Wednesday, April 6, 2011

you deserve this

Most Christian Church people I know are bipolar. This is because they are North Americans as well, members of the Church of the Procurement of Goods and Services. While the two churches are in many ways grotesquely intertwined in purposes and practices, there are also a significant number of ways in which their explicit ideologies are diametrically opposed - that is to say, opposite in a way that cannot be reconciled. Hence, the bipolarity.

Take, for example, the question of just desserts. According to the orthodox Christian world-view, we humans are pretty much contemptible worms who deserve to be tortured for all eternity. Jesus came and was tortured and died in our place; so even though we all still deserve this fate, it doesn't have to happen to us. As long as we are willing to agree to certain propositions, we will get something called Grace - which is sort of a get-out-of-jail-almost-for-free card. This is called substitutionary atonement, and although how it all plays out is a matter of some debate right now in the Christian Church, it is still a pretty widely held belief.

Except...

Except that these people - even the most fervent - tend to get most of their actual belief system from the Advertising Branch of the Church of Procurement - the one that says that your birthright as an American is to get whatever your little heart desires. We know this because we know that a person's true beliefs are demonstrated by their actions, and most North American Church People tend to act as though they actually believe this other story, the one that says that what they really deserve is not Hell, but rather Absolutely Everything They Want, When They Want It.

Entitlement has permeated every level of the American consciousness. For the bi-polar Church-Christian type person, this is a real problem.

Take, for example, the question of health care. One phrase you'll hear a lot in the public sphere today is the phrase, "we need to make sure that every American gets the health care they deserve." The implicit understanding is that every American deserves the very best and latest that medical science has to offer. If there are nano-bots that can go in and repair my heart whilst I play a round of golf, then Dodge-Gambit, I deserve nano-bots! End of story.

This belief is picked up by Church-people, who try to reconcile their American nationalism and entitlement-thinking (I deserve this health care) with their church-beliefs (I deserve to be burned in an unquenchable fire for all eternity), which just isn't possible.

But if they abandon their church-beliefs completely, they'll be out of the club. So, they try; usually by adopting entitlement-thinking for themselves, and applying their Church-view to everybody else. They'll spend a hundred thousand dollars to extend their own lives by a year, and then toss some used shoes and a couple of tracts at a starving person who can't afford antibiotic cream for a leg-infection because, well, the most important thing is just to make sure they agree to the right propositions so they don't get burned for eternity.

Setting aside for a moment the selfish hypocrisy of this approach, I have to say that I take issue with both these ways of thinking, because I think they both put an inordinate amount of focus on the individual self. I believe we ought to re-frame the question to focus instead on the self as it relates to the community as a whole. If we can do that, the question of just desserts quickly fades. This is especially true if we can somehow manage to cultivate our empathy to extend as broadly as possible - that is, to understand our Selves in the context of the global community; not just now, but into the future as well.

So, if you were to ask me what sort of health care I deserve, I suppose I would answer that I do not like your question. If pressed, I would say that I deserve no more or less than anyone else, ever. I am grateful to be one of the wealthier people in the world, with access to the benefits of some pretty amazing medical science, yes, but I certainly do not think this is particularly just. I think that the American health care system is more broken than some, less than others, and that as an empathetic member of the entire human race (and all its progeny), I ought to be as concerned with the health of a child in Africa as I am with my own. But I am not. I am selfish, and in a sense, that is all I can be. Still, I don't have to be happy about it.

I'd like to offer a clear solution, but I can't. All I can offer is the belief that there is very little real love to be found in focusing on what I deserve. And love, I think, is the greatest healer of all.

2 comments:

  1. The entitlement thing and the "worm theology" are connected - two sides of the same Protestant work ethic/spirit of Capitalism.

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  2. I hadn't thought of that, but now that you mention it... if they are connected through the work ethic, it's a bizarre connection with all sorts of bad theology worked into it.

    Ha, ha. I say "bad theology" as though I understand what theology is, and the distinction therein between bad and good.

    I'm guessing by the language that the Greeks invented theology? They also invented the Olympics. Everything's a competition.

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