by ProfDave, ©2021

(Aug. 19, 2021) — [See Part 1 of this series here.]

The Declaration of Independence, the American credo, states that we derive the fundamental freedom to pursue happiness from God, not from government. What our founders meant by ‘happiness’ was a lot more than Disneyland. Basically, the ideal was well-being. Also note the modifier, ‘pursuit.’ Neither God nor the Constitution guarantees happiness or well-being. Our achievements are the results of cause and effect as well as the blessings of God. Our obedience to God also has something to do with it.

All Americans are privileged by an economic and political system that allows us unusual freedom to pursue happiness compared to the rest of the world.  Success is not guaranteed, but we are free to pursue it, each in our own way.  Some seek happiness in family, others in lust.  Some seek happiness in work, others in leisure (or idleness).  Some seek happiness in knowledge, others in speculation or entertainment. True happiness is found in doing the right, in God.  True failure is found in spurning what is right, rejecting God.  Are you using your American privilege to seek happiness in all the wrong places?  You have enough rope in America to hang yourself.     

We all have the right to pursue happiness, but not all of us achieve it in the same measure.  The rich and famous often commit suicide.  On one level, happiness is a choice – the choice of contentment.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” the Good Book says.  It is true.  But on another level, where happiness is measured by success in our chosen endeavors, differences of privilege arise.  Freedom to succeed means freedom to fail.  There are winners and losers and in the end we all die – and face the Judge.  Who will be the privileged winners then?  The freedom of our forebears to pass on their inheritance to their family means that some of us start out with privileges. 

Yes, there is an income gap wherever there is economic freedom.  It was a lot worse in pre-capitalist societies where wealth depended on power or birth.  Christians have a moral imperative to share, but do not always obey.  Forced sharing in socialism removes the incentive to create wealth in the first place, while distributing rewards arbitrarily by power elites.  We all have wealth relative to the rest of the world, but some have a lot more than others.  Unfortunately, our economy markets to the wealthy, making it difficult for ordinary folks to find affordable goods and services – a pet peeve of mine.  Poverty is no disgrace and there is plenty to go around, but it is dreadfully inconvenient.

All Americans are privileged in their pursuit of happiness, however they define it, by having so many options.  We may live where we want, hop in the car and drive, pursue whatever education and whatever career we wish.  We may pursue a spouse of our choosing, a family and children.  We may pursue the God of our choosing, true or false.  We may pursue integrity or not.  We have fewer artificial restrictions on our choices than most of the world through most of history.

But the ‘privilege’ of success is not evenly distributed.  Some choices do not lead to happiness.  You may seek happiness in all the wrong places.  The pursuit of happiness at the end of a needle is really doomed.  The choice of fornication over education at an early age has a deleterious effect on both future family and economic happiness.  Or you may encounter obstacles in your pursuit.  My choice of a history career was blocked by supply and demand, leading to gross underemployment.

Where the promise of American privilege is broken is where the pursuit of happiness is blocked by prejudice.  Racism in America has been marginalized but, like anti-Semitism, requires continued vigilance and self-examination.

I confess that I have little direct knowledge of “White privilege” rhetoric, I do not believe in race, and have not experienced any prejudice except for my religion (as a child).  I grew up in northern New England where everybody looked like me.  But I have read the Bible and I believe what it says.  It tells me that our Maker made us all of one blood, in His image.  Every human being is sacred from conception to natural death – and should have the same rights and privileges.  The denial of God-given rights and American privilege to anyone on the basis of their physical characteristics is morally wrong.  We can’t help our ancestry.

Happiness, however, is not anyone’s “inalienable right” or entitlement, nor is success.  The world owes no one a living; respect, yes, a chance to pursue, yes, but not success.  But does America distribute privilege on the basis of skin color?  The US has been charged with “systemic racism.”  That would be illegal already.  But racism is endemic in the human heart, no matter what continent your ancestors came from.  What are you doing about the racism in your own heart?

All Americans are promised the privilege of opportunity, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, however that is defined.  With the freedom of self-determination comes no guarantee of outcomes, but are some Americans over-privileged while others are under-privileged?  I submit that it would be better to add to the privileges of the latter than to take away the privileges of the former.

It goes without saying that a person who is born healthy into an intact and prosperous family (with a silver spoon in his/her mouth), raised in a safe environment and enrolled in the best of schools is advantaged.  He or she has it all to lose, whether they are black, white or green.  Likewise, one who is born handicapped to a single mother, raised in a rough neighborhood and enrolled in a failed school system is disadvantaged.  They have to do everything right just to get to the starting line, whether they are black, white or green.  Skin color makes very little difference in either case.  But why are so many folks of color disadvantaged?

