You can’t escape it. The level of tension hanging in our air is creating a stifling sauna of emotion. The flaming rhetoric is coming from every single outlet giving anyone a voice or stage. It’s all over the news. It permeates our Twitter feed. We can even feel it in our own veins: America is angry.
So why are Americans so angry?
If you ask Republicans, it’s the Democrats. If you ask Democrats, it’s the Republicans. If you ask parents, it’s kids. If you ask kids, it’s parents, etc. Ultimately, it’s everyone but us and those who think like we do.
I don’t believe America’s anger issue at its core is a political one. I don’t even believe it’s the fault of the media or entertainment industry. Politics and entertainment tend to follow the prevailing winds of society. Instead, I believe the source of America’s anger comes from two formidable worldviews that have woven themselves into the very fabric of what it means to be a person living in America.
At the core of America’s anger problem, I believe, rests the bedfellow notions of Individualism and Entitlement.
Individualism is the belief that the paramount filter through which we should make decisions and priorities is the question of what is best for us individually. What’s in it for me? What I feel and what I want should be the guiding forces and principles in my life above what is better for others. It is my right to choose and I have to do what is right for me.
Even undergirding the vocal calls for freedom of choice and expression for many is the desire to simply prop up the Asherah pole of individualism so we may be free to worship at its altar unhindered as well.
The second belief is that of Entitlement. It stems, I believe, from a perversion of the idealistic American Dream we have so often laid out as the red carpet of life for every individual. Every one of us was likely told when we were young that whatever we could dream, we could be. The idea was that, in America, everyone has an escalator to the top, and all you have to do is name the destination. However, life quickly teaches us it’s not as easy as “dream it and be it.” No one should be stifled from achievement if they are willing to do the hard work of achieving. But this is not what entitlement teaches. It teaches that you deserve the achievement without the achieving.
For many trying to negotiate these roads, there is a desire to build a straw man and blame him for thwarting their road to the top. Some call him government. Some call him God. Some call him other names, but to each, the cry is the same: You cost me something, and I want it back now.
In America today, these two philosophies combine like baking soda and vinegar, and the explosion is getting messy. After all, the idea of individualism naturally flows from entitlement, but the well runs dry when everyone else around us has the same idea we have been touting as truth. Many people want independence; they just want someone else to hand it to them. When they don’t, they get upset.
Americans are angry because, in many ways, we have replaced our place in the American Dream with America’s place in our dream. And when America (or the government, God, etc.) won’t play that role in our dream, the response is anger, violence, revenge and the desire for recompense.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t the fault of America or an idealism that simply outpaces realism. The basis for this epidemic in our great nation is the same basis that has eroded and destroyed many great nations before us. In fact, the basis for this isn’t even a national issue it all. It’s both a personal issue and a global epidemic. It is sin. America’s greatest problem is not a political issue – it is a Gospel issue.
When Satan first tempted Adam and Eve, he did so on the basis of Individualism and Entitlement. “God is holding out on you. You’re not getting what you deserve,” slithered out of the serpent’s mouth wrapped around the venomous call to place the individual at the center of existence and not God.
The very idea of the Gospel and God becoming flesh is counter-intuitive for most of the world because this flies in the face of our understanding of how the world should work. Let us remember that the kingdom of God is not one of individualism and entitlement. Rather it is one of submission and grace. It is recognizing there is One who is more deserving than ourselves, and we honor and imitate him by treating others as more important than ourselves. We give our time, resources and energy not through the filter of what benefits me, but what honors Him?
We see that the only thing we are truly entitled to is the penalty of eternal death and judgment for our continual cosmic treason against the Creator of all things. Yet in His love and for His glory, He gives us not what we deserve, but what Christ Himself earned on our behalf.
Let us not just sing about these truths on Sunday morning but seek to live them out daily as we follow Christ. As we walk into a world that touts entitlement and individualism, let us do so with a cross on our back and foot-washing cloths in our hands.
Perhaps in doing so, we will see the anger so apparent in our nation dissolve into appreciation for the Gospel. Instead of individual rights or privileges, let us model the idea of what is best for all at the expense of ourselves. As we do so, let us not point it to a rebuilding of the American Dream, but to the timeless truth of the Gospel in the sacrificial nature of Jesus Christ.