Transcendent Commitments as 2013 Unfolds
Four years ago, I published on line a commentary entitled "Obama Claus is Coming to Town." And come, he did. To countless many, Obama was viewed as "a messiah-like figure" ushering in "a quantum leap in American consciousness." Regarding Obama's ascension to the White House, movie director Spike Lee added, "Everything's going to be affected by this seismic change in the universe." Steve Davis noted that Obama "communicates God-like energy." At his best, Obama is "able to call us back to our highest selves."
His first term in office, Obama Claus fell somewhat short; but, then, we had George W. to blame for that. The nation has chosen to give the President yet another chance to fulfill its "I Want" list that includes, but is not limited to, expanded education, innovative renewable energy options, and universal health care. Laden with a bulbous bag of goodies hoisted over his proverbial shoulder, Obama Claus aims to deliver; and none is excluded from his seemingly endless bounty. Whether delivering generous federal funds for health care and education to illegal immigrants, or gifting fellow nation-states with incredibly extravagant global handouts, Obama Claus and his elves have harnessed the reindeer and loaded the sleigh in anticipation of the next big giveaways.
Options That Preclude Transcendence
Based on a report called "The Rise of Post-Familialism: Humanity's Future," the world is moving in essentially the same direction. Cultural and demographic shifts increasingly afford folks maximum personal freedom to do what they want simply by keeping their options open. Hence, folks increasingly live alone, forego having children, and eschew attachments threatening to impede their achievements tally.
Syndicated columnist for the New York Times, David Brooks documents transformation of the two-parent family worldwide -- from America to Scandinavia, Spain, Germany, Singapore, and Taiwan. In reality, he concludes, people are not better off when given boundless freedom to do as they please, but they are better off when "enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice." Said commitments include God, family, vocation, and country.
Case in point: This year, director Lauren Greenfield introduced a disturbingly telling documentary entitled The Queen of Versailles, which follows a billionaire couple's building the largest single-family private home in America. Wealthy and politically influential, David Siegel heads the successful Westgate Resorts time-share business. His entrepreneurial prowess, hard work, and astonishing successes are to be commended.
Nevertheless, as his overly privileged family navigated the sub-prime mortgage collapse, Siegel's unfinished, 90-thousand square foot Florida dream home (modeled after the French Palace of Versailles) stood as a monument for superficial, non-transcendent values. You see, by their own admission, devotion to God is starkly missing from the Siegel equation.
To realize their $100 million dream, David and his wife Jackie feverishly pursued every conceivable option. Even though the epilogue to this documentary shows Siegel as rebounding from the recession and moving forward with construction, one can only pity the Siegel family's demonstrably hollow existence, driven compulsively by narcissistic overindulgence. True, the documentary serves as an allegory of America's overreaching; but its post-familial lessons resonate worldwide.
Throwing Money at a Problem
While throwing money at a problem often paves the path to least resistance, it seldom cures what's ailing. Take our public schools, for example. They have been, and remain, the best funded on earth, yet when competing with other industrialized nations, American students consistently score poorly in math and dead last in physics.
Increasingly, well-intentioned Americans view our nation as a sort of "boarding house for the world's poor." To them, proponents of legal, measured immigration are "nativists" and "racists." The very term "illegal alien" stirs the ire of today's politically correct crowd. Law breaking immigrants are categorized instead as "undocumented workers"; nevertheless, whatever the nomenclature, the key word is illegal. It stands to reason that enabling lawlessness invites even more of it.
Swelling numbers of America's "undocumented workers" feel entitled to jobs and all the rights and privileges (minus responsibility) of American citizenship. Statistics reveal further that, after twenty years, even legal Mexican immigrants boast twice the welfare rates of naturalized citizens. Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum further contends that amnesty for tens of millions is but "a drop in the bucket" when compared to "temporary guest workers," for whom American citizens are expected to pay staggering entitlements. Steve Forbes rightly suggests that, while we are the land of the free, we are not the land of free loaders. But, then, if one believes society owes him, this is not an easy pill to swallow.
Siegel's story is by no means typical of America's wealthy; most are known for their philanthropy. Nor do all Americans expect handouts. Accordingly, it's widely thought that a secret recording at a Romney fundraiser cost him the election. On tape, Romney was said to brush off nearly half the country as self-proclaimed "victims," who refuse to take personal responsibility. These forty-seven percent pay no income tax, suggesting that low- and middle-income Americans are under taxed. The candidate's unfortunate comments added gristle to opportunistic partisan politicking -- understandably so -- but there remains a thread of truth to Mitt's misstatement.
"I Deserve It" Mindset
Let's revisit the Queen of Versailles. A financial setback in no way slowed Jackie Siegel from raiding store shelves to overfill cartloads with toys that, when distributed to her children, evoked nothing more than a collective yawn. When "down on their luck," David and Jackie self-identified with the "little folks" hurt by Wall Street. Both manifestly pouted and whined about "greedy" bankers who withheld from them their due. When money once again was "thrown" their way, David basked unashamedly in his financial comeback; and Jackie turned her sights to a possible career in reality television. The kids? They yawned.
Over-privileged Americans are not alone in embracing an "I deserve it" mindset. Now serving a mere twenty-one year sentence for having murdered seventy-seven people (mostly teens) in 2011, Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik presented his own 27-page wish list. Forget that outside Oslo his maximum-security prison affords the convicted murderer a three-cell suite equipped with television and exercise equipment. He now wants butter, hot (not tepid) coffee, hydrating skin cream, a new pen, more comfortable handcuffs, Internet access, and (get this) a view.
The New Revelation presents an a-biblical, 15-word gospel: "We are all one. Ours is not a better way; ours is merely another way." In today's global economy, wealth redistribution (socialism) challenges allegedly greedy gain from free enterprise. Developed nations, as ours, purportedly owe those who "have not." Never mind that Americans already shoulder trillions in debt, and experts warn that consumer installment debt is propelling our nation toward disaster. We'd best ante up.
Hope Springs Eternal
I affirm wholeheartedly that the affluent -- Christians most particularly -- have a moral mandate to reach out to the weak and poor of the world. Nevertheless, wisdom dictates that if we value entitlement over justice, we end up forfeiting both.
Hope springs eternal in the human heart, true; but unless that hope is fixed on what's real, hope is but a vapor destined to dissipate. If not promise of government handouts, lengthy tally of personal successes, obsessively opulent living, or pantheistic unity in serving the common good, what is the basis of "real hope"?
For Christian believers, it's found in a lowly manger. America's biblical values transcend the self. Indeed, a Christian's "lively hope" is in Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead -- this, coupled with comfort derived from the Holy Scriptures.1 So then, as America opens a new chapter in her history, may we, as believers, anchor our hope aright, pray fervently for those who have rule over us, render to Caesar his due and, for the Lord's sake, respectfully submit to every rightful ordinance of man. Finally, may we be "enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice" by assigning God, family, vocation, and country their rightful places. Then, and only then, will our nation be blessed to be the blessing God intends.