Are American Privileges systematically denied to non-Europeans?  Certainly not in the sense of law.  Discrimination is illegal.  Our society is not formally organized to discriminate.  Yes, racism is endemic in the human race in the sense that we have a built-in tendency to be wary of people who are “not like us.”  Most of us know that this is wrong and our society “systematically” condemns its expression.  Thus, endemic racism is real, but systemic racism is not. 

But why are certain minority groups over-represented in Covid deaths, abortions, prison populations, slum housing and just about every other disadvantage and negative life outcome?  I call it demographic racism, but I suspect that is what slogan-mongers call ‘systemic’ racism.  Society does not intend this in aggregate.  The laws and practices that enforced these things have long since been undone.  But there is no denying the statistics.

Each individual case is determined by choices and circumstances.  Those who make similar choices and are in similar circumstances experience similar outcomes, no matter their ethnicity.  The pandemic takes those who have weakened immune systems, work in front-line jobs, or are careless about protecting themselves.  Some argue that abortionists target African Americans (19 million black lives don’t matter?), but unwanted pregnancies are the result of sexual activity and not accepting the results – choices.  People are in prison because they have been convicted of a crime.  If you do the crime, you do the time.  Perhaps more European-Americans should get caught?  And people live where they find affordable housing accessible to their work.  With the possible exception of abortion, none of this is racist.  It isn’t that simple.

Admittedly, the enjoyment of American privilege is not evenly distributed.  In a nation where liberty is dominant, we have freedom to pursue happiness and success and freedom not to succeed.  Materialists are naturally focused on wealth – even though wealth does not guarantee happiness.  American freedom has produced a spread from homeless to billionaires, but aggregate wealth second to none.  Even the homeless need not starve with social services available. 

“Poverty is no disgrace, but it is dreadfully inconvenient.”  Wealth and poverty is not dependent on skin color, but upon education, ability and attitudes.  As Dr Ben Carson said the other night, “If you think you are a victim, you are.”  A bad attitude can make you unemployable, un-educable and a danger to yourself and others.  A community where bad attitudes are dominant is dangerous, rife with unemployment, and has schools where children do not learn.  Racism is a bad attitude, regardless of what color you are.  Victimhood is a bad attitude because it stifles responsibility.  Victims do not solve problems, learn anything, or produce anything but pain.   Communities like that need healing.  Cities like that need reconciliation.

The enjoyment of American privilege, particularly ‘happiness’ and success is blocked not only by negative attitudes (racism, hatred, victim mentalities etc), but also the cumulative effects of poor decisions.  In recovery work, the devastating effect of fathers leaving their children is glaring.  It leads to children seeking love in all the wrong places and perpetuating the cycle.  Yes, chastity – education and marriage before sexually activity – is the prime divider in our nation between success and failure, employment and welfare.  In other words, family success is the secret of prosperity.  Our culture and sex education (by Planned Parenthood) just does not get that.

Circumstances beyond your control can deny you privileges, too.  I have lived in several low-rent districts due to poor financial choices.  Living in a community and a society where large numbers of fathers have abandoned their responsibilities can be discouraging and insecure.  Irresponsible and troubled males tend to become predatory.  Drugs and immorality have consequences that effect the family, the neighbors, and local business.  Living in a depressed and dangerous community makes education difficult and schools spiral downward.  The police become edgy and even hostile and the young people disrespectful and defiant.  When you are down, it takes twice as much discipline and intelligence to get back up.  These problems are endemic, not systemic.  But there is hope.

The recovery of American privileges requires a moral recovery of the nation, beginning with you and I.  To change society constructively – not destructively – we need to start with ourselves.  We must recognize what is wrong with us – our lust, our greed, our fear, envy and hatred – and admit we cannot change ourselves.  We must come to believe that there is a Power greater than ourselves – may I suggest Jesus Christ – who can change us.  We make a conscious decision to turn over our lives and wills to that Power (12 Steps 1-3).  Then we will find the moral strength to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 

Historical resentments have rent the Middle East and the Balkans for millennia and Ireland for centuries.  Do we want that kind of generational resentment to come here?  If not, we must lay aside our hostile identities and the sins of the past.  We must stop teaching our children to hate.  Aggression against native peoples was wrong.  Slavery, segregation and racism were wrong.  These things will not be solved by counter-aggression, interest group separation and counter-racism.  We need to appropriately repent and forgive.  How can we help each other?  We need to focus on our common humanity, common nationhood, and common community and stop living in armed camps – politically, socially, or physically.  We need a revival of love, faith, family and patriotism.  Will you join me?

David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College.  He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020).  He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.

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