Borrowing Happiness: Why the American Dream Is Literally Bankrupt

Mark Beuving —  June 25, 2012 — Leave a comment

The American Church is becoming increasingly suspicious of the American Dream. It has always been an ill defined concept, but generally speaking, the American Dream is the promise of a good job, a nice home, a good looking family, etc.

In American History, were taught about the concept of “Manifest Destiny.” The early Americans (non-natives, of course) firmly believed that it was their destiny to spread West, to claim the land that separated them from the Pacific Ocean. Somehow this real estate was theirs by right.

This sense of entitlement dies hard in the American mind. Somehow we have a right to a high paying job, a nice car, a privileged education, etc. And so we do everything we can to climb the ladder. To be sure, we work hard. But hard work alone cannot guarantee material prosperity.

These days, it is increasingly difficult to achieve the American Dream without borrowing in advance. We can’t wait until we’ve made our money to own a nice house and fill it with solid furniture, so we borrow to ensure that we won’t have to wait for it.

More and more people are beginning to see that the pursuit of the American Dream is unsustainable. Our definition of happiness is purely material, and we keep borrowing money to gain that material happiness. And once we have the material goods that we thought would make us happy, we find out that we wanted the wrong things. They’re too small, too outdated, too common. So we borrow again to get the things that we really need. And the process continues.

Where has our pursuit of the American Dream taken us? Well, we have accumulated a ton of debt, but very little happiness. Individuals are in debt. Companies are in debt. Our government is in debt. It turns out the American Dream is bankrupt—both literally and metaphorically.

Christians know that happiness can’t be borrowed. We know that material goods will not satisfy us in the long term. But we still find the American Dream tempting. Too tempting. Too many Christians have wasted too many years and too many dollars in pursuit of a bankrupt dream.

We know better. The Christian community should be a beacon of hope in the midst of a burdened society. We should demonstrate that hope is not the same as wealth. We should personify joy rather than entitlement. We can’t avoid the material, nor should we attempt to do so. But at a time when the world around us is beginning to see the cracks in their lifelong idolatry, we have an incredible opportunity to show people that human beings were never meant to be enslaved to something as elusive and unsustainable as the American Dream. We know what humanity was designed to look like and how we were designed to function. If the church begins to live in light of this reality, then we can be a source of hope and renewal to our neighbors who are enslaved to that which deceptively promised them happiness.

 

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving

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Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.