Sunday, September 21, 2008

What's it all for?

You know, when I was a missionary, spreading the good word throughout Los Angeles, I taught, and still believe today, that the purpose of life is quite simple; Become the best YOU you can and, have joy. As I've gotten more experience, gotten older, and had my eyes opened wider, I realize that the purpose of life has become distorted for far too many people. It seems that it now takes more and more to make people feel "happy," and to have joy. What happened?

The so-called "American dream" is an idea that's been around for nearly a century. European immigrants from the early 1900s through the 1920s or so knew about it. Their American dream consisted of living in a free society, being able to take care of their families and, maybe owning a little piece of this great land. Simple. Sweet. And yet, we now, very much, take those things for granted. If we go back 50 years in U.S. history, the American dream had evolved a bit. It meant, having a job with a retirement plan, health benefits, a family, a little extra money for a family vacation, a family car perhaps, and of course, the house with the white picket fence. Still sweet. Maybe sweeter. But not extravagant. It seems that people still had the right perspective about what counted--what really mattered.

Today, our world is much different. People are no longer satisfied with just a good job they can feed the family with. Today's bills aren't just those of the house and the utilities. Now, the bills which roll into one's household are likely those of the mortgage, perhaps a second or third mortgage. They are often those of a couple of cars--but not just any cars. Today's American dream requires the best cars---say a $40,000 SUV. And, it cannot just have tires and wheels; it needs to have the most expensive tires mounted on "20s" or "22s." And it needs to be more than just transportation. It needs to be an entertainment center on wheels, including TVs, DVD players and video gaming systems. And the bills arrive from the credit card company or, more likely, companies. People max out their debt like it's going out of style. Why pay today for the things you can get with the swipe of a piece of plastic? Rather pay cash for things they can afford, people put everything on a credit card that they'll end up paying up to 22 or 24% interest on with monthly payments. And, what about the house with the white picket fence? Please. May as well live in a shanty. Instead, a family of 5 often gets into a house of 5000 sq. ft. or more. Your home needs to have a bathroom for each bedroom. It needs to have a home theater room. It needs to be built as far upon the hill as possible. Most important, it certainly needs to be bigger than those of its neighbors. Moderation in all things, right? Wrong. What in the hell is moderation?

I'm certainly not saying that making a lot of money is inherently a bad thing. It isn't. But what are people focused on? Simple happiness and good, enriching relationships with their families? Being good people? Or is the concern turned upon making more, spending more than you have, and looking better than "the Jones'?"

Really, what happened? Well, I think part of the problem is that we've been trained in our society to make more, get more, have more. Attain, attain, attain. Let materialism be your religion. Let riches be your god. This brings me to another topic; What is the point to it all? Partisan politics aside, why is it so important for the U.S. to remain the world superpower? Why is it so important for us to find more oil, make more money, have a bigger military, develop more technology than anyone else in the world? Before you start thinking about what you learned in your government class, know that I ask this somewhat rhetorically. Because, I don't think it should be important to maintain that list. Did God even intend for there to be countries and all of these global divisions among humanity? Does God care if the United States or, any other country for that matter, is a superpower? Now, to get a little bit political, how many government policies are aimed, not for peace and world betterment but, to make America more powerful, more wealthy?

In the eternal scheme of things, what does ANY of that matter? I think it's important to ask ourselves, as a nation, whether or not the end justifies the means. Because, America didn't rise to world domination by always being kind, being honest, having integrity, or always "doing God's will." Rather, while America certainly has produced some very worthy and great things, it's history is still ridden with slavery, massacres, exploitation, stealing, oppression, and deceit. Does our place in the world today justify our wrongdoings from the past? Will God say to American leadership, "That's OK. You did all of those bad things so you could be 'the greatest nation in the world?'"

Now, I readily admit that I'm fortunate to live in a place of freedom and opportunity. I am thankful for my life and experience here. But have you ever noticed that, there are people, here and elsewhere in the world, who have next to no material possessions, but are every bit as happy as the family of 5 in the house on the hill? In fact, the family with very little has much less to worry about. And so, more of their time is focussed on their loved ones and those few things that are most important. They are perfectly satisfied with their simpler life experiences. Will they still be able to inherit one of God's many mansions? I believe they absolutely will.

