Last night's State of the Union address offered us yet another reminder, as if we needed one, of what the American vision has degenerated to in our lifetime.
President Obama and Governor Daniels both played the role of cheerleaders for a materialist utopia. The only real difference between them was in the way they proposed to achieve more jobs, more money, and more stuff.
The President seemed to promise the moon and spoke as if a dramatic economic boom is just over the horizon - the one labeled November, 2012. Governor Daniels did not disagree with the idea of a more vibrant economy and a more prosperous nation as the proper objectives of government, he simply offered a sketch of a different political route to that end.
Either way you look at it - from the President's perspective or that of the Republicans - the agenda is the same: Economic prosperity leading to a materialist utopia.
The good life, as defined by the American political class, consists of money and stuff. Everything else, from immigration reform to educational renewal to foreign policy, revolves around jobs and wealth and more equal distribution of material happiness. Is this all our leaders are concerned about as defining the State of the Union? What about morality? The state of America's churches and the growing antipathy toward traditional religion? The failure of educational curricula to preserve anything like an American identity? The future of marriage and the family? The state of American art and culture? The health of our communities?
The President did his best to list as many ways as he could think of to make more money available to more people, while Governor Daniels scoffed at the President's ideas and insisted that his party's plans offer a more reliable path to the good life.
But each of these men shared one common conviction: Having more stuff, and not having to worry about losing the stuff we have, is the top priority in the minds of most Americans.
And that's what we've become as a nation: an American dystopia, lost in the woods of economic disillusion and dissolution, following leaders who insist they know the way to a yellow brick road that does not exist. No amount of material wealth will make America a good nation or provide for Americans the good life they want.
Last night America invited the world to peek in on the state of our democracy. "Look at us," we cried. "We're tired of being frustrated in our quest to have more stuff! We can't be bothered with such distracting notions as freedom, character, integrity, justice, goodness, or truth. We don't care who our forefathers were or what they dedicated their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to create. We want more stuff, and we deserve more stuff, and we're gonna get more stuff!"
For those of us whose citizenship is in an eternal Kingdom, we should be both saddened by this, and encouraged. Saddened to see how far adrift this nation has come from its founding ideals. Yet encouraged since we know that, sooner or later, people are going to wake up to the realization that the materialist utopia we were promised last night will never be achieved, at least, not to the satisfaction of our materialist cravings. Which means that many people, sooner or later, will begin looking somewhere other than stuff for the meaning and wellbeing they seek.
Many, in fact, are at that point right now.
Let's make sure we're ready to help any such seekers to find a better goal, a more sure framework, and a more enduring country which they can call home.
Related texts: Proverbs 14.12; Titus 3; Hebrews 11.13-16
A conversation starter: "Do you really think that what people want most of all in life is more stuff?"