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American Entitlement

Just finished an intriguing article at Patheos about the American sense of entitlement. (HT: Rob and Heather Martin) Here is a taste:

If you think I am wrong, think back to the fleeting mea culpa of Tiger Woods last year. When asked what caused him to so egregiously and frequently commit adultery over and over again when he had a beautiful wife and child, he answered  honestly and correctly—‘a sense of entitlement’.   He thought he was entitled to such things because of his measure of monetary and golfing success.  It’s the ugly side of the American myth that everyone should be entitled to everything whenever we want it.

So what actually does the Bible suggest we are ‘entitled’ to?   ‘Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness’, or at least the happiness of pursuit?   A good job, a good family, a good life?    Here is where I tell you that we are entitled to nothing. Why not?   Because even the lowest common denominator— life itself is a gift from God.  We are not entitled to be alive at all.  It’s a gift which we did not create for ourselves.  We are not our own makers, but we are indeed our brother’s and sister’s keepers.

Instead of the ‘E’ word we ought to talk about the ‘O’ word— ‘ought’.   The ‘O’ word speaks of moral obligation.   We ought to respect one another.  We ought to treat every person as someone God loves and we should love, we ought to see each person as a person of sacred worth, we ought to try and overcome injustice, prejudice, oppression, hatred, and a lot of other things that are bad to the bone.  I am not entitled to live large on the basis of someone else’s hard work.   I am not entitled to rip waitresses off who mostly live on tips.    Why not?  Because even all the resources I have can be gone in 60 seconds, and if I had not been given the opportunity to make that money by God and others, I wouldn’t have it.  There are no millionaires in a Darfur refugee camp, not because they don’t work hard, but because they have no opportunity to thrive in that way.   ‘Opportunity’ is a blessing and grace.  It is not an ‘entitlement’.

When you look at life from a theocentric point of view, it looks very different than if you look at it from an egocentric American point of view. Of course Americans don’t have a corner on the market on  sinful narcissism.  It’s a trait of fallen human beings in general.  We’re just the worst offenders in many ways.   We make up less than 10% of the world’s population but we are still swallowing and gulping down over 60% of the world’s resources.  We are rightly called ‘consumers’.  That’s what we are good at,  much better than we are producers of good things, in many ways.

The contrast between a Biblical, theocentric, worldview and the American, egocentric, worldview is pretty stark. I think we could all use some time to inspect our own lives and see what is at the center of our live and thoughts. We should also check out whether our actions and our “stuff” agrees with what we think is our center. Hmmm, humbling thoughts.

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