[smiles with a snarky grin, clears throat, steps onto soapbox]
I observed something quite interesting on my recent trip to Paris–or more specifically, when I got back. (Like many, I believe the real culture shock doesn’t always happen on your trip, but on your return home.)
Here’s what I saw. I spent two weeks in a basically socialist nation, one in which people rely on the government to provide many, many basic services (and to which they pay very high taxes for those services). These are services that many in this country would refer to as “entitlement programs.” And yet, ironically, I saw more instances of people acting “entitled” in the first two days coming back to America than I experienced in my entire time in France.
Indeed, I can’t recall a single time when anyone in France acted that way. Despite the many things I’d heard and read about how rude the French are (especially Parisians) I actually found the people to be quite polite, even helpful. Never rude. It wasn’t until I got back that I almost instantly saw the rudeness of entitled Americans, and I remembered–hey, we act this way.
It was not a pleasant realization.
What do I mean by “entitlement?” Entitlement is when we conduct ourselves as though we are entitled to special treatment, advantages and concessions, simply because we are us, and because others are…well…NOT us. It also usually means we’re willing to take what we feel we’re entitled to, usually at someone else’s expense. Here are some specific examples of what I mean:
–Driving aggressively and rudely on the road, cutting people off and breaking the rules of the road, because, of course, it’s more important that WE be to work on time than anyone else who is trying to get to work.
–Monopolizing the attention of our server when we’re at a restaurant, and treating him/her badly for being physically and mentally incapable of treating us like we’re the ONLY table for whom he/she is responsible.
–Pushing and shoving others to get to the Black Friday deals ahead of anyone else. (Get ready for this…)
–Yelling, screaming, chewing out and humiliating the little league coach for not giving “our Timmy” enough “at bats” during the ball game.
These are just a few examples, but you get the point. Entitlement is rampant in our culture. (And I say “we” because I have to include myself in this–sometimes I act entitled, as well.) Sometimes it seems like everyone feels that they deserve to be above the rules (or even the rule of law), like they deserve special treatment above everyone else, and are willing to fight, scrape and even cheat to get whatever they feel entitled to receive. It has become such the norm that it takes leaving and spending time in a culture where they don’t act this way in order to see how bad it’s gotten.
Here’s where the real soap-boxing begins…
In my view, the whole idea of “looking out for number one” is the worst lesson we could ever teach our kids–and yet, we’ve been doing it for decades now, both in word and by example. Those kids are now grown, and we’re all paying the price. Whatever happened to looking out for the other guy? Whatever happened to being a good citizen? When did we decide we were the only citizen that actually mattered?
Think I’m exaggerating? Try driving on a freeway at rush hour. Count the number of crazy things you see.
I’m one of those people who remembers when it wasn’t like this–when being polite and considering others was the rule rather than the exception, and when examples of rudeness were few because social culture simply wouldn’t tolerate it. I suppose I’m grieving the loss. We used to be better than this; now we just act like we are.
It might look a little different than it does on the freeway, but entitlement is also pervasive throughout the church. Oh, I’m not saying we’re just always rude to one another (though sometimes we are). I’m talking about more of an entitlement belief system that makes us see ourselves as “better” than others because of the spiritual authority we walk in, or “better” than those Christians who aren’t enlightened with our particular theology, or “better” just because we’re “saved” and unbelievers are not.
I grew up with a certain teaching within the faith movement about the authority of the believer. The idea (which is admittedly found in Scripture) is that man was created to have dominion over the earth, and even though we fell into sin, Jesus’ death and resurrection restores us to that place of authority in His name. Sounds great. But when people turn that theological belief into a sense of entitlement, it just turns ugly and self-serving. It isn’t that the theology is complete heresy–it’s just that when you don’t blend it with other Biblical principles (like laying down your life and preferring your brother), it just turns selfish and arrogant. We feel entitled because we’re “children of God,” but in reality, the world around us just sees us acting like spoiled brats.
Speaking of spoiled brats, how about the way we pray sometimes? After all, we have a covenant with God, and that covenant entitles us to certain rights, privileges and blessings. Right? In a way, I suppose that’s true. But let’s compare it with a marriage covenant. Being married to someone gives us certain “rights” as well, but what kind of marriage is it if we demand sex with our spouse just because it’s our “right?” Common sense says that wouldn’t be much of a marriage at all. Why do we presume it’s any different with our covenant with God? How must it appear to God for us to demand certain things of Him that He’s already promised us, as though He is attempting to withhold them? Or have we forgotten how He’s already blessed us, or what we were before He found us?
And then there is the superior attitude we tend to have over others–not just the unbeliever, but even over other believers who don’t see the world or the Scripture in the exact same way we do. How many times do we take pride in a certain revelation or a move of God to the point that we look down our noses at others who haven’t received that exact revelation, or experienced that move? Do we think others can’t tell when they’re being looked down upon, or condescended to? And if we really have received a revelation, do we really think that we’re going to bring others into that place by perceiving ourselves as greater than, and others as less than?
Pardon my French (pun intended)…but who the hell do we think we are?
I can’t help but think of Jesus, and the way He conducted Himself on earth. He definitely walked in authority, but He was never above talking with a Samaritan at the well, or having dinner with tax collectors and sinners, or washing the feet of His disciples. In fact, the very act of coming to earth in human form was a lesson in denying one’s own entitlement, because it required Him to strip Himself of His heavenly glory. And what did He teach us? “If I, Your Lord and master, washed your feet, so you ought to wash one another’s feet.”
I can’t help but think of the apostle Paul. Here was a guy who had very public arguments with the Jews on multiple occasions, and who walked in a high level of authority within the church–yet he still referred to himself as “chief of sinners,” the “scum of the earth.” He walked in the blessing of redemption, but he never forgot what he was before Jesus met him on the road to Damascus.
Compare these examples with how the average Christian acts today. God have mercy on us.
So now I’ve ranted about entitlement of Americans, and I’ve ranted about the entitlement of Christians. The question is, how to change that attitude? Of course, we can’t change it in others; we can only change it when/where we see it in ourselves. From the standpoint of being a Christian, I think the answer lies in humbling ourselves, and in remembering that the same Bible that teaches us about our authority also teaches us to prefer one another and consider others as better than ourselves–NOT the other way around. As to the demands we sometimes make of God, I’m reminded of the words of Paul: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” (Italics mine.) Thanksgiving Day is coming up; it’s a good time to remind ourselves to begin with an attitude of gratefulness, rather than entitlement. (I’ll probably have more to say on this with the next post.)
As to our entitlement as Americans…all I can say is, this attitude doesn’t look good on us. This may still be the best nation in the world (for now), but it won’t stay that way for long if we continue to act like we’re better than everyone else on the planet. Just saying.
[steps off soapbox]