When Entitlement (Program)s Get Confused with “Pride”
This week I saw an image from a dating profile whose owner identified as politically conservative as well as Christian. Here’s what it said: “…if you voted for Joe Biden do not hit me up..I don’t date liberals that feel they are entitled..I believe in hard work, self accountability, and God!!!!!” There’s a lot going on here, and there’s no way I will have time to unwrap all of it in this post, but I wanted to discuss how these kinds of right-wing logics emerge and get fused with religion. In the process I’ll build on my previous posts regarding pride as a devil term and humanism/empathy as a devil term as well as others to talk about why conservative Christians see entitlement (program)s as a threat.
So yeah, seeing this message really brought me back to my younger days, and how the logic all seemed to fit together so seamlessly.
As I’ve said many times before in this space, I grew up primarily in the more right-leaning sides of a moderate Protestant denomination as a pastor’s kid. I went on to get a PhD in Communication, and currently study and teach about stress, trauma, and conflict communication. I’ve also “gone progressive.” 🙂
And yeah, I remember very well how in the 1980s and 1990s there was a LOT of negative politically conservative rhetoric about “ entitlement programs” such as welfare. Due to the whole “pull yourself up to your own bootstraps” American mythos, the idea of taking “government handouts” was most definitely demonized.
And as soon as I saw the reference to “entitled liberals” in this dating profile (insert eyeroll emoji), I knew that was what was being referred to: the association of Democrats with “entitlement” (if you weren’t sure, that’s shorthand for marginalized populations and poor people having rights).
Before I dive in, I wanted to note quickly that I’m not addressing the surface issues around entitlement programs in this piece at all. If you want to hear about money and budgets, there are lots of other places that discuss incredibly reasonable solutions to these problems. They often involve making military budgets smaller and/or taxing the ultra-rich in very reasonable ways.
But as I said, that’s not what this piece is about.
I’m focusing here on the other visceral reasons for this moral disgust/demonization. Because let’s be clear: the rest of that’s just window dressing in a lot of ways.
Fear of Interdependency
Since I teach about stress, trauma, and conflict communication, I’ve absolutely realized for a long time that this kind of toxic individualism that leads to fears of “entitled Democrats” is a kind of negative projection—that is, a way in which large groups of people get seen negatively because of something people are uncomfortable with inside themselves.
In short, conservative Americans hate the idea of interdependence. They are terrified by it. They’re terrified by their own need for it, and they’re terrified that other people may try to depend on them as well–especially people they find different from themselves in some way.
A Natural Response, But…
Now, it’s totally natural to have this kind of response when people have shown themselves to be untrustworthy. When we’ve been hurt, our brains often work overtime to protect us from similar dangers going forward.
The problem, of course, is two-fold, when this kind of fear tells a large group of people that bids for humane treatment and equality are some sort of ” entitlement “: (1) it is deeply inaccurate and unjust to assume that because one person has been untrustworthy that everyone is; (2) it is really harmful to the populations that are being targeted—here, mostly vulnerable people who have already been hurt by others—to take that concern and project it outward.
A Better Way…
So yeah, the better choice? Teach people to deal with their emotions, and stop this cursed intergenerational trauma cycle that’s created such incredibly terrible fruit.
Okay, so that’s the part I’ve been realizing for a while. I already knew that the ways the peops I grew up with had absorbed conservative political rhetoric—and were vulnerable to it because of this kind of intergenerational trauma response—was a problem.
But Why Are Christians Vulnerable to This?
What clicked newly for me when I saw this dating profile worded the way it was, however, helped me understand why my peops were particularly vulnerable to this as conservative-leaning Christians. Even beyond what’s outlined in the excellent book Jesus and John Wayne, which I’ve responded to in several pieces, starting here and here.
The Unhealthy Theological Dynamics Supporting This Crap
So yeah, this whole fear of entitlement (program)s as associated with Democrats, as accepted by conservative-leaning Christians, goes back to the unhealthy theological dynamics I’ve been talking about in my recent pieces about pride as a devil term, about the demonization of self-care, and about how humanism and empathy get demonized by conservative-leaning Christians. It also shouldn’t be a shock that this sort of thinking gets wrapped up in the debates around masks and vaccinations as well.
Having Needs as a Devil Term
See, to conservative-leaning Christians (as well as, to be honest, the rest of much of the historical Western church for awhile now), the idea that we assert that we (or others) have needs has long been demonized, because it is literally seen as equivalent to Satan falling because of his gall in challenging God.
And I can see now how this kind of theology–which I’ve said before isn’t actually in the Bible much if at all–can lead to us feeling like we ought not have any sorts of needs, and certainly not depend on humans for them.
Thus the demonization of people asking for basic tangible support as requesting ” entitlement .”
Ummm…This is Pretty Far from a Lot of Things in the Bible
This is deeply ironic in an incredibly sad way, since the Bible specifically lifts up those who have needs and encourages those that have to try to help those who try to have not.
Jesus specifically says that people who are able to will be worshiping God in taking care of the least of these and making that a primary sign of healthy spiritual formation. (And note that he does this with no reference at all to being attached to organized religion.)
And in doing so, Jesus is following in a long tradition of his people as shown by the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I mean, from what I can see, if you look at it closely, an awful lot of the religio-political laws and commands and recommended practices for the people of Israel in the OT/ Hebrew Bible deal with taking care of the poor and vulnerable. And a large chunk of the prophetic statements call out kings and rich people telling them to do a better job of serving God, with a huge emphasis on taking care of the poor.
Not Okay for the Conservative-Leaning Church to Do This
So yeah, the false dichotomy the conservative-leaning church has long built up demonizing those sticking up for their needs and working to take care of the “least of these,” especially outside of their walls? Including the government for offering programs to help those in need?
