What’s Wrong With This Country?

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I am often tempted to start sentences with the phrase, “What’s wrong with this country is…” and then finish with the fascinating facts about what I think is wrong with this country. Then I usually want to add how mad I am about it. I’m fed up, I might say. Can we last must longer if we do this? I might add. I may even allude to sacred forefathers sacredly rolling over in their sacred graves. This is because it’s pretty clear there’s lots of those wrong things. As we say in Appalachia, “Things is fouled up.”

But, I believe this has roughly always been the case. A golden age of American purity has never yet occurred. Thomas Jefferson owned other human beings, (human beings who had been kidnapped and sold) for instance. Tempting as it is to spend a lot of energy decrying the state of the States, there is an unhealthy angle to this oft-repeated lament.

The problem is that we are wrong to see problems everywhere around us and not another place.

We—and I mean me and you and us—would do well to take a cue from G.K. Chesterton.

In an oft-told story, it is said that The Times of London sent out a questionnaire to noted figures of the era asking them to answer the question, “What’s wrong with the world?’

Chesterton’s answer was unique in both brevity and insight.

“Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

We would do well to at least incorporate into our evaluations of the “horrible state of things” the reality that part of the problem is us. What is inside us and what we do as a result. I’m sad and angry about the state of things in America, from losses of liberty to the ongoing slaughter of the smallest children, a horror advocated and (grotesquely) celebrated by many of our highest officials. But we are wrong to think we are only part of the solution and never part of the problem.

Many political celebrities make their living by fueling anger and outrage. They do this by telling us a story about the problem and the solution. They give us a version of hell (often the other ideology or party’s rule) to fear/oppose. They then set before us a savior (the celebrity or/and the celebrity’s ideology), followed by a heaven to be gained (the rule of the right party/people). In other words, we are dealing with religion. On the right, the left, and the exotically self-righteous middle.

Actually, it’s not just “moderates” who are exotically self-righteous. There does seem to be a real heavy dose in those who might describe political loyalties in the Facebook terms, “It’s complicated.” But we are all prone to pride and to see everyone else as the problem and ourselves—and people like us—as the savior. This is because, in our hearts, we naturally set ourselves up as kings. But that’s the problem, not the solution.

What’s wrong with this country?

I am, of course.

We shall have to find a savior elsewhere. I would do well to remember it.

We have all heard the expression, “It’s not you, it’s me.” The truth about what’s wrong with the world—and my own country—is not that it’s not you, but it is me.


20 Comments

  1. Esther O'Reilly

    This seems a bit vague to me. Biblically speaking, of course all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We could all think of areas where we could change our thoughts and behaviors to change things for the better on a very intimate level. (E.g., “I haven’t really been listening to my wife as much as I should… I should spend more time with my brother… I should probably let go of idol x, y or z…, etc.”) However, I wouldn’t say that those things are what’s wrong with the COUNTRY. If I’m being a little stubborn in my marriage, that may be contributing to frustration and tension in my home… but it’s not affecting White House policy!

    It seems to me that it’s quite possible to freely acknowledge on the one hand that we could all move closer to God’s holy ideal of what we should be… while not being shy about pointing out specific, large-scale problems which we, in fact, aren’t personally contributing to. The tired wife and mother who sometimes snaps at her five children is still undergoing a process of sanctification, like everyone else, but the fact remains that she’s not celebrating the murder of infants, indoctrinating young people in evil, or persecuting those who don’t affirm her belief system. The conclusion of this argument is not “And therefore she’s perfect,” but I don’t think that was anyone’s conclusion to begin with.

