Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Danger of Free

Perhaps the title is a little off...a better title might be the danger of expecting things for free.  The debacle over whether the Church should pay for the contraception and sterilization of her employees has once again brought this discussion to a head. Even after the 'accommodation' which was nothing of the such, the administration decided that the insurance companies should give out free contraception and sterilization for employees of Catholic institutions.  At least the administration is being consistent.  They are also purporting free education, free college, free food (food stamps), free medical care, and the list goes on and on.  On the surface this seems compassionate, that we provide for those who cannot for themselves.  Seems to be consistent with Church and biblical teaching one could say.  However, it is not nor it is good for the recipient if this deluge of free stuff creates a permanent bond of neediness and helplessness.  Ideally, assistance should lead the receiver to an ability to stand on their own and not to a state of perpetual neediness.  I will say here, that there are some exceptions to this rule; those with severe handicaps for example.

So why is it dangerous?  The answer is on several levels.  First, when a country is divided into a country of providers and a country of takers, it will foment division.  When free things are given to the able bodied without expectation of it being temporary, it robs the person of the reason to get back on one's feet.  Why work when I can receive the necessities of life for free?    However, the help slowly becomes not enough.  The person will inevitably want more and more.  Why?  Because there is something within most people that wants to be in a better position tomorrow than they were today.  If I can get this sum through no effort now, why should I not receive more through no effort tomorrow?  One will look at how those who have worked hard receive and become envious than they can move ahead and thus provide for a better tomorrow.  This provokes envy on the part of the person who receives for free.  Instead of seeing how this happens, the entitlement mentality takes over and the demands increase.  This entitlement mentality will spread like a cancer to all parts of the human person, producing a like effect on on all parts.  The entitlement mentality spawns a learned helplessness and a voracious neediness that cannot be satiated.  No amount of other people's wealth will satisfy the bottomless pit of is no longer a is an expectation.

Along with this expectation and its attendant helplessness comes an absconding of responsibility and accountability for one's life and one's actions.  The favorite question of the entitled is "who are you to judge me?"  This only flows from a person who is first unwilling, then dives into unable, to accept responsibility for the results their lifestyle engendered.  It's not my fault I am poor...the rich man stole it from me.  It's not my fault I don't have a good education, the government didn't spend enough money on me.  It's not my fault I have a child out of wedlock, I didn't get free contraception and personal servant to make sure I used it.  It's not my fault.  Nothing is my fault.  Everything is someone else's fault.  The lasting damage of everything being free is the damage it does to human integrity and dignity.

This goes into the spiritual as well.  As nothing is my fault, I am owed even heaven.  The practice of faith, since it requires effort, is laid aside.  Here is where the phrases that start with "My God... doesn't judge, doesn't make demands, doesn't require, loves me no matter what and will allow me into heaven no matter what and if he doesn't...well then HE is unfair and lacks mercy."  The role of faith, if one is to engage in it is to coddle, stroke the ego, entertain, and make me feel special.  The role of God is much like the role of everyone give me stuff without question, condition, or expectation of results.  Is it any wonder as entitlement has grown in this country, church attendance has plummeted?  There is a direct and logical correlation!

The reception of free stuff, though, is built upon a total deception.  Nothing is free.  All the benefits received, someone else pays for.  In this country, for example, the loads of free things comes out of the pockets of the producers...those who work hard and pay taxes.  The 'free' contraception and sterilization insurers of Catholic institutions comes from the premiums collected from those institutions and their employees.  Even our faith, a free gift from God, came at the cost of the Cross.  Someone pays.  That is life.  Because someone pays means there are people who do accept responsibility and accountability for their actions.  Those are the people who make things work.  When they give, it is not so as to fulfill some mandate or law, it is to give freely from themselves for the sake of another, which is a positive act of love.  This reality needs to be responded to by the receiver.

When I was a child and would receive gifts from my grandparents for either Christmas or my birthday, my parents had the full expectation that a thank you note would be written to the giver of the gift.  My parents wanted me to understand that what was given to me was not tribute brought by subservient grandparents to their royal grandchild who was owed at least whatever they brought, but a gift from a loving grandparent.  I think about, from time to time, how much smoother things would have gone in my youth had I realized all the free stuff I received (food, clothes, housing, etc) I actually had because my parents worked hard and made sure their children were taken care of.  They taught me to be quick with thanks yous.  Whether that thank you is directed at the servers for serving Mass, the multiple volunteers who make this parish work, the friends whose support and friendship I know I have...that thank you helps me to focus on my blessings and not on my lack of luxuries.  Finally my thank yous to God remind me that all I have is pure gift from God, not tribute God gives me because I am such a wonderful person.  In short, thankfulness is the antidote to entitlement.  If you don't think so, watch what happens when an entitled person is told how thankful they should be for what they have.

Entitlement, by its nature, breeds division born from greed , sloth , and envy.  It pits people against people in a bull rush for their piece of the pie.  It breeds class warfare and assuredly crushes any nation that embraces it as a way of life.  It destroys the bond between man and God.  Thankfulness has the opposite effect.  It binds into an intertwined union specifically because it causes the person to move beyond the self.  Finally thankfulness draws us ever closer to God because it opens our eyes not to just what God can do but what God has done.  As God gives all things for free, our hearts should be overwhelmed with thanks and drawn ever closer to God.  If we can start there, then perhaps we could be thankful in the public realm as well. 

This country is a mess.  Our politicians, for years, have garnered votes by promising this or that to voters, making what they promise sound like it is for free.  It isn't.  The government has no monies of its own without the taxes and fees they gather.  Every food stamp, every subsidy, every free to you item was paid for by the taxpayer and the consumer.  I would hope those who are on the take would understand this and quit demanding more free stuff on someone else's dime.  If they want more, then perhaps ( and I know this is a novel idea) get off your butt and person should revel in a parasitical relationship with the world around them.  Nothing is free on this planet,  So buck up and get moving and quit demanding everyone else bring you tribute because you simply are owed it because you happen to breathe in and breathe out.  Now, I will step off my soapbox!

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