Not remotely cool. (In fact, I’m pretty sure this is pretty much the kind of error that much-abused verse about “leaning not on your own understanding” is there to target.)
The set of false dichotomies that emerges from this stew that leads to the religio-political demonization of “entitled Democrats” and setting them in opposition to (conservative) Christians is definitely a problem. This poisonous mix of trauma responses projected outward tends to combine, as I discussed in the humanism as a devil term piece, with jealousy. And all of this has led to the acceptance of this idea that poor people’s rights to humane treatment—and the government programs that are labeled with the term “ entitlement ” that fit with this theme—are somehow to be fought at all costs.
Which in turn leads to the disturbing admixture of statements we see in this dating profile.
Somewhere Along the Way Conservatives Lost the “First Becoming Last” Message…
And yeah, let’s be clear: when we talk about pride being projected outward as a devil term, we’re also grappling with the idea of defending status hierarchies as well.
As I’ve discussed many times, this is pretty much always boiled down to a view of the world in which you either win or lose. And so a lot of anxiety about losing your hierarchical place in the world gets subsumed to all of this.
Which, again, is deeply ironic when placed next to Jesus’ teachings and practices regarding being willing to give up your status to actually do what God requires—and people who are seen as outcast, such as the Good Samaritan, often doing this better than people who are so concerned with their religio-political status.
Back to the Patriot Movement’s “Divine Right of (Some) Citizens”
I’ve talked about this several times before when I’ve talked about the alt-right’s Patriot Movement’s view of a select group of themselves having the “divine right of citizens” while everyone else is “sheep.” Along with the conspiracy theories they espouse, this view has gone mainstream lately.
I discussed some of the overlap between this and right-wing Christianity here, but this dating profile along with these other things I’ve been chewing on helps me further understand how these unhealthy alliances forming Christian alt-right nationalism have been created and reinforced in recent years.
Let’s Talk about Sequencing
The particular sequencing of the items in the dating profile I started this piece with particularly has my attention. See, the author first associates liberalism with being entitled (which, you know, pride as a devil term), and then, in order, defines their beliefs as residing in “hard work, self accountability, and God!!!!!”
This statement is then punctuated with an aggressive five–count them, five–exclamation points.
It’s like God is the punchline.
The definitive proof text for whatever went before.
The way to beat down anyone who would disagree.
Whew, Those Exclamation Points Bring Back Memories
And man, does that take me back. See, as I’ve described before, for years I believed this same thing—that somehow it was evil to vote for Democrats, and that it was somehow godly to think that way. I bought this poisonous stew of unhealthy trauma responses turned into devil terms that ended up demonizing some of the groups most faithfully taking care of the least of these from an objective perspective.
I Can See Clearly Now…
And now, from the other side of the religio-political divide, I can see the misplaced aggression so incredibly clearly now, as well as the weird admixture of conservative trauma responses with unhealthy projection outward combined with spiritual anxiety.
And it’s both incredibly sad and incredibly angering to see.
Because yeah, this particular rhetoric has been going on for a long-assed time, and building up, and seeking alliances with other similar forms of rhetoric, to create the current toxic stew of unhealthy Christian nationalism that’s embraced and reinforced alt-right views.
This Is Really Toxic Crap
It’s not remotely good, this admixture.
Sure, it stems from natural bodily processes, well, that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly harmful. To take one example, auto immune diseases, after all, also come from natural processes, but that doesn’t make them fabulous things. They’re things we try to correct for good reason.
And yeah, the Jesus whose words and actions I value was all about healing more than about honoring disease.
Yeah, This Is What That Whole “Love Casts Out Fear” Thing Was Designed For
And now that I’ve been willing to heal from enough of the intergenerational trauma reactions I grew up with, I can see really strongly that when I held similar beliefs, I was acting out of old, deep rooted fears rather than out of faith when I saw it as somehow godly to fear ” entitlement (program)s” as this conservative Christian person on a dating site so obviously still does.
Breaking Down the False Dichotomies Here
Because yeah, both things can be true at once.
Someone can recognize that hard work and accountability (I’ll just put aside the interesting phrasing of “self accountability” for the moment) are important AND ALSO understand that people aren’t responsible for conquering everything that happens to them.
A person can recognize that hard work and accountability are important, and also realize that we all need each other, which may well include assistance when overwhelmed.
Someone can recognize that hard work and SELF accountability are important, and also believe that accountability to the common good and to others is also key.
Unpacking the God Part
And yeah, I realize now that someone can believe in God and see all of these things as important.
And if someone doesn’t know if they believe in God, or doesn’t believe in God, or emphasizes the latter of these points more than the former, it doesn’t mean they’re the enemy.
It doesn’t have to be a competition.
And it doesn’t have to involve the aggression of five exclamation points.
In fact, it doesn’t have to mean that the person isn’t actually doing God’s will, if their actions are viewed from within the viewpoint of Jesus’ words and actions.
After all, Jesus just said that if people were serving the least of these, they were serving God. He didn’t add caveats about doing that from within the auspices of a church building.
Finding Our Way to Assertiveness
Assertiveness—looking out for ourselves and others—is such a better way than this toxic individualism nonsense. And when we’re seeking for justice, we should naturally seek to look to take care of the least of these in whatever way we can to reach toward equality and human rights as much as possible.
Looking back, I’m incredibly thankful for my models both in and outside of the church that helped me come out from my previous toxic way of thinking. (And yeah, I’m still on that journey—aren’t we all?) May we all practice it to offer a healthier world, friends.
A Final Charge
I could say more, but I think I’ll just leave this there, with a final charge:
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing.
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4 thoughts on “When Entitlement (Program)s Get Confused with “Pride””
Reading this article this morning gives me hope. Thank you for a common sense point