I guess I believe in simplifying our lives. I believe that it's more important to use our talents and resources to take care of each other and show our love rather than for making ourselves or our nations more powerful. Next time you vote, when you look at all of the issues talked about by the candidates, ask yourself if any of these policies and aspirations really matter. And if you find some that do, which candidate best represents those important interests. And next time you hear Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh making a mockery of someone's community organizing or talking about taxes as though they were evil or talking about a health care system which is accessible to EVERYONE as though it was the spawn of Satan, call him and ask him, "Why are those things bad?" Is it the money? Is it the contrast to EXTREME, deregulated capitalism? Because what does that matter? And, since Sean says he loves Utahns so much, maybe read Alma 1:30 to him:
And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having NO respect to persons as to those who stood in need.

So, simplify your lives, love you fellowman, love God's creations, share what you can, help where you can help, find joy in your families and the simple but important things, and be happy.


Joel said...

Well said Wade. An excellent point. I agree that America, and American culture, has been too interested in material things for far to long. It seems to be a particular problem in Utah in the recent past and present. More so than other states I have lived in. I also, agree that if you could pinpoint what is wrong with the world it is greed and a lust for power.

Wade The Rascal said...

Well, maybe in the past we just really liked to argue. Perhaps we were really trying to find our own identities so we'd make up differences between us. Nowadays, it seems we mostly agree on a lot of thing. Thanks for your comments.

Daniel Lewis said...

Greed is troubling as a national problem evidenced by the current economic crisis but it is even more troubling here in "happy valley" where most citizens are members of a church that teaches 'love thy neighbor as thyself". If there is anything worse than greed it's hypocrisy.

Wade The Rascal said...

I agree with the hypocrisy thing Dan. I was thinking mostly about my experience in Happy Valley while I wrote about this. But I was trying to refrain from bashing Utah Mormons out loud. But your 100% correct; A church membership that professes a belief in loving their neighbors as thyself, and then lives as far too many do, is hypocrisy at its worst.

Kari said...

I have to catch myself feeling bad that I live in an apartment, and don't have the big house with all brand new furniture that so many people my age do. And it's not bad if they can afford it, but a lot can't. I have to keep reminding myself that I have a great little family that I'm able to do a lot of fun things with because I don't have a huge mortgage that I can't afford. We learned our lesson the hard way a few years ago, but it is so liberating not being tied down by excessive bills, and I wouldn't say I was any happier then I am now. I think there is a lot of pressure though, especially here is Happy Valley. But so what if my couch was given to me for free, I can still cuddle with the hubby and son on it :) It's good to have a reality check on that every once in awhile.

Wade The Rascal said...

Kari, it sounds like you know EXACTLY what is important, and what you want out of life. What's more important, when you really get down to it, then being able to cuddle with your family on your couch? I couldn't agree more. Sure, some people will buy up and acquire a lot of STUFF. But stuff has never made anyone truly happy. I know people with next to nothing that are far more happy than those will millions of dollars. Does money make life easier? Yeah, I'm afraid it does. But having it too easy will make you forget about the true value of things and people can lose appreciation for those things of real, lasting value. Sounds like you and I should been much better friends back in the day.

Joel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said...

I don't blame the situation here in Happy Valley on the LDS church or even specifically on it's members. I do blame it on a humans natural desire to constantly pervert something good. People in Utah or just being human. That is not a good thing in my book, just to be clear. The problems in Utah County are mirrored in other ways in other religions, or even states, or countries. Different problems, same reasons.

Kari said...

I don't think that you can blame all of the Ut County problems on the LDS church, but it was interesting living in Ogden area for 6 yrs and I just didn't feel like the same problems existed up there. And I didn't really notice that until I moved out of the area, and then back. I will also say that at my current job in Provo there is a huge problem with people, especially in a certain part of town, feeling like they are above any type of rule. My director who has been in this field for over 25 yrs, in and out of Utah, has said he has never been somewhere that people seem to feel the amount of entitlement they feel in Provo. So I can't say if that is the fault of some one's religion, but it is definitely something I feel on a daily basis. And maybe I just went off on something completely different there :)