  2. Dan Foster

    S.D., your essay has been put into song by Andrew Peterson’s Canadien labelmates, Downhere. Since the whole song is so good, I’ll try to post the entire lyrics here:

    Downhere – The Problem

    There’s got to be some reason for all this misery
    A secret evil corporation somewhere overseas
    They’re pulling strings, arranging things
    It’s a conspiracy

    What about the ones who shape the course of history?
    What if we petitioned for one grand apology?
    I’ll write to my prime minister
    You write your president

    (Chorus)
    Everybody’s wondering how the world could get this way
    If God is good, then how it could be filled with so much pain
    It’s not the age old mystery we’ve made it out to be
    Yea, there’s a problem with the world,
    And the problem with the world is me

    Well some would say the devil and his legions,
    They’ve put us in a headlock of submission
    They lost all power over me, a long long time ago
    And since I was a kid, you know, I’ve caused a lot of hurt
    But no one taught me how to put myself first
    It came so very naturally,
    I’m not a prodigy, no

    Chorus

    So I will look no further than a mirror,
    That’s where the offender hides
    So great is my need for A Redeemer…
    I cannot trust myself
    No, I cannot trust myself
    I cannot trust myself,
    So I’ll trust in someone else

    Chorus

    The sooner you can sing along
    The sooner you can sing this song
    The happier we’ll be, the happier we’ll be
    The problem with the world is me

  3. Kim Quon

    Thanks, SD. My contention is that (conservative) American Christians are too wrapped up in the country, the flag, the patriotism of America. In fact, they’ve enmeshed their Christianity with their American citizenship. They cannot separate their Christian values from their rights and responsibilities as Americans. I can say this without bias, because I was that person.

    Chesterton’s answer would be the same if the question were “What is wrong wih the Church?”

    We simply must start looking at the man in the mirror when it comes to solving the world’s (and more importantly, the Church’s) problems. It’s a matter of getting back to basics. Loving God. Loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not judging. Forgiving. With these principles in place, we American Christians need to take a step back from the country’s politics and re-focus on what it means to be a Believer. All the best!

  4. Matthew

    Good thoughts. Things I see are troubling, but when I step back and look at things from a historical scale, America is but a small chapter. We have yet to reach the greatness of Rome (not saying we should, but we act like it) in terms of longevity, yet look how we have fallen from the inside. Our checks and balances are no so balanced and the checks are check boxes, not the real work behind them.

    I do think our personal lives play a part in a way, how easy it is to take sides and start yelling along with the rest, when sometimes the quiet statement like “I am the problem” can go a long way. How have we as christians lived out the example of what should be? How have we fought to show sexual purity, starting with our own children? How have we shown them that the ways of the world they will learn are not the correct ones? And I don’t mean the obvious, sometimes lust starts even with a crush. Do our children need “boyfriends” and “girlfriends” at age 10?

    Our world is becoming polarized, we stand on Christ, but how can we reach out to those who plainly need help and show them? Not by being the prideful middle ground, I’ve failed at that all too often. How can we use even what we might consider a failure for America, to show the love and mercy of Christ? He is the true Savior and the one true King.

  5. Esther O'Reilly

    “Do our children need ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’ at age 10?”

    Well, if this post is supposed to be about criticizing conservative American Christians… I’d wager the vast majority of them would respond to this comment here with a resounding “NO!”

  6. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Dave– Cheers.

    Esther– Thanks for your comments. I think I understand your frustration. Perhaps the post is vague, though I wasn’t aiming at much more than a very basic point. I intended to ask others and myself to factor in ourselves as contributing to the problem of “What’s wrong.” If I missed that mark, then bummer. It certainly wasn’t very comprehensive, a lack I felt all through writing and sharing it and ponder now even after a relaxing episode of Foyle’s War. I don’t really disagree with what you said. I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 7, “It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand…” which might be a bit of a misapplication, but it’s near the mark.

    Dan –Thanks. I haven’t heard that group before, but I’ve heard of them. Thanks for the song. I know the GKC quote is a bit of a cliche by now, but still good.

    Kim– Thanks for the words. I don’t disagree, really. I think there are some good cautions for right and left, and you articulate some good ones for the right. Though, it’s easy (it seems to me) to beat up on conservatives in part because it’s fashionable. From my perspective, the left is easy to criticize (near lock-step support for abortion, etc.), though its views are generally fashionable. Your words reminded of this good post on that subject. http://www.storywarren.com/thoughts-on-independence-day-from-a-resident-alien/ All the best back to you!

