So often these weekly rants of mine seem a bit negative. They tend to be critical of our culture, of wacky things happening in the church, and stupid things that people say and/or do. So I purposed in my heart that this week, I was going to write something positive. I don’t want to appear to be only a “doom and gloom” preacher. (That is really not my nature.)
However, my good intentions were cast to the earth and ground into dust this morning. My wife and I went out for breakfast. As we were returning home, we came to an intersection where we needed to turn right to go home. This is a rather busy intersection, the junction of a U.S. highway and a primary local road. There is a right-turn lane there. As I approached the intersection I saw a large touring bus in the turn lane. At first, it seemed he was waiting to make a right turn. Then I saw the bus door open and a man get off the bus. He began to walk towards the convenience store located at that corner. Whoa! What was going on?
The bus had parked there so this man could run into the store. It didn’t have its emergency blinkers on; not even a turn signal. It was just stopped in the lane. Now the bus driver could have pulled off the road. It might have been a tight squeeze, but he could have pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store. But he didn’t. Instead, he just stopped and parked in the turn lane. No signals. No lights. Nothing.
The driver of the car in front of me seemed confused. He got very close to the bus, and stopped. It took him a moment to realize what was happening, and then go around the bus. I had to move back into the through-lane, go around the bus, and then make my right turn. So did the cars behind me. All this so that one person could go to a convenience store. (Convenient for him, perhaps… not for the rest of us.)
Now this is a small incident. No big deal, really. It didn’t hurt me in anyway. It is not ruining my day. It is certainly not the greatest moral evil I have encountered this week. However, it does illustrate what has happened in our society. We have gone from a largely giving, self-sacrificing culture (cf. the “Greatest Generation” of the WWII era) to a country where it is every man for himself. We have become a narcissistic, self-centered, self-serving people.
Consider another example that I think we can all understand. Ever notice the decline in customer service that is so prevalent today? It is almost a dead concept in so many businesses. When I was younger, the common motto for retail businesses was “the customer is always right.” Now it more like “the customer has no rights, just pay your bill and don’t complain.” Let me cite a few illustrations. You are checking out in a grocery store. The clerk acts like it is a horrible burden to have to wait on you—and will not even make eye contact. You are ordering a meal in a restaurant, and you can tell the waitress is not paying attention to you. And then when your order is wrong, she acts like it’s your fault. And one of my favorites, you pick up a few items in a store. After you pay, the clerk just leaves your purchases sitting on the counter. If you ask for a bag, it’s like you have just held up the store at gunpoint. Obviously offering you a thin plastic shopping bag is going to bankrupt the store!
Okay, I said I don’t like being negative. Yet, I must confess that the older I get, the more of a curmudgeon I become. So all this could be just my personal grouchiness. Right?
Well, no. Actually there is some solid research done in this area that demonstrates that my personal impressions are not just “impressions.” Our worldview has shifted. Our views of ourselves, our responsibility to society, and our attitudes about others have changed. We have abandoned a traditional Judeo-Christian consensus in values, which means we have also abandoned the attendant work ethic and moral responsibility. Consequently, as a culture we have become more selfish and irresponsible.
One book that examines and explains this phenomenon is called The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. The authors are two psychologists who not only consider anecdotal evidence about our self-centered culture, but they also use accepted psychological diagnostics that provide empirical evidence for the narcissistic nature of our society. The book is eye-opening. Twenge and Campbell are not Christians (as far I can ascertain), but their findings fit in well with a biblically-based critique of the current state of America. They offer a great deal of solid evidence that shows that a great many Americans live with a sense of entitlement, self-absorption and self-interest. We have gradually changed our entire ethos as a culture. We have changed ourselves radically as a people. As they note in the book, “Having changed ourselves, we no longer perceive our transformation.” (They reference this quote to Roger Kimball in the New Criterion.)
In summary, we are not the same kind of nation that we once were. We have gradually changed ourselves into a different kind of people. And this new nation is really not a very pretty sight.
Yet, there is hope. We can recover our traditional ethic of giving, compassion, and self-sacrifice. But it will take effort, a lot of hard work. What is required is a return to the traditional values and mores we once espoused. Values like those found in the Judeo-Christian heritage—that heritage that we too often disparage today.
Funny, how the old ways are so often the best.