Sunday, January 16, 2011

Entitlement, Immaturity, Self-Focus – God Bless America?

The driver in front of me on the narrow main drag through Winter Park, Orlando’s affluent enclave of Republican old money, was taking his time this morning. Cell phone in hand, he was more than willing to make everyone behind his oversized SUV wait while he continued his telephone conversation oblivious to the world.

On the bumper of his obstructing obscenity were two stickers. The one on the left read “So many species. So little time.” To its right was a faded sticker which read “God Bless America.” Pardon me while I retch.

Of course, the traffic impeding cell phone conversation, the oversized earth destroying vehicle - which takes up more than its share of the highway, guzzles more than its share of the gas and kills more than its share of fellow travelers in accidents – and the bumper stickers are all of a piece, ultimately. They point toward self-centeredness. And they point toward an enormous sense of entitlement for no apparent reason.

I have often posed this question to my students: When we say “God Bless America,” what do we mean by it? Is it a humble request? a statement of entitlement? an assertion of perceived fact? Is such a blessing exclusive to America or simply one of the many nation-states who perceive divine legitimation of their enterprise? And if the former, why would God “shed his grace on thee” to the exclusion of other nations composed of G-d’s creatures like ourselves?

But, perhaps more important is the question of why G-d would bless a people so incredibly self-focused, a people possessed of a spirit of such enormous entitlement that they would look upon their fellow species of G-d’s creation as theirs for the taking, if not wasting? What would merit such a blessing? Indeed, what would justify withholding of deprivation - if not punishment - for such immature attitudes and resulting destructive behaviors?

A child screaming “MINE!” and grasping at everyone’s toys is bearable if not expectable at four. We presume that with proper correction and guidance, the child will eventually grow up. But an adult who is still stuck in Stage 2 pre-conventional moral reasoning (What’s in it for me?) at a point when the time for maturity has long since arrived is not only unbearable, that situation merits castigation. There is nothing respectable about unabated greed and self-focus in an adult who should know better. And wrapping it in a flag and invoking the presumed favor of the deity makes it no more respectable, it simply compounds immaturity with intellectual dishonesty.

Increasingly, the world no longer has the luxury of this kind of immaturity. The species are, in fact, disappearing. And ultimately, even our own species will have its own turn in that disappearing act if we do not change direction soon. As Thomas Jefferson said about America’s self-indulgent immaturity regarding slavery in his own day, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever." One wonders what the author of creation might have to say to the representatives of the species who destroyed the earth's biosphere at judgment day. Somehow I have to doubt it will be a blessing.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

1 comment:

CJ Schmidt said...

Speaking of bumper stickers, my favorite during my time in Jacksonville was "Stand up for America: BE AN AMERICAN!!" Clearly my pick for the Most Obnoxious Bumper Sticker Award.