    Matthew– Good questions. I’m with you in the struggle to figure out how to live as a son of the Kingdom (and therefore really free) while in this context of mixed blessings and evils (to which I contribute). Blessings on you as you go, brother.

    Esther– You’re losing me a bit here. The post was not about criticizing American conservatives. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I’m strong on the “No Boyfriends for 10 year olds” front if anyone ever wonders.

  7. Matthew

    Esther, I wasn’t critizing anyone in particular. Being a conservative reformed Christian I have many faults of my own to work through.

    Growing up I found the “boyfriend/girlfriend” trend a little scarey, especially in high school. Not trying to apply this across the board, but there was, and still is a lot of emotionalism behind it; and letting those emotions rule a little too much. I’m not trying to say everything about dating is wrong, but even in accepted norms that seem innocent, I think we as Christians should always be watchful of every aspect of our lives and whether we are serving God best. I know I fail at it all the time; but it’s beginning to haunt me more and more at how accepting I am of the more subtle things (especially in movies). Sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve fallen for it.

    Kim Quon, I agree. I’ve heard too many times where people factor America in as the new Chosen country, that begins to scare me, especially in light of scripture where both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, are God’s people. We are a people serving a King first, not a worldly country. All nationalities have strengths and weaknesses, one we face as Americans is we are very independent in our thinking (applies to your comment on freedoms and rights), and we want to take control of our own lives (control our own destiny) when we should be relying on Christ with all our being.

    In many ways I think the way our country is going will strengthen the church, it will force the issues to the fore front and we will have to stand. Homosexuality is a prime example. Each year we are baraged with “biological evolution” as some are now calling it, and I know for myself I’ve brushed the issue aside since it doesn’t affect me (mentally speaking, I still vote as I believe). Where do we take up our fight though, on the vote itself? On the sanctity of marriage between and man and a woman?

    That sanctity in America has already been lost, perhaps our focus should be there, showing the world that even we Christians are failing in our marriages, but we have a hope to continue in them in Christ; knowing we are not enough, but our true Groom is. If our country does vote to change the definition of marriage how are we to react? I think we should react soberly and humbly, showing the world that nothing can make a marriage right, nothing can make it last but God.

    Sorry, my post is getting long enough; I tend to think a lot.

  8. Esther O'Reilly

    Hi Matthew, I think we both agree and we’re just talking past each other! Sorry for the confusion.

    S.D. I’m sure you’re strong on “no boyfriends for 10-year-olds” as well! (Seriously, if there’s anyone here who isn’t, that’s just weird.) I was only a little bit confused because it seemed as if we’re jumping around a lop topic-wise. Maybe I was jumping to conclusions about your initial intentions, and if so I apologize. Though at least one other commentator seemed to be taking it the same way (only from the other side!) I guess it’s just that I’ve heard a lot of sermons and read a lot of pieces that seem similar to this one, and when it comes ’round to the moral, it’s always aimed at the right side of the aisle (because that’s the speaker’s intended audience). Or at the very least it’s a “pox on both your houses” kind of thing. Sure, the left isn’t perfect, but we conservatives are just as bad in our own way. Which I’m really not convinced is the case. I even heard a Tim Keller sermon where he was saying that the true test of Christianity is that you’ve “moved” in your political leanings. Somehow I doubt he would accept “I started off a conservative, but now I’m even _more_ conservative” as an acceptable option. 😀

    Coming back to Matthew’s “Where do we go from here?” questions, specifically as it pertain to hot-button issues like homosexuality, I think one piece of advice I would offer is that we shouldn’t get our hopes up. I think a lot of people would like to believe that if we only framed our opposition to homosexual behavior/marriage in nicer, gentler terms, they would suddenly believe us when we say we’re not wild-eyed bigots. However, I think we’ve seen again and again that this isn’t the case. Now the solution isn’t to become like Fred Phelps, but I think it could be somewhat freeing to realize that no matter _what_ you say, people will assume you are Fred Phelps! That way, maybe we can stop flagellating ourselves every time someone gets offended by what we say.

