Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Sin of Entitlement

"Standing on Level Ground"
- a field of cacti -

The announcement yesterday that a second Texas nurse had been infected with the Ebola virus set off a flurry of almost-chaotic activity - endless news reports about government efforts to contain the deadly virus, hospitals across the country engaging in Ebola drills, the President of the United States canceling his scheduled meetings so that he might meet with a special emergency team.

At the same time as all this near-panic activity was going on response to that second infection, the news also reported that in West Africa 10,000 people were expected to die from Ebola every week - oddly enough this catastrophic story didn't get a lot of coverage, and no one seemed to be too "worked up" over that news. 

While I certainly think we need to take precautions about a potentially deadly virus spreading through the population of this country, I also wonder why we are so worried about 2 infected people and almost  nonchalant about 10,000 people dying from Ebola every week? It all makes me question whether or not this isn't perhaps a manifestation of what I call the "sin of entitlement" that seems to be so prevalent in this county and this culture. 

Simply put, people with a sense of entitlement honestly believe that somehow they have a "right" to live a better, richer, and fuller life than others. 

Many American citizens who live in the 1% upper echelon are convinced that they are "entitled" to nicer houses, newer cars, better health care than the average citizen. Many people who lead "middle class" lives feel they are entitled to a better life than those who live in poverty. Educated people often feel entitled to more perks in life than those who have no lists of degrees to put after their names, and plenty of people feel as if their race or color or beliefs somehow place them in a "superior" category, entitling them to more than those in "inferior" categories. 

So I wonder if the relative lack of concern in this country over 10,000 Africans dying every week from Ebola, coupled with the frenzied activity over two infections may not be a symptom of that "sin of entitlement" that seems to be embedded in our culture. I wonder if, at some deep level there is the thought that "Americans deserve better care and are "entitled" to lead a healthier life than poor Africans in a third world country?"

 Because of the very narrow way in which the word is popularly used, I almost hesitate to use the word "sin" here. Many people think that a sin is "something one does or says to offend God." But the word "sin" has a far broader meaning - "a sin is something we might think or say or do that ruptures relationship."   

The whole of humanity, the world of nature, everything that "is" all belong together. We are all woven into a complex fabric of cosmic relationship,  and we are our "best" selves when we do our part to foster our common solidarity. We "sin" whenever we tear against the fabric -  you don't have to believe in God to believe in "sin."  

So, it's  pretty obvious to me that a sense of "entitlement" is a sin - perhaps a grievous sin.  Whenever any individual or group or nation or religious institution believes that they are superior to others and therefore entitled to a richer and fuller life than different others, it's a sin.

The Bible actually talks quite a bit about this sin without actually using the word, "entitlement." The  Hebrew scriptures as well as the Christian Gospels consistently proclaim and promote the dignity of "every" human being living in a just and compassionate society wherein all human beings stand on level ground -no one more deserving or less deserving. In fact, the strong are directed to lift up those who are weak. 

I think perhaps this one passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (The Song of Hannah) probably sums up what the entire Bible ultimately has to say about superiority and inferiority and entitlement:

My heart rejoices and exults in the Lord. 
God raises up the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash-heap
to make them sit with kings and princes
and inherit a seat of honor

None of us ever has a "right" to lead a richer, fuller life than any one else - entitlement is a "sin."


  1. Paul I learned a lot from your ideas this morning. I'm appalled at the situation in Dallas. But your words on 'entitlement' and 'sin' have reached me in a profound way, a way I never imagined.

    You have described 'sin' perfectly. In doing so you have described 'righteousness' perfectly.

    The truth is everyone has 'entitlement' if indeed we are all one in Christ. And of course we are, in the Christ metaphor, all one.

    You have shone a profound spiritual truth in the context of a completely physical situation.

    Perhaps 'repentance' changing our minds and rethinking of our way of life is necessary. One one thinks he is 'entitled' he must dispense with compassion.

    Thanks for something 'big' to think about today.You opened this up to me this morning.

    I'll throw this into the equation, the U.S. has labeled the population of Africa as a National Security concern since the 1970's. Since then Africa has had an AIDS epidemic and now this Ebola epidemic.

    1. As always I am enlightened by your comments--today i am also humbled by them. Peace.

  2. Do the people of Israel ever say they are entitled ?

    1. Yes of course many do..and those who do have this "sense of entitlement" are acting contrary to the overall biblical tradition.

  3. Mercy and justice are the bulwark of the Old Testament's revelation. As far as I can see it is these qualities which are the door Christ walked through.