big guns on the USS North Carolina

I’m sure this is a terrible idea

Posted by

I have made my vow to avoid political discourse this year till the day before the November election, but I’m not gonna make it (and I wasn’t *really* serious…. I mean, not entirely….though I hate the vacuous and strident tones of American political discourse more than I hate middle-school bickering….which I hate very much).

But here I am, sucked in and posting. *sighs*
I’m referencing this article on Obama’s speech in Virginia about small business owners and the “self-made man.” You can read the article here.
First off, I’m not endorsing the blog at all. I think the article is snide and too biased to be a good discussion piece. But it’s where I found myself dropping into the conversation, so here it is.
The article quoted Obama’s comments about the myth of the self-made man, which have touched off a tornado of conservative ire.  Here are the Obama selections from the article:

      If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be ’cause I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something: There are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
      If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

And here are my comments that I posted in a Facebook discussion about it, because they are relatively succinct:

     Straight up: I think the attack on Obama’s speech is hearing something he isn’t saying. To insist that a single person can on their own create success is foolish and IMHO contra-biblical. American individualism is not necessarily a virtue.
I’m not here to defend Obama but I’m really tired of conservatives idolizing Ayn Rand. I think her ideas are dangerous and, above all, against the tenor of Gospel thinking.
I don’t really care whether Obama is referring to religious help or social or whatever. I just have to scratch my head and wonder exactly what people are angry about. I read the speech. I agree with him. My success as [anything] rests on the shoulders of many people who individually invested in my life PLUS the work of countless others who built the systems, institutions, and infrastructure which enable “success” for the average American.
Does that negate the requirement that I work to improve my skills, to get a job, to get an education? Of course not. But admitting — in fact, embracing — the reality that American individualism is a myth, and often a harmful one doesn’t deny individual responsibility.
As a Christian, I have to balance being a good citizen of this country with being a good citizen of the Kingdom. So I reject Rand’s philosophy as contra-biblical on most counts, especially its self-centered individualism because I cannot reconcile that with Kingdom ethics. And that leads me to question whether America’s obsession with being self-made men is healthy at all.

What’s happening here is a fascinating shift in my own perceptions of biblical ethics and economic policy. Capitalism =/= godliness. How did I not see this before someone pointed it out to me (at Covenant)?
I’m also struck by the absolute FEAR oozing out of this article.
I am *all for* private citizens being generous, for NGOs to take over programs caring for the poor and needy, for the Church to step up and do its part in communities, for government to shrink because people take responsibility. That is awesome.
But can someone explain to me why people are AFRAID to admit that they are not self-made men?
Are we so …racist? classist? selfish? individualist? ….that we cannot brook even the thought of someone getting something WE think they don’t “deserve” …. when really and honestly, I don’t “deserve” any of the help that people gave me?
Do we not see the huge disconnect between salvation by grace apart from anything I can do and a system of conservative ethics which refuses to offer aid to people who “need” it unless they can prove they’ve worked hard enough to earn it?
My friends, you need to stop talking about the Gospel….your actions are shouting too hard for me to hear what you’re saying.
PS. Maybe in a future post I’ll write about how terrified I am to find so many Christians quoting Ayn Rand as if she gave good ideas. I realize the antithesis runs through and not around all thinkers, and that people who are very wrong can sometimes be right. But I think it’s time we throw down the gauntlet and demand that people defend individualism as biblical (which I think will be very difficult apart from proof-texting or American-bias) OR, failing that, stop acting like it is.

Got a comment?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.