How am I entitled? Let me count the ways …

I was extremely tempted to write today about dear old retiring U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and about how he is nearly equal to John Kerry, as far as making stupid statements whenever he opens his mouth goes. However, I am instead going to finish up my train of thought on the Entitlement Myth, unless I am unusually bugged about something down the road.

I am going to make this rather short, as I am, to be honest, tired of the topic, although it would be possible to go on and on and on…

People can develop a sense of entitlement from many things; by no means exhaustive (or even accurate), here’s a few:

  • Society: As I’ve already written, the “give a man a fish” approach creates both a dependency on the hand-out society and a worldview in which this is proper; most humans need to provide a justification for things that are against their nature (as I believe entitlement thinking is), and use the appeal of authority (“The government knows what is best”) or some other invalid premise (“they want you to have it”).
  • Slothfullnes: One of the 7 deadly sins (if I recall correctly), this speaks for itself.
  • Handicap status: The “minority” thinking: “I don’t have an equal opportunity, so therefore I deserve _________ .” There may be, in rare instances, some truth to this premise; however, the next step, an attitude of entitlement, is not the right conclusion.
  • Bad Theology: This one really bugs me. There are sub-sets to this one, including various forms of “faith” teachings, including the “Latter Rain” heresy, the various prosperity heresies, and a lot of the “prophetic” stuff. All of these could be cured by turning off “Christian” TV, unsubscribing from prophecy mailing lists, and simply reading the Bible.
  • Egotism: According to Chuck Gallozzi, “Egotism is the glue with which people get stuck on themselves.” This is simply being selfish, thinking we are higher than we really are. However, a mild and extremely common form (shared by nearly everyone at various times) is thinking that by nature of our own efforts, we deserve a certain benefit.

    I deal with this one all of the time, especially when it comes to my free time. I seem to think that I deserve peace and quiet, a place to rest from my labors, and some respect. This, of course, speaks for itself.

So, there you have it. Entitlement in many forms. All contrary to the Bible, as far as I can see. But, it’s a national pastime. Go figure.

Entitlement for Fun and Profit

I know what I want
I know what I need
I want a miracle
I know what I need
I know what I want, I know what I need, give me
(A new car!)

I’m one of the king’s kids (He wants a blessing)
I’m one of the king’s kids (He wants a blessing)
I do deserve the best (Keep on confessing)
The very, very, very, very Best
I’m one of the king’s kids
I deserve the best, I want
(A new car!)
– Terry Taylor, “New Car!”

In my line of work (which I shall only make vagues references to) I have, for 20 years, had to deal with those under the spell of the Entitlement Myth. If something goes wrong, these people immediately start looking for someone, not only to blame, but to give them what they feel they are “entitled” to. In fact, blame is not usually as important as the “deep pocket,” whoever that might be. “Somebody owes me something,” is the general premise.

The Christian side of entitlement thinking is not much different than the secular side, except for the focus: ultimately, it is God’s responsibility. However, most entitlement-oriented Christians will never say that, because it sounds sinful and selfish, and because religious people can’t get mad at God for anything. Instead, usually the target is shifted from God to the church. The church, after all, is made up of sinful people, so as sinners, they’re more easy to blame.

I’ve seen it over and over – those with terrible work habits, various lifestyle issues, horrendous money-management skills and just generally unwise will look to those around them who are industrious (and therefore more “blessed”) for handouts. Some unskilled individuals actually want to learn “to fish.” However, the entitlement crowd would rather have you give them the fish. Since you already know how to fish enough to share, why should they learn, too?

The sin of the Entitlement Myth is named in the 10 Commandments: “Thou shalt not covet …” Obviously this is nothing new. Whether they spiritualize the issue or not, the issue is still the belief that they deserve what someone else has. This is a totally different issue than the command to “give to anyone who asks of you,” although these folks don’t see it that way. Paul clarified the issue somewhat when he said plainly, “he who won’t work shouldn’t eat.” Feeding widows and orphans is one thing; feeding lazy slobs is another thing altogether.

There are those who have legitimate needs, due to work layoffs, illness, disaster, etc. Then there are those who are simply stupid, who overspend, under-work and in general live a lot like the Prodigal Son. However, notice that in the story, the Prodigal didn’t expect his father to give him anything- he had repented enough to have learned the value of work. Often, I think we enable prodigals to continue in their sin by letting our misplaced sympathies and guilts move us to bail them out, before they have had opportunity to repent. In effect, by not listening carefully to God, we can thwart God’s plans by being generous when generosity is not called for.

We tend to try to balance out issues in our minds, by thinking that the command to feed the poor somehow relates to an entitlement by the poor to what the rich have. However, I think this is a grave error in reasoning; the call of God on the rich to be generous is simply that. The poor are not told to look to the wealthy, or to the establishment (the church or the government) – they are to ask God directly. How God works that out is His business.

Now (to go back to the song quoted above), the concept of being entitled to a blessing seems to me to be a contradiction. If you’re entitled to something, it’s not a blessing. However, there are those who believe that they are entitled to be blessed, which is a fair segue into the next post …

The Entitlement Myth and Liberal Logic

I love it when my themes come together. That is, except when it’s in response to negative situations, as unfortunately is the case at present.

I’ve been writing on the issue of “The Entitlement Myth” and will continue the theme for a couple of more posts. I’ve also started a “Liberal Logic” theme, and will no doubt continue with that. Today, I’m hitting 2 birds with one stone.