  9. Matthew

    I think the focus being on conservative christians (especially in sermons) is we tend to focus on the self reflective aspect, perhaps because we are well aware of our sinful nature that longs to look at everyone else. To some degree I’d rather not hear politics in sermons, but focus on God’s Word and glorify Him as a Holy people, free from the politics of the day. Resting from the troubles we face, a day of true rest.

    My problem with politics as they are is right and left has become so polarized. If you are left you believe everything pro-choice and everything socialized. If you are right you are pro-life and everything free market. I admit it sure seems that way at times, perhaps we even let ourselves be led that way.

    Look at our election process, I dread them anymore. Presidential elections are circus shows to see who can get more publicity, more talking in, and the most poorly done statistics. I’d prefer to see a simple sit down of two mature men finding their differences and learning from them, being good listeners (meaning I understand what you are saying and I’m considering it not just formulating my return cry).

    Now things like abortion and such moral issue, I would agree that a mature Christian should be on the “right” side; we all know abortion is killing life and we know it is performed for the sake of fleating pleasures (another problem with our country, in fact the underlying heart issue). When it comes to things like health care and gun rights, I have my thoughts and I’ve been in countries that are opposite of America; I don’t like them, but should they be so dividing? Even if we have different beliefs are we at least considering with a level mind (I keep thinking of Chris Rice’s song “You Don’t Have to Yell”).

    I see people ready to die rather than hand over their guns. I say peacefully fight for the right while you can, but if the day comes we are asked to hand over our guns then do it, we do not need them ultimately. If we move to socialized medicine its not the end of the world, it has some benefits even if it has many problems. Our current system surely isn’t perfect. It’s hard to sit down and talk without being thrown in a class. At this point I’m about as far from Republicans as Democrats; in fact a two party system really isn’t doing us much good.

    I’ve found in discussions with friends on subjects like politics,global warming and such, that while we differ a lot on the final consensus; when we dig down far enough we have common goals. Even if we don’t we have finally reached the topic that is really at heart. The first time I found that commone goal I was kind of shocked. How often do we get so bogged down in the argument we forget the foundation of the belief in the first place. Sometimes we find ourselves back at that foundation re-checking the walls to see if we’ve put false bricks in.

  10. Kim Quon

    I too apologize if my comments were inflammatory. When I looked at what I came to see as my own shortcomings, I realized that I had become too judgmental of the world at large. What business is it of mine, as a Christian, to judge the world? I’ve come to think of Christianity as more of a refuge and sanctuary from the world. A place that, if sought, will be found as opposed to the unrelenting political, evangelical tide.

    Christ did not seem to be overly concerned about what were the Jew’s complaints against Rome. He simply said to render unto Caesar the things that are his and unto God the things that are His. Christ’s main accusations were against those religious leaders who were misleading His people.

    As to where we go from here, if we could simply represent God’s irresistable love to all, including those with whom we violently disagree, that would be a start. I had to start with my own wife and children. I had to save my marriage first. I had a lot of self-examination to do and found myself woefully lacking in godly character. I had to disengage from my obsession with the worldy culture and politics and find them now relegated to a place of lesser importance than the pursuit of Christlikeness.

    I saw this quote recently and it resonated (sorry, excuse the trite word) with me: “So many people nowadays seek knowledge rather than love; they seem hardly to know what love is or to feel its delights. Yet really all their work and discourse should lead them to the fire of God’s love.”~Richard Rolle (d.1349) I think the same could be said about seeking political or legal victories or being on the right (correct) side of the “culture wars”

    Yes, Jesus did say “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” but He also said “Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I prefer to think of Christ as the refuge that awaits our flight rather than the evangelist beating down the doors to impose His will.

    Blessings!

