for G‑d,” comes the era of universal reward—the “world to come” (olam haba).
There is a major difference between a soul’s individual “world of reward” in Gan Eden, and the universal reward of the world to come. Gan Eden is a spiritual world, inhabited by souls without physical bodies; the world to come is a physical world, inhabited by souls with physical bodies14 (though the very nature of the physical will undergo a fundamental transformation).
In the world to come, the physical reality will so perfectly “house” and reflect the divine reality that it will transcend the finitude and temporality which define it today. Thus, while in today’s imperfect world the soul can experience “reward” only after it departs from the body and physical life, in the world to come the soul and body will be reunited and will together enjoy the fruits of their labor. Thus, the prophets of Israel spoke of a time when all who died will be restored to life: their bodies will be regenerated15 and their souls restored to their bodies. “Death will be eradicated forever,”16 and “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the water covers the seabed.”17
This, of course, will spell the end of the “Era of Achievement.”18 The veil of physicality, rarefied to complete transparency, will no longer conceal the truth of G‑d, but will rather express it and reveal it in an even more profound way than the most lofty spiritual reality. Goodness and G‑dliness will cease to be something we do and achieve, for it will be what we are. Our experience of goodness will be absolute. Body and soul both, reunited as they were before they were separated by death, will inhabit all the good that we accomplished with our freely chosen actions in the challenges and concealments of physical life.