DOES THE ‘E’ IN ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM’ STAND FOR ‘ENTITLEMENT’?

One of the things that constantly strikes me about the U.S. when I come back from overseas  doing preaching or teaching or writing, or mission work of some kind, is just how spoiled so many Americans are, perhaps even the majority of Americans.  Indeed, ‘spoiling yourself’ or ‘spoiling your own children’ is seen as a good thing here.  As Americans, we think we are entitled to live the lifestyles of the rich and famous, even if it gets us into enormous debt.  We are entitled to a luxury home, a luxury car, and luxury life—- just super-size me!   The amount of egotism, narcissism, self-centeredness just oozing out of the pores of this approach to life ought to be obvious, but sadly even devout Jews and Christians get caught up in this nonsense, and in the Evangelical world you actually have preachers that make you feel  o.k. about being so selfish and self-centered, making it safe to be posh and live a luxurious lifestyle.  What would Jesus say?    I can tell you for sure, he would be upset.

And the sense of entitlement is so strong that it is hard to overcome.   ‘I am entitled to make this much money’     ‘I am entitled to retire early’,    ‘I am entitled to do what I want with my money’   ‘I am entitled to complain bitterly about paying what I see as an unfair amount of taxes’   ‘I am entitled to be supported in the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed’  ‘I am entitled to welfare,  social security, refunds,  disability pay,  no longer having to work if I have been injured on the job,  to compensation if someone else accidentally hits my car’.    We have a whole category of ‘entitlement’ lawyers these days—- they’re called personal injury lawyers.    All the time you see them on TV urging you to get in touch with them so you can sue the daylights out of this or that company because you now have mesothelioma or some other dread condition.

Nowhere, and never are there ads on TV about ‘you are entitled, indeed you must, take responsibility for your own actions, especially if they are immoral, stupid, arrogant, rude, excessive, bigoted, or otherwise get you into hot water’.     We also have a whole battery of counselors who’s main job is deprogramming people from addictions because they think they are entitled to have as much sex as they want with whomever they want, or as many drugs as they want whenever they want,  or as much bling as they want, and so on.  Our’s is a very sick and binging society, and the E word does not stand for  E Trade and that smartass baby, it stands for ‘Entitlement’.   It has become one of the seven deadly sins.

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.   And indeed, we are the most wasteful society ever in human history.  We waste more food every day, which if sold at market value would amount to the entire GNP for a year in many countries in Africa.  We just throw it away.   And it could feed most of the world’s starving children on any given day, if it could only reach them.

And worst of all, we have no guilt or shame about any of this.   None.  We lose no sleep about the things we waste or throw away.  I had to laugh and then cry about the recent golf tourney in Arizona—it was called the Waste Management Open.   And nobody said ‘that name really stinks’!!   They just accepted it.   When a country loses its sense of shame at its pathetically bad and self-indulgent behavior, it also loses its sense of honor.  And we are there in so many ways.  All that has been replaced by our supposed moral outrage over what we are being deprived of, and are ‘entitled’ to.  Rubbish!  As the Brits would say.  Most of this moral outrage is not merely misplaced, it’s not even moral.  Will we have learned anything important from the recent downturn as we crawl out of the wreckage of 2008′s economic disaster?  Will we change our ways?

Lent is the season in which we should reflect from a God-centered viewpoint, on our lives.  And one of the things we should do during Lent, is ask ourselves the hard question— ‘Why do I feel I am entitled to this, that or the other’  and ‘What is wrong with this picture’?     BTW,  that ‘E’ in ‘e pluribus unum’— it stands for ‘out of’ as in ‘out of the many— one’   That motto doesn’t mean ‘I’m the One’ it speaks of what should unify our nation, and it isn’t a sense of entitlement.    It’s a sense of self-sacrifice and putting others before ourselves. Think on these things.

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Jacob Arminius. Theologian of Grace-- Part Four

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