  11. Esther O'Reilly

    I find myself increasingly alienated from the Republican party too, but only insofar as they’ve given the cold shoulder to social conservatives while flirting with Democrat ideals. Sadly, they’ve proven that they’re willing to compromise moral conviction for the sake of trying to win an election, which ironically has not actually been a practical strategy for them. It’s bad enough to win an election and lose your soul, but how much more humiliating is it to lose both?

  12. Matthew

    Amen Kim!

    Esther, something to remember is unless we have Christ we are already dead in sin. Republicans and Democrat alike share that. Whereas we can rejoice in good morals, a moral person is not a righteous one (think Pharasee here). The Republicans as a party of this world had no “soul” to begin with (speaking in terms of being dead in sin). I think Kim is right in that while we participate in this world, with the rights we are given at this time, we must live in Christ. God may see fit to remove our so called rights.

    I’m beginning to grasp what Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes. Everything in this life if vain unless in Christ, including morality. We could pass all the laws we want, but they will turn again, as nothing is new under this sun. No matter the technology or scientific breakthrough, sin will always have its roots in defying God and setting ourselves up as god. Sadly, like Solomon, it seems we must first experience that vain life before we finally begin to see this wisdom. We must fall and be broken before we can rise. Then in God’s wonderful mercy, he uses us broken vessels to show others that they too can find rest.

  13. Matthew

    Sorry, one more thing then I will quite high jacking.

    I am reminded of Josh Gerrels “Resistance.” “My rest is a weapon against the oppression of man’s obsession to control things.”

    We as fallen men and women want to control our lives. We mask it in many shades: doing it my way, I’m my own person, if you don’t like it then leave, I only want to protect my family, I only have the greater good in best interest, we need to provide health care for everyone, dare I even say I accepted Christ (must we first have a change of heart and not be dead in sin)…

    How much to we really control? All I know is I must make choices of the paths before me, but I don’t control those paths and neither does any government. May God’s statutes be our heritage forever and the joy of our hearts.

  14. Esther O'Reilly

    Hi Matthew. I was referring to a party’s collective “soul” a bit figuratively, but then again, a party is made of people who definitely do have souls! Every individual person who’s succumbed to corruption has given away a piece of himself. There are some great quotes about this in Robert Bolt’s _A Man For All Seasons_, about how when a man loses his integrity, he lets himself slip through his own fingers, like water.

  15. Lisa

    Peeping in from north of the 49th here…..America is a great country, with much to be commended for and with much to be condemned for as well (same being true for most countries, right?). I hesitate to pronounce sweeping judgements upon another country, especially since “America bashing” is one of those fashionable things that those on the political left in Canada excel at, and trust me, I have no desire to align myself with them! However, just an observation that has struck me again as I’m currently in the U.S. for vacation and somewhat immersed in your culture:

    Honestly….the extreme focus on everything American in the news is troubling to me. I have been here for about a week now. Across the world, when I left, Egypt was going through a melt down, the Syrians were endlessly suffering in their civil war, India was flooding….but you would never know it from watching the news here. The vast majority of the news has been on the Zimmerman trial and the Heath care reform. Endless commentary on both these things. ENDLESS. Okay, I get that these are important topics, especially the health care reform which impacts every American but….perhaps, to answer the question posed by this essay, at least part of what’s wrong with this country is it’s endless obsession with itself???

  16. Amy L

    Lisa:
    “perhaps… at least part of what’s wrong with this country is it’s endless obsession with itself?”

    Word to that.

  17. Esther O'Reilly

    Well, the endless commentary on the Zimmerman trial is completely predictable because it’s a race issue (specifically, one that the left is trying to shoehorn into a particular narrative… which isn’t working that well). However, you’re completely right that our media is a joke, and what seems to count as “news” in America is frequently anything but! At least an article about health care reform is a step up from Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.

  18. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    This post was meant to remind us to be introspective and to encourage self-examination. Neither this post (nor the Rabbit Room in general) are intended as a forum for political discussion. If that’s a conversation you’re interested in having, I’m sure the internet has plenty of other sites anxious to entertain that kind of discourse. For that reason, I’m closing down comments here.

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