Monday, July 4, 2011

In the Course of Human Events

By Charles Moncrief

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people. . .”

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Declaration of Independence

I’m satisfied with the base claims of date (July 4, 1776), authorship (Thomas Jefferson), and impact (motivating the colonists to move forward in the quest for independence).

I’m also satisfied that other authors and commentators have thoroughly treated the subject of the signers’ sacrifices with simulated 1796 “Where are they now?” treatises.

What I’d like to do is ask an actual 2011 question: “Where are WE now?” Consider the words “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other” in light of the following:

“When I’ve had enough to eat and drink, everyone in the house ought to be satisfied.”
- (Sganarelle, a character in a comedy by Molière)

“Because you’re worth it.”
- (a French cosmetics company)

“No headache is severe unless it’s yours.”
- (a pain-killer company)

“You deserve a break today.”
- (a fast-food company)

“I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU.”
- (a punchline to a joke about hunters)

“It could have been worse; it could have happened to ME.”
- (Yogi Bear, paraphrase, following Ranger Smith’s bad luck)

During the 2010 NFL season, a wireless phone service provider ran a successful ad featuring a doctor showing off his new phone to an injured player on the examining table. The player asks “What about my injury?” The doctor pushes a couple of buttons on his phone and shows the downloaded X-ray to the player, and glibly tells him the injury is career-ending. The player gets upset, and the doctor tells him not to worry because it didn’t cost anything to download the picture. This is a variation of the good-news, bad-news joke, in which the bad news is the patient’s diagnosis and the good news is the doctor’s luck.

The most successful way for cities to cram new stadiums and sports arenas down the people’s throats is to present a variation of the blatant lie, “You won’t have to pay anything; tourists will pay increased taxes on lodging and car rentals.” (Does this say more about the politicians, or about the people who buy into their hoax?)

Now I’d ask you to consider this statement:
“There but for the grace of God go I.”

Many sincere people of faith don’t realize what they’re saying when this is their response to another person’s adversity. In effect, it’s to say “God is merciful because He let this calamity happen to someone else and not to me.” The flip side is to say “Why did God let this happen to me?”

The late Charles Price, a highly respected Christian theologian, was a friend and a counselor, as well as my systematic theology professor. One morning I saw an opportunity to pull his chain. I told him that with all the news I’m hearing about tragedy and human suffering, I now have positive proof that God is good and merciful. But Charlie had my number; he laughed and said “Because He allows all that to happen to other people, right?”

This same mentality drives some to fill their basements with food, water, and ammunition to survive in the event of a national meltdown. Or to believe there’s no gasoline shortage as long as they are able to fill their cars.

All of these attitudes are relatively harmless. They may be a little disgusting, but essentially they can be dealt with by a mere rolling of the eyes and moving on.

The problem is when these attitudes become obsessive. A husband’s attitude of entitlement leads to an unfulfilling sex life in the home. Ramping this entitlement attitude up to the level of obsession leads to bruises on the bodies of wives and children. In the same way a wife’s attitude of entitlement in the face of a husband’s underperformance can lead to wounding sarcasm (verbal “tearing of flesh”) to denigrate him, and it can start the quest toward sexual or emotional fulfillment with another man. Do we see modern movies and television series not just reflecting these trends, but actually promotingpromoting them? (I didn’t make a lot of points with friends when I referred to “The Bridges of Madison County” as “that movie that celebrates adultery.” But YES! that is all I got out of the movie, and I didn’t even go to see it.)

Keeping promises in a relationship with a significant other -- a spouse or live-in lover -- (mutually pledging to each other) is a principle that flies in the face of domestic abuse and violence. The relationship started in most cases because each wanted to reach out and meet the needs of the other, to put self-interest on the back burner. But what happened, to make one or the other turn into a Sganarelle, or an Archie Bunker? Was it the pressure of living life in the twenty-first century? Was it the entertainment industry and advertising media’s appeal to self-gratification as a thing to be desired and pursued, at others’ expense? Was it the realization that “For better for worse” was unfair because nobody told them how bad “worse” can get? Or that “better” is in the greener grass on the other side of the fence?

To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know. I can only draw on observation and see the results in injured bodies and hearts. And I’m pitifully unable to come up with a solution.

If I were preaching a sermon on the topic, or doing Christian premarital counseling, I’d refer to the text of Philippians 2:5-11. It refers to an ancient hymn dedicated to the self-sacrificing of God the Son, humbling himself as a human being. But I’ll leave it there with a simple invitation to read (or re-read) the passage for yourself.

I’d also like to close by referring back to the Declaration of Independence. Not only did the signers mutually pledge some pretty high-value items to each other, but they went forward “a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence” to make good on their pledges. While it seems contradictory to declare independence, while claiming a dependence on a higher power, it actually makes a firm statement that the Declaration Independence is actually an acknowledgement that humans need to make a trade: from dependence on some corrupt government to dependence on the One who provides the sure foundation. This is the only way any relationship can work.

Grace and Peace,

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