C.S. Lewis said in his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory” that if he were to ask twenty Christian leaders in his day what was the chief virtue, nineteen of them would answer Selflessness. Lewis argued that previous centuries of Christians would have answered instead with Love as the noblest of virtues. He was right in assessing his generation.
But the 2012 Presidential election this week leads me to think that most Americans today would answer that question differently yet again. I suspect most Americans would cite not Love or even Selflessness as the chief virtue today, but Fairness. And it was that quest for fairness that moved many of them to pull the lever for Barack Obama as their way of saying in solidarity with him, “We are all victims now, Mr. President.”
Give that Man a Mulligan! Or two…
Fairness demands that we come to the aid of victims. It pulls us to do all we can, even sacrifice greatly if necessary, to level the playing field for the poor guy who had it so rough that he just couldn’t succeed. It’s ironic really, that President Obama chose to play the victim, to appear weak in order to maintain his hold on what is arguably the strongest leadership position in the world. But apparently sympathy works in the new American paradigm.
President Obama didn’t even seem to try to run on any record of accomplishment. He didn’t pretend to have been a successful President. Instead we heard an endless list of reasons why he needed more time to do what he had failed to do in his first term, although he never did get clear on what exactly it was he would be doing. If we had a dollar for every time we heard Bush blamed, there would be no more national debt.
We heard Morgan Freeman tell us in melodramatic tones that “never before” has a President faced such challenges (What rubbish!). We heard Bill Clinton even claim (as if he actually believed it) that even he could not have solved the problems Bush left for poor Barack. Barack himself blamed the Republicans for obstructing his hopes — when the Democrats had super-majorities in both houses for two years. And he refused to work with them at all for the other two.
But the electorate seems to have bought the victim argument. That’s part of what I meant in my previous post when I said that America has been fundamentally transformed. There was a time not so long ago in this country when such a candidate would have been thrown out in a landslide.
And Romney? Well, he seemed anything but a victim. In fact, I’d call him the anti-type of the victim mentality. He’s a guy who started from scratch and succeeded. It used to be that America saw that as good thing. Not anymore apparently. Instead, comparing the two seemed to stir a passion for fairness somewhere deep within many Americans. It seemed to awaken a moral need to level the playing field.
Tales from the Gym
We see this rush to embrace victim-hood throughout our culture, but consider a familiar scenario from your local gym. Imagine visiting your local middle school to watch two teams play. One team has invested countless hours of intense practice for many years to become exceptionally good at what they do. The other team, not so much. They claim lack of funds and lack of talent. They’re out of shape. They don’t practice often. They don’t know the difference between a 2-3 zone and man-to-man. And they can’t make a free throw.
The game begins. Each team plays to the best of their ability. But soon the score is lopsided in favor of the team that worked hard to get really good. Anyone who has watched sports at that level knows what happens next. The officials start calling more fouls on the good team. They start looking the other way when the good team gets clobbered or when the not-so-good team travels. And the fans erupt in boos when the better team plays basic defense or dares to drive the open lane and lay the ball into the hoop. Before you know it, the players who worked hard to excel are made to feel like losers while the lazy and inept team is cheered as champion of the moral high ground.
That’s what happens when fairness becomes the chief virtue. That’s what happens all across this country in school gyms all the time. Been there, done that as an athletic director and school principal many times. I’ve even dared to confront those officials who consider themselves demi-gods. And got nowhere.
This embracing of fairness as the highest virtue seems to be part of what happened in this past Presidential election. One team whined. One team claimed victim status. One team said it wasn’t their fault that they couldn’t make lay-ups. The guy who was in the gym before them didn’t play that well. Bad karma. Or something.
And it worked. Don’t expect the blame Bush mantra to go away. Whatever gets rewarded usually does get repeated.
But Is It Biblical?
This victim approach is often imitated and applauded in Christian circles. But is it Biblical? I think not.
As a boy, the first character trait that was drilled into me was “Learn to Blame Yourself.” You might have thought Eden would have taught us that lesson.
Jesus addressed a similar scenario when he told the parable of the talents. Different people got different amounts — funny how He didn’t see the need to redistribute it evenly. When the one servant failed to act responsibly with his talents, Jesus didn’t take from the servant who had more and give it to the servant who had failed. I can’t seem to find the part where He says, “I think that when we spread the talents around….”
Instead, He took the talent from the servant who’d failed and gave it to the one who’d demonstrated he would diligently steward the resources. If it had been a basketball game, Jesus would have kicked the lazy team out of the gym and given their gym time to the hard-working team.
Don’t get me wrong. There are true victims. Jesus ministered to them all the time. Widows. Orphans. Those who were ill. Those enslaved by sin. But he had little patience for those who had every opportunity to take responsibility but failed to do so. In fact, He said that to whom much is given, much will be required.
President Obama was given much. The American electorate, however, didn’t require much of him. All in the name of Fairness. This is only part of what I meant yesterday when I said it’s the end of America as we have known it.
We’ve tended to love our country enough to fire leaders who failed to do what we elected them to do. But when love is replaced by fairness as the chief American virtue, well, maybe we can just let the poor guy keep doing what he’s doing until he gets a trophy — or until the lights go out — whichever comes first.