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Is America Still Beautiful?

In Mecca, under the autocratic rule of wealthy despots, some of the worst byproducts of modernity – social fragmentation, the destruction of historical treasures, and the commercialization of religion – coincide with the rise of a fundamentalist brand of violent extremism. Ziauddin Sarder talked about this recently in the New York Times. Mr. Sarder is the editor of the quarterly Critical Muslim and the author of “Mecca: The Sacred City.” He bemoans the cultural devastation of this once-holy city:

The cultural devastation of Mecca has radically transformed the city. Unlike Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, Mecca was never a great intellectual and cultural center of Islam. But it was always a pluralistic city where debate among different Muslim sects and schools of thought was not unusual. Now it has been reduced to a monolithic religious entity where only one, ahistoric, literal interpretation of Islam is permitted, and where all other sects, outside of the Salafist brand of Saudi Islam, are regarded as false. Indeed, zealots frequently threaten pilgrims of different sects. Last year, a group of Shiite pilgrims from Michigan were attacked with knives by extremists, and in August, a coalition of American Muslim groups wrote to the State Department asking for protection during this year’s hajj.

Mr. Sarder shows how the spiritual degradation of Mecca is reflected in the Muslim world at large:

Mecca is a microcosm of the Muslim world. What happens to and in the city has a profound effect on Muslims everywhere. The spiritual heart of Islam is an ultramodern, monolithic enclave, where difference is not tolerated, history has no meaning, and consumerism is paramount. It is hardly surprising then that literalism, and the murderous interpretations of Islam associated with it, have become so dominant in Muslim lands.

Such an incisive critique gives cause to reflect on our situation here in America.

Fragmented, Disengaged, and Alienated

I think our country has become very fragmented in recent years. I think that the current administration has caused a lot of damage with its inflammatory rhetoric about class, race, and gender.

We have also become disengaged from the land that has been our historical treasure. Many of our citizens do not realize that our country has been called “America the Beautiful” because they have very little to do with the natural environment.

And, we have become alienated from the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of our forefathers. It is not so much that our religions have become commercialized. It is more that the importance of philosophy and values has been underplayed, while economic success has been over-stressed.

Literalism vs Realism

I do believe that many consumers take a dogmatic approach to making financial decisions. An example is the idea of “buy term and invest the rest”. Many advisors preach that like the Gospel. They pay no attention to the potential benefits of permanent life insurance, and of policies that build cash value.

The fact is that no one approach is right for everyone. Depending on your circumstances, needs and goals, term may be appropriate; then again permanent, might be appropriate. And this can change over time.

The willingness to look at yourself realistically, the courage to do what is right for yourself regardless of what others say, and an openness to different viewpoints, can together yield a truly good decision about life insurance and your finances.

Hajj and Life Insurance

It may very well be that this year such a trip would be considered a higher risk factor. Travel to locations in which street violence, insurrection, and other dangers are possible can result in a higher rate. It may even result in a declination. An underwriter would have to be made fully aware of all the precautions for safety that would be taken, in order to get a comfort level with the risk.