The Entitlement Myth exists on many levels, the most common being the belief by a large number of Americans that by nature of their particular “disadvantage,” whether it may be race, age, location, profession, economic situation, education level or [lack of] motivation, they are owed something by the rest of the us. “Us” could be us normal working-class individuals, rich people, corporations or, more than likely, the government (as if the government is something other than “us”). Okay, so you can probably guess how I feel about this way of thinking. It is the “give a man a fish” thinking, as opposed to the “teach a man to fish” approach. The Entitlement Myth also completely ignores the fact that someone actually has to pay for this.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t help people. I’d rather give to the poor than to most people who ask me for money. But, this entitlement thinking is wrong; it has been shown to undermine people’s self-worth, demotivates people, leads to dependence on the system and requires higher taxes to pay for all of the entitlement programs. The band Ten Years After summed it up nicely in their song of years past, I’d Love to Change the World: “Tax the rich, feed the poor, till there are no rich no more.” It is the second cousin of socialism.

Now, consider last week’s elections. You’ve probably heard many wild interpretations on why the Democrats now have the majority in both the House and the Senate, most of which are mostly wrong. I won’t go into detail about this (today, anyway), but keep in mind that many of the Democrats who were voted in ran as conservatives. The election many have been a Republican loss, but not necessarily a Conservative loss.

The problem is, however, that the Democratic Party is not run by moderates or conservatives, but by liberal extremists, and the newcomers will have very little power to do anything. They will be pressured to follow along, as they always are, and chances are they will follow, no matter what they said during their campaigns (it happens to both parties).

So, guess what? We are already hearing the plans of the far left, echoing the pre-election warnings by the conservatives, including raising taxes and funneling more cash into “gimme” programs. This, in spite of the fact that the economy is booming. Why? Because liberal logic says that since there are poor people (regardless of the reason), we should raise taxes so we can give them money.

I admit that at first glance, it seems to make sense; it even seems like the compassionate thing to do; except when you start to think about it logically. “Give a man a fish” and he’ll learn to become dependent on the handouts. Some liberals may actually want to encourage this dependent thinking – as it also makes them dependent upon the liberals to keep the programs going. That’s how “pushing” works, isn’t it?

Conservative logic also says that we should help the poor – but by doing things like growing the economy to provide job opportunities, or even by being one the “thousand points of light.” It says that the government should encourage faith-based programs (people who already care about their communities) rather than have government create ill-managed programs. Conservative logic, in this case, also tends to be more Biblical: “if you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat.” Compassion doesn’t create dependency, compassion enables responsibility and independence.

But, the true conservatives failed to actually be conservative, and for the most part they deserved to be kicked out of office. The downside, however, is that now we have another opportunity to become too familiar with liberal logic, and you and I will end up paying for it, one way or another.

A note about exegesis & hermenuetics

I have not attended seminary (which is probably obvious to some of you). I have not taken any class on either exegesis or hermeneutics. I don’t read Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic or Latin; at times I barely speak English. However, I do try to read the Bible as objectively and honestly as I can, and according to generally accepted principles of exegesis and hermeneutics. So, I thought this would be a good time to explain how I try to read and understand the Bible.

Exegesis is, for those who don’t know, is a Greek word meaning “to draw the meaning out of.” Strictly speaking, it refers to drawing the meaning out of a text, based solely on the text itself. However, often the word more broadly to mean the use of all available information to draw the meaning out of a text. It sometimes is used interchangeably with hermeneutics, which refers to the philosophy of methods of interpretation and exegesis.

On the flip side we have eisegesis, which means to put meaning into the text. This is not necessarily invalid; however honest scholarship would demand the identification of “hunches” about meaning, apart from exegetical opinions. (Unfortunately, eisegesis seems to have become the preferred study method for some preachers, often to the exclusion of exegesis.)

Gordon Fee says that exegesis “… answers the question, ‘What did the biblical author mean?’ It has to do both with what he said (the content itself) and why he said it at any given point (the literary context). Furthermore, exegesis is primarily concerned with intentionality: What did the author intend his original readers to understand?” (New Testament Exegesis, p 27.)

Now, of course, to go any further, you have to agree that it’s important to determine what the author intend his original readers to understand. Some, relying, for example, totally on the Holy Spirit’s revelation, may not care, believing that God will simply reveal to us what He wants us to get out of the passage. I am by no means discounting the importance of the Holy Spirit’s revelation, which I also hope for; however, I also believe that we have been given “all things pertaining to life and Godliness,” which includes the ability to think and reason. Some Eastern religions would tell you to turn off your mind and simply feel; Christianity involves the mind whille constantly reminding us that there is something beyond our intellect.

It seems fairly obvious to me that a 1st Century Jew would have a completely different grid than a 21st Century American of European descent, and that even should we come up with a perfect Greek to English translation, we’d walk away with different understandings of the same passage. Therefore, taking some effort to look beyond a simple rendering of an English translation makes sense if we are really wanting to understand what is being said. (I do not assume that the Holy Spirit will do all of that for us; if it were so, I doubt there would be so many different denominations.)

Now, adding to the problem, we all have our own internal “noise” which clouds our picture of what is being said. This noise is not necessarily a bad thing; it consists of our worldview, our presuppositions, our understanding of the way things are. This forms from what we are taught, and changes as we learn. As we read the Bible, we understand it based upon what we already believe. We can’t even read John 3:16 without understanding it based on what we already understand.

So, as much as possible, I try to recognize my own “noise” and filter that out; it’s not always easy, or even possible, to do. But, I try to the best of my abilities to read and to understand (with the Holy Spirit’s help) with someone else’s eyes. In doing so, I am finding that my grid has and is changing.

And, I always consider the remote possibility that I still could be wrong …