Tuesday, October 28, 2008

USA Today Article by Oliver Thomas

Thanks to my brother Carl for pointing me to this article.

By God, we're right

Part of our challenge stems from the fact that we Americans have an overabundance of self-confidence. So much, in fact, that management guru Marshall Goldsmith reports that 70% of the 50,000 people he has surveyed rank themselves in the top 10% of their peer group. Among doctors, pilots and investment bankers, the number is even higher. Once when Goldsmith told a group of doctors that his "extensive research" had revealed that exactly half of all MDs graduated in the bottom half of their med-school class, two in the audience insisted that this was impossible.

I suspect we read the Bible much the same way. We don't identify with the Egyptians, Babylonians or the multitude of Israelites who worshipped the golden calf. We identify with Abraham and Moses the good guys. Likewise, in the New Testament, we don't identify with the scribes and the Pharisees. And we certainly don't identify with those hated Romans. We identify with Peter, James and John. But like Marshall Goldsmith's overweening physicians, we might be fooling ourselves. Look beneath the surface, and much of what's plaguing the world is what's plaguing us.

For starters, we're greedy. America consumes more than its fair share of most everything: gasoline, food, plastic, you name it. On a personal level, millions of us are overweight, overspent and overleveraged. The subprime mortgage crisis is all about people wanting more than they can afford. And despite greed's appearance on the list of "seven deadly sins" and the Bible's admonishment to refrain from excessive borrowing, the average American carries more than $2,000 in credit-card debt on top of his household mortgage. Collectively, we behave much the same way. The unpaid balance on our national credit card now tops $10 trillion.

Although I hate to admit it, we're also violent. Jesus of Nazareth famously taught his followers to turn the other cheek when confronted with violence, yet the United States remains one of the most violent of the so-called developed nations. I'm not even talking here about our various wars and incursions. We kill one another at an alarming rate. According to the Children's Defense Fund, a child is killed by firearm every three hours in the USA. That's eight a day.

Perhaps the best measure of a nation is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Here, again, we Americans fall short. Our infant mortality rate is among the highest of the developed nations. According to America's most notable child advocate, Marian Wright Edelman, 9 million of our children lack health insurance. The only time many of these kids see a doctor is in a hospital emergency room.

While we sit there at Starbucks happily drinking our lattes, half the world is getting by on less than $3 a day. And although growing numbers of us are volunteering, our government's efforts overseas are relatively meager when compared with other prosperous nations. Most of the overseas assistance we do provide is military-related and in service of our own strategic goals. In contrast, the Bible time and again admonishes God's people to advance the cause of the poor and to show hospitality to foreigners. Interestingly, nations are also warned not to put their trust in the weapons of war.


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