Monday, November 7, 2011

On Culture of Entitlement (Part 2 of 2)

TITLE: On Culture of Entitlement (Part 2 of 2)
SCRIPTURE: Romans 5:6-8
Written by: Conrade Yap

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’” (Romans 5:6-8)

Last week, I provided some observations of how the culture of entitlement has become so common place that it has been accepted as a way of life. I ended with some questions about what then are we to do about it. As a proof of how the Culture of Entitlement has infected society, read this open letter. Here is an open letter from a kid who is obviously upset about NOT getting candies from this particular home owner.
Image from Kijiji posted 3 Nov 2011

Here is the reply: "Dear Children of Entitlement (and likely their parents), You have gone ahead and reminded me of why I do not want children, and why I weep for the future."


This week, I want to provide a way forward for us to do something about it. I will suggest four ways where we can counter the culture of entitlement (CoE): Confession, Right-Sizing, Self-Understanding, and Humility.

A) Pursuit of Happiness as a CoE?

In 'Counterfeit Gospels,' Trevin Wax points out six false representations of the true gospel, one of which is relevant to this reflection about the culture of entitlement (CoE). Wax calls it the 'therapeutic gospel.' Proponents of such a gospel teach about human happiness as a right, as something that God wants us to have.
  • "It is God's will for you to be rich."
  • "If you are feeling empty, it is because you have not claimed enough of God's promises."
  • "Is your marriage troubled? Blame sin. Better still, blame the devil."
  • "It is your God-given right to be happy. Let no one deprive you of happiness."
In a culture of entitlement, this kind of therapeutic gospel is highly appealing.  Here is how it works its way into the heart of Christians. Firstly, it introduces itself with a single-minded focus on human worth. It says that humans do not deserve to suffer, but to have a good life. Secondly, it moves on to use anything, including God as a means to comfort us. It brings in all the biblical passages of comfort in the Bible and applies them lock, stock, and barrel. Thirdly, it harps on the point that it is God who has to keep His promise, and that it is not God's will for anyone to suffer. When the therapeutic gospel takes root, Trevin Wax lists three kinds of deceptive results:

  1. "Disillusionment when suffering comes" (How can God let anyone suffer?)
  2. A reduced view of sin (God prefers us to be happy rather than to fight sin?)
  3. The gifts are more important than the Giver. (If God loves me, He will give me what I WANT!)
Wax writes emphatically,
"Scripture is clear that our biggest problem is not that we feel guilty; it's that we are guilty." (Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, 48)
The trouble with the therapeutic gospel is that it begins with an erroneous assertion. Instead of man being born sinful in the first place, it claims outright that man deserves not punishment but reward, for just being who he/she is. 

B) Fighting CoE Begins with Confession

A culture of entitlement puts us in the center of the world. It tells us that our personal happiness is the purpose of life. Anything that counters this pursuit is considered bad. This runs contrary to the spirit in Romans 5 where man is not entitled to anything at all, save the mercy of God. It tells us that personal holiness, (not happiness), is the goal of our lives. Instead, our path to God begins with a confession that God is the center, not us. It is a confession that we are utterly undeserving. Happiness is not a right. If it happens to us, good. If not, do not despair. We are not to deceive ourselves that being happy is more important than being holy. It starts with confession.

I appreciate the Communion ritual at many Anglican and Methodist churches that goes as follows:
Almighty God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Maker of all things, judge of all people:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from to time have most grievously committed; 
by thought, word, and deed, against Thine divine majesty.
We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these misdoings, the remembrance of them is grievous to us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, 
Most Merciful Father.
For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we hereafter serve and please thee with newness of life, to the honor and glory of Thy name ; through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Source: Internet

C) Fighting CoE Involves Right-Sizing Ourselves

I like the wisdom in Proverbs that say

"Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." (Proverbs 30:8)

On one extreme, when happiness becomes a right, it is like insisting that God gives us a signed blank check for us to fill in, according to all our whims and fancies. We upgrade thoughtlessly. We accumulate recklessly. We see only riches as God's will, and shun poverty like a plague. Those with a warped theology of prosperity may even say that the poverty in the world is due to people receiving a curse from God!

On the other end, there are those who attack the rich and the powerful to the point that they pursue poverty as a reaction against the rich. It is like sacrificing oneself just to make a point. Is that a wise choice?

Proverbs show us that it is not poverty or riches we should pursue, but our daily bread. Not too much or too little, but just right. In order to know what is just right, we need to understand ourselves.

D) Countering CoE with Self-Understanding

A story was told about a young Catholic excited about meeting Mother Teresa during one of her trips to Australia. Due to Mother Teresa's tight schedule, it is practically impossible to interview her. On realizing that her next stop is New Guinea, he makes plans to buy an air-ticket, to sit next to her in order to learn from her about giving and helping the poor. When Mother Teresa heard about it, she said to him,
"You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea? Then give that money to the poor. You'll learn more from that than anything I can tell you."
Mother Teresa is spot on. She diagnoses the young man's condition as one that is seeking to 'experience a feeling' rather than doing the right thing. The way to learn giving is not to talk about it, much less to feel it, but to do it. Doing it is key to learning about giving. More importantly, one learns about self.

The problem why many of us fail to counter the culture of entitlement successfully is largely due to non-action. We complain. We shrug our shoulders. We blame the government. As we do all these, we become so fixated on the speck of dust in another person's eye that we miss the log in our own eye. Perhaps, for those of us caught in such a culture of entitlement, whether we like it or not, it will not change unless we do something about it.  A healthy understanding of self begins with a recognition that we are undeserved sinners saved by grace. It continues with seeing holiness, not happiness as the purpose of our spiritual lives. It seeks God more than the gifts.

E) Humility: Key to Right-Sizing

Sizing our own selves correctly is crucial to knowing what we really need. Humility is the key. See how Jesus considers himself.

"And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8)
The God of Heaven, who in spite of his riches, chooses to humble Himself, take up His cross, to be crucified, and humiliated before the world. By sizing Himself as a man, by forsaking all for the sake of us, He died. CS Lewis makes this remarkable observation about humility.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less." (CS Lewis)

In a culture of entitlement, let us despite of our heavenly inheritance, choose simple living. When people take advantage of us, be ready to forgive. Do not elevate ourselves so high up the pedestal, that we become proud to the point of using people just to prop ourselves up there. If we are honest with ourselves, when we die, we can bring absolutely nothing with us. If that is the case, why harp on our rights and our entitlement so much that it messes up our life and our true purpose?

The culture of entitlement can be countered with a confession of our sinful selves. Right-sizing ourselves is more important than insisting of what others must give us. Having self-understanding is necessary to knowing the difference between needs and wants. Most of all, humility enables us to become more like Christ.

Thought: A humble knowledge of ourselves is a surer way to God than is the search for depth of learning. (Thomas a'Kempis)

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