Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The American Dream and the Christian Dream

A beautiful painting by Jon McNaughton.  View his work here.

This article was originally published on The Underground, a Christian website I write for.  To view that article click here.  The version on this blog is the uncut writer's version.  Thanks!

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America
Is the American dream a thing of the past?  According to an article published by CNN Money, Americans think so.  "6 in 10 people who responded to CNNMoney's American Dream Poll, conducted by ORC International, they feel the dream -- however they define it -- is out of reach."  

Read the full Article here. 

If the American dream is truly how James T. Adams defines it, as an equal chance to achieve based on ability, not on family or prior fortune; is it even a Christian friendly proposition?  It most certainly is, but it is not an entirely Christian proposition either.  Though I admit the Bible does not provide any sort of model for government and economics, the idea of achievement based on ability, hard work, seems to make sense within the bounds of the Christian worldview.  

And as Gary Patton said, “The phrase, "American Dream", a lifestyle approach that doesn't require God's power, just ours, was coined in 1931 by James T. Adams."  So perhaps the idea of the American dream has been reinterpreted over the years, and maybe it never had God in mind.  Maybe it's been turned into a consumerist nightmare that has yielded no joy or lasting happiness.  
A lot of greats have weighed in on what they think of the American dream and where it's headed.  Tommy Hilfiger said, "The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it's possible to achieve the American dream."  While Bill Hicks said, "The American dream is a crock. Stop wanting everything. Everyone should wear jeans and have three T-shirts, eat rice and beans."

Christians have certainly embraced it, especially from the 1950s until today.  I was a product of it, father was a teacher, my mother was a nurse.  I lived in the suburbs of a conservative Catholic community in rural Wisconsin.  I was middle class all the way.  But it didn't yield exactly what might've been expected.  

Have the results been positive?  Unfortunately they have not.  In fact the last generation has presided over the demise of Christianity in the Western world.  So what happened?  What was the problem?  It's not easy to say.  Maybe Christianity got fat on the American dream and was no longer found to be appealing.  Worse yet, maybe it got fat on the American dream and thus the weary and heavy laden were unable to recognize the rest offered, because it had been dressed up in consumerism.  Perhaps fattened, found offensive or empty, and abandoned as meaningless drivel.  
Now today we have 6 out of 10 Americans saying the dream is no longer achievable.  Is Ziad K. Abdelnour correct when he wrote: "The American dream is what has kept Americans from rebelling against corporate corruption.  Now that 2/3 of us know it's dead, expect anything”? 

What we've seen in especially the last 25 years in the United States is a process Ravi Zacharias coined "secularization" or the process by which the ideas, emotions, and attitudes that had been the driving forces of life in our country have been fundamentally altered.  

The founders of the United States of America were overwhelmingly Christian individuals, who relied on a benevolent creator to lead them in the creation of a free nation.  One nation under God to be exact.  Progressives despise such references, but the fact is it's absolutely true.  Over 2/3 of the founders had seminary degrees.  It's just a fact.  There is no other worldview on the face of the earth where you could pull the idea of "all men are created equal" aside from the Christian worldview.  No other planetary religion can claim the inherent worth that Christian places in the individual.  

When I think of the phrase "the American dream" I think of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That phrase was written by a deist named Thomas Jefferson.  But he knew as well as George Washington and John Adams, that the Constitution would only be viable in governing a religious people.  When I think of the American dream I think of the incredible faith of the founders of this country, who risked everything to take a stand against tyranny.  I think of religious freedom, not freedom from religion.  I think of the ability to choose to practice as a protestant Christian, or as a Presbyterian Christian or as a Polish Catholic Christian.  When I think of the phrase "American dream" I think of a nation founded on such an incredible risk; facing off against the greatest army the world had ever seen, and yet coming out victorious because of the hand of God working in those events.  

Fast forward to today.  I'm not going to dance around it for you either, the American dream is no longer active.  It's not gone.  But it's rare to see someone claim it in it's entirety.  There are many ugly reasons for this.  Unfortunately the numbers are clear, people are not able to save money any longer.  There are several reasons for this.  The first is that food prices have skyrocketed.  The second is that gasoline costs are extremely high, around $3.50 a gallon or higher in most areas.  The third reason is that wages have gone up quite slowly while corporate earnings have gone very high.  Those are problematic issues, but they aren't the main issues.

The two primary reasons are rather ugly; one is the financial crisis triggered by corruption in big money, the main culprits being Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.  Two is the artificial inflation generated by the Federal Reserve as they print money to deal with the financial crisis.  The process of artificial inflation generates bubbles in markets and eventually the bubbles pop causing further problems.  Instead of dealing with the problem, Congress continues to borrow money, spend endlessly and periodic raise the debt ceiling so they can continue spending.  

These problems in and of themselves do not necessarily destroy the American dream.  But these issues make it much harder to rise from nothing to having enough to save, vacation, and enjoy time with the family.  

Unfortunately attending college, a prime key in having the American dream is very expensive.  The colleges are just cruel in how they pull money from students, charging tall rates on text books, registration fees, printing fees, and even fees to participate in graduation.  Once again corruption comes up on the radar as a problem.  It isn't just the private sector screwing the American dream either.  Stafford government loans, the loans students can take out to attend college charge 3.86% interest.  When banks loan money from the government they only pay 0.75% interest.  Once again, corruption.  The neediest are abused.  

Money and not having enough isn't the only problem with the crumpled American dream.  The other issue is freedom, and liberty.  Unfortunately today we live in a country that tries to run the lives of it's citizens.  More laws are on the books than ever before, while the laws restraining the government which are in the Constitution are strategically ignored.  Civil liberties have been abused and dismantled by first George W. Bush, and now by President Obama who had originally campaigned in 2008 on a platform to restore civil liberties.  One should look to who finances both the Republican party and the Democratic party, and you'll see Big Labor and Big Money have their hands in everything.  The Citizens United ruling by the Supreme court allowed for endless amounts of corporate and bank money to flood into the political arena.  The various bills passed by Congress have step by step removed liberty from America, beginning with the Patriot Act, followed by the Military Commissions Act, and others like the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama allowing for the indefinite detention of American citizens without cause or trial. 
"If our freedom is taken, the American dream will wither and die."
Rand Paul

If the financial corruption and mega-corporate empires destroyed the pursuit of happiness, and our leaders have allowed for the dismantling of liberty, what does that leave remaining from Thomas Jefferson's description of human rights?  Life.  But once again, I must break your heart.  We no longer have the right to life.  A wholesale genocide exists in our country, quietly ignored and written off.  That genocide has lead to the slaughter of over 56 million children.  That genocide is called abortion.  Fifty six million people already worldwide have been denied their right to life.  Yes, I'm afraid the news is that the conventionally understood American dream is effectively dead.

But that is not necessarily a reason for despair in the heart of the Christian.  

Why not?  Zoltan Istvan said regarding the American dream: "The American Dream has become a death sentence of drudgery, consumerism, and fatalism: a garage sale where the best of the human spirit is bartered away for comfort, obedience and trinkets. It's unequivocally absurd.”

I think it's important to see what our Lord and savior Jesus Christ had to say regarding these issues.  Jesus said in Luke 16:13 (ESV) "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 

If the American dream is a rising to comfortable living through acquisition of wealth then the American dream by itself is the worship of money as god, looking to wealth and personal ability to have comfort and security in life.  A Christian doesn't rely on personal ability for security, but on God for security.

Proverb 11:4 (ESV) says, "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death."  Where do we as Christians receive our righteousness?  From the belief and reliance on Jesus Christ.  His righteousness becomes our righteousness.  Isn't that a beautiful thing?  On the day of wrath for those who have willfully over their lives refused God's frequent invites to eternal life, we need not fear, because Jesus Christ is our dream made reality.

The United States was developed by brave Jesus-loving men as a free nation to allow for a free capitalist economy to flourish.  It certainly has flourished.  Unfortunately the Christian values of the United States have been both systematically attacked by the university and systematically corrupted and abandoned by the Church.  This has lead to secularization and philosophies like post-modernism which suggest morals as entirely relative, a contradiction of terms.

But a favorite speaker of mine by the name of Dr. Ravi Zacharias has pointed out that if corruption has arisen in finance and big business, why are we so surprised that people raised on moral relativism would operate their businesses and banks in precisely the way relativism would prescribe: anything goes, whatever you decide is what is morally right.

As Christians today in this society, we should operate as spiritual warriors in an occupied land.  That is what Earth is, the dominion of our enemy for now.  And we must be very careful.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: “Enemy-occupied territory---that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

The American dream is not synonymous with the Christian dream.  The American dream has often been a blessing to Christianity, and perhaps just as often a curse.  But they are not one in the same.  In stark contrast to the American dream, the Christian dream is the great hope of the redemption of all things.  We dream, hope, and wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies which our now twisted by sin.  We wait also for the redemption of the Earth itself from it's current broken state, to a perfect state of harmonious natural existence.  And most importantly, we wait for the returning of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ and his eternal rule in the perfect government and economic system, the one where Jesus Christ is undisputed sovereign Lord of the Universe, and we live under his gentle loving care in a city full of those saved from destruction and the chaotic failed systems of this fallen world.

God bless you all, take care, and be well internally by the blessed presence of the Spirit of our Lord.