theological reflections at the intersection of (my) perception with reality
Friday, June 6, 2008
Is the "Good Life" an American Entitlement?
With the price of gasoline racing toward $4.00/gallon, and recent reports of oil prices reaching $150/barrel, many Americans are panicking. But why should we not panic when our increasingly stentorian media dutifully and daily stokes the fire of our impending economic doom? In the face of this increasing threat to our personal independence, some take the drastic measure of parking their cars and riding bicycles; others trade their Hummers for Rav-4s, or swap their Pathfinders for Priuses. For many Americans, our paradigm of entitlement is changing. It has to. Perhaps our perceived God-given, divinely sanctioned right to guzzle gasoline (and other resources) to our hearts content is not etched in eternal stone after all?
Theologian Jon Sobrino, in his prophetically powerful and incisive book Where is God? Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity and Hope argues that residents of the First World can no longer operate under the assumption that "the good life" is their divinely sanctioned, eternally elected lot in life--their "manifest destiny." This assumption, he writes, has served to justify and sustain the remarkable disparity between those who have and those who don't along ethnic, national, social and geographical lines. The "blessing of God" stamp has been used by many in the West to set themselves over those existing, or rather subsisting, on the margins and in the periphery. The profits and comforts of the rich (first world) have come in part through the taxation of the poor (third world).
In this time of economic gloom and doom, it's wise for those of us residents of the Empire (read: United States) to re-examine our perceived sense of entitlement for "the good life." Perhaps we will have to give up our SUV's, pay a little more for bananas, and generally cut short our habitual profligacy. But maybe it won't be so bad to bridge the divide between the haves and the have-nots, even if just for a season. In any case, it might give us a better sense of what heaven will be like.
I don't mean to minimize the struggle these difficult days mean for those living in the United States (or elsewhere in the West) who cannot pay their mortgage, cannot feed their children, and cannot fill their gas tanks to get to their jobs--or to find one.
But I don't think Sobrino's lesson is for them. It's for those of us who may have to loosen our grip a little on the American dream, in which reality is catching up to the fiction that life is meant to be easy and that no object of desire lies outside our reach. But reality can be hard for all of us to accept--especially for me. I like my Pathfinder.
I'm a theology professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN. I teach about Kierkegaard and postmodernity, theology and contemporary culture, the doctrine of salvation, theological perspectives on evil and suffering, and contemporary issues in the person and work of Christ. I enjoying cracking the mysteries of "Lost" with my beautiful wife, Sara.