Thursday, August 7, 2014

Entitlement and the Impossible (American) Dream



    A few weeks ago, USA Today printed an article about the impossibility of reaching the American dream.  According to the article, to achieve the “American Dream” you would need to earn in excess of $130,000 per year. Since my family has been happily living the American dream for several generations (and none of us have earned anywhere near that much) I wondered just how the author chose to define the American Dream.  As I read, I realized two things, 1) the author’s definition was wildly different than my own and 2) it is clear that many Americans have fallen into a (very unbiblical) trap of entitlement.

    The first item on the list projects the median mortgage cost of a new home (Price: $275,000).  While this might seem reasonable in some parts of the country, it reveals two assumptions.  First, in order to achieve the American dream we have to be better than average, and second any home we buy has to be new. 
Both assumptions are false. 

    Historically, the American dream was simply “an opportunity for Americans to achieve prosperity through hard work. According to The Dream, this includes the opportunity for one's children to grow up and receive a good education and career without artificial barriers.”  (Wikipedia) In modern times, politicians have implied that the dream included home ownership, but for most people, the American dream is still about freedom of opportunity more than anything else.

    But the American dream has nothing to do with the expectation that I should be better than average or that the only acceptable home is a new one.  Where I live, homes in a decent blue collar neighborhood can be had for $50,000 and if you are handy, a fixer-upper can be considerably cheaper.  Homes in suburban neighborhoods and in more affluent school districts obviously cost more, but who says that hard-working, blue collar, city dwellers can’t live the American dream?

    With the exception of utilities, I take exception to nearly every item on the author’s list.  I understand that it much harder to make a life where the cost of living is high, but we need to remind ourselves that living the American dream has never been, and should never be, about the accumulation of “stuff.”  Too many of us believe that the American dream means we should have more possessions than our parents rather than the freedom to do what we want to do.

    It is said that blacksmiths and cleaning ladies worked extra jobs so that their children could go to college and become engineers and accountants, so that their children could become poets and artists.  That mirrors the history of our family.  Our grandparents got off the boat with little more than a suitcase.  And while none of us has ever been wealthy, because we live in a nation with extraordinary freedoms, we have had the ability to be and to do whatever we chose, within the limits of our God-given abilities.

    To claim that it is impossible to achieve the American dream unless you own a new, 3000 square-foot home, with all new furniture, two new cars and a lot of other “stuff” is an insult to everything our parents and grandparents sacrificed for.  They worked their fannies off so that we would have freedom and opportunity, not sports cars, Gucci handbags and iPhones. 
As followers of Jesus Christ, there is a far more significant problem.
When we fill our lives with the desire for material possessions, rather than things like integrity, justice, and the things of God, we open ourselves to all sorts of evil.  The Apostle Paul warned his young protégé Timothy saying…

7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Timothy 6:7-9)

    Paul wasn’t saying that it was bad to have wealth.  Paul was born to a family with wealth and influence.  What Paul is saying is that we cross a line when we desire money and material possessions too much.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:10-12)

    We don’t need new cars and new houses to be content, and we certainly shouldn’t feel like we are entitled to have more than our parents had.  Ten years ago we sold our house and I walked away from a satisfying career in engineering.  Today, I make almost $100,000 per year less than USA Today thinks I need. 

Regardless, I am happy, I am content, and…

…I am living the American Dream.


Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:4-6)

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