Scriptures, Politics and The Bootstrap Myth

There is a myth within USA culture that unfortunately shapes and guides the lives of millions of people. What is this myth? It is the story that says that a person can create their own destiny through hard work and perseverance.

In the common vascular this myth is shared through phrase such as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and “he/she are living the American Dream of going from rags to riches.”

Sadly this myth, as well meaning as it may be, is shallow and leads to death, both figuratively and literally.

Why do I say this? I say this as no person on this earth, past, present or future, is an island nor do they act alone in a bubble. Each person is interconnected to each other with each of us shaping, molding and influencing the actions of each other. The positive or negative nature of these interactions is not the question as much as it is to state that we are changed by our neighbor just as much as we help change them.

To think that we can shape our destiny through our own actions devoid of anyone else is to fall into the trap of pride. In a lot of ways, this trap was the very same one that our ancestors Adam and Eve fell into when they tried to be like God and decided good and evil themselves instead of listening to the voice of their Creator.

Like a lot of things in this life and in the Scriptures given to us by the Creator, there is a tension that must be maintained. In this issue the counter tension to the interdependence of humanity is personal responsibility. Each of us are responsible for how we behave and react to the influences of others. Do we strike back in anger? Do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Do we forgive? Do we allow Jesus to create us anew or do we hold on to past wrongs?

Furthermore, each of us are accountable to the Lord of Heaven and Earth for the resources we were given. Were we good stewards of our lives? Our money? Talents and skills? The physical resources of dirt, vegetation, animals, etc.?

The picture that arises out of this tension is one of both independence and interdependence. To fall out of balance is to fall into either pride or codependency, both of which are traps of the evil one.

Sadly this tension is hardly ever recognized in our culture (read ‘never’).

Instead people take sides and throw stones at each other, trying to prove the other side wrong – or, at the very least, give them a headache. A prime example of this is the recent political firestorm concerning President Barack Obama’s speech at Roanoke, Virginia. During this speech, Obama, who grew up in a single family home and overcame multiple financial and social hurdles, acknowledged the fact that he was successful in life because of the people who believed in him and gave him a chance. He did not – nor does anyone – do everything himself; instead he took a hold of the opportunities society provided and walked forwards.

Sadly the independence/bootstrap camp did not like this mentality or the acknowledgement that their success had anything to do with anyone else but themselves (somehow failures are never mentioned in this way…only successes…). Interestingly the person leading this political camp is a man who grew up in a wealthy, socially and political connected family (i.e. Mitt Romney).  In other words, the person claiming to be a self-made man is someone who had everything given to him while the person thanking others for helping him succeed grew up on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks…

Yet undeterred, those of the independence camp did what all people do when their worldview foundation start cracking…they fight back, overstating their views in an effort to maintain control and to make sure everyone knows that they themselves are responsible for their destiny. Strangely enough, this independence bootstrap mentality goes beyond those with material wealth and extends throughout all income strata; mainly, I believe, because those on the bottom enjoy the illusion that they can somehow climb out of their world if only they work hard enough or do the right thing.

A famous quip by UK journalist and author George Monbiot underscores the futility of such a mentality:

“If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

The waters of this independence/interdependence battle are muddy even more by Christians who talk fondly of the early church and the often quoted passage of Acts 2:42-47:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

It seems to me that most Christians who quote this passage are willing share their belongings and help their neighbor as long as that neighbor, or the people with whom they are sharing, belong to their church (local or otherwise), or, at the very least, are willing to entertain the idea of joining their church. When it comes to sharing with people outside their group or with national governments helping those in poverty… well, all bets are off and those people better start pulling on their own bootstraps.

I can almost hear the weeping of Jesus at such bound-set mentality….

Followers of Jesus are to do what Jesus did. We are to stand strong in the face of this independence/interdependence battle knowing that both pride and codependency are to be destroyed. We are to love, serve and bless all who we met regardless of their relative position on the journey with Jesus.

We are a people called to stand between the twin pillars of personal responsibility and social connectedness.

We are a people of tension living between the Ages.

5 thoughts on “Scriptures, Politics and The Bootstrap Myth”

  1. great perspective, Josh. I fully agree. The Kingdom view says both and we need to avoid picking one side or the other and fully stand in that uncomfortable middle Jesus stands in and invites us to. Not a milk toast middle, but the radical middle.

    1. “Not a milk toast middle, but the radical middle.”

      Amen and amen!! Contrary to the way the world think, the middle is not a position of weakness but a place that requires strength as both sides are pushing and pulling at you. Yet we must fight the desire to break the tension and instead walk forward in it, allowing the King of Kings to hold us together.

  2. Well put! There are a couple of typos you need to fix: “personal responsible” should be “personal responsibility” and “Each of us are responsible for how we behalf” I suspect should be “behave.” Darn automatic spell-correct!

    Now that that’s out of the way (thank Sir Nitpick for all that), very well put. Sadly, too many of our Christian friends won’t get it. But we have to try and educate them anyway, don’t we?

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