praise the lord!: in pursuit of the american dream

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Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

praise the lord!: in pursuit of the american dream

a couple days, i had a twitter conversation (or as much as you can possibly have on twitter) with a good friend about the concept of amassing wealth and living “comfortably”. specifically, the following values (in the context of “personal responsibility”) were offered by him: “saving for retirement, living comfortably w/in means, & taking care of the poor.” my response was twofold. the first:

sounds good in theory. problem, though, is 2 of those are american values & only 1 is a jesus value.

his response:

so you’re going to give away ALL your $ & not pay bills or for food or shelter? Our difference of opinion is bible interpretation.

to which i replied:

poor interpretation is what has led hordes of really well-intentioned people to chase the american dream instead of jesus.

ding! ding! ding! fighters return to your corners! 😉

in reality, it wasn’t a fight at all. my friend (derek) and i have relatively regular exchanges on twitter (and in real life…a novel concept…) similar to these. undoubtedly, derek and i have very different viewpoints when it comes to political ideologies and they often, as displayed here, spill over into theology. (in reality, i think his comments were largely driven by a specific political ideology, but that’s neither here nor there for these purposes). **it’s also a good moment to pause and affirm the fact that derek is a great friend and a person i respect and love for who he is and for the fact that he genuinely follows jesus.**

that conversation served as a launching point that got me thinking more throughout the day about issues related to the amassing of wealth and, specifically, pursuing/striving for the “american dream”. more to the point, for quite some time, i’ve been alarmed/disappointed/frustrated with how the concept of the american dream becomes so entrenched in the lives of people who claim to follow jesus (not that i would place derek in that camp, necessarily).

let me be clear: definitionally, the american dream is oppositional to following in the way of jesus.

maybe we should establish a working definition of the american dream. our friends over at wikipedia have taken a crack at it and it’s more or less a good description. they state,

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States of America in which democratic ideals are perceived as a promise of prosperity for its people.

ok, so while i could pick that apart a little, by and large, it seems relatively harmless. but then it goes a step further, stating,

Some commentators have noted that despite deep-seated belief in the egalitarian American Dream, the modern American wealth structure still perpetuates racial and class inequalities between generations. These commentators note that advantage and disadvantage are not always connected to individual successes or failures, but often to prior position in a social group.

in other words, the american dream assures that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. how? perpetuation of racial and class inequalities from generation to generation. as noted, our wealth structure (capitalism founded on greed values) is one in which **amassing** of wealth is virtually impossible without some direct or indirect oppression of others and a devaluing of those who are a lower social class.

listen, i know these are rather bold statements, but i think there’s sufficient evidence. certainly, arguments could be made from sheer social indicators, but i have to default back to the values of jesus (as noted in my twitter response above). perpetuation of social/economic inequalities couldn’t be any more contrary to the values of jesus. there’s been a lot of talk about the evils of so-called “wealth redistribution”, but it’s relatively clear that jesus preached a message of economic equality, in which those who have much gave to those who had little. what can we draw from these realizations? at minimum, we can conclude that the values associated with the “american dream” are simply not compatible with the the imperatives that flow from a life of following jesus.

as derek keenly pointed out in the midst of our conversation, one of the aspects of this topic that deserves some attention is that, here in the united states, the vast majority of us live in what is considered wealth by much of the world’s standards. so i should certainly pause and note that when i decide to mount my soapbox, i have to pause and pull the plank out of my own eye. as much as our family scrapes by to make ends meet, we’re in the very upper tier of the world’s wealth and we often don’t use our resources in ways that reflect jesus.

so ultimately, there’s quite a bit of perspective to keep when arguing these points, but at bare minimum, we have to remember that a life lived in pursuit of the american dream is simply oppositional to a life lived in pursuit of the values of jesus. let us all attempt to pursue the latter.

2 Comments

  1. Morgon77 says:

    Further issues with this line of questioning:

    1. Americans are convinced that they should be able to live indpendently and self-sufficiently. As a result, many of the stances/positions we see assume that the objective of wealth and American society is to guarantee the ability of an individual to be self-sufficient and self controlled.

    Contrary, the Christ movements that have been growing and successful are ones that surrender individual rights and success for the overall growth of the community within the image of Christ. So long as our demand is to be self-sufficient, self-capable, self-deciding, we will be living by a different goal-structure than Christ.

    2. Wealth is, at length, a tool. It isn't innately good or bad, but like so many other things, we can do a lot of terrible things with it. We can base our security around it, we can obsess over it, and it's very easy for wealth and security to become a god apart from God.

    If our safety depends on a nest egg, and a 401k, and funeral insurance, etc. then it doesn't rely on God, does it? And yes, we should be "smart". But i think much of the time, we're much smarter in the way of the world than we are in our dependance on God.

  2. Morgon77 says:

    Additional comments:

    1. America is, by it's nature as an individualist, manifest destiny powered culture, anti-community.

    2. For many christians, God is the Lord over their spiritual lives and well being, but all of their physical wellbeing is due to them having made the right decisions. It can even be argued that there are other gods over those areas who they refuse to acknowledge that they depend on instead of God for things like satisfaction, security, etc. But we would say that anybody who didn't depend on those things was being a fool.

    3. Community is not a voluntary group of people who meet together in a social setting and leave. Community involves dependence on others, the giving of accountability and reliance to others, and staying within that matrix even when things are uncomfortable, or don't seem to be working the way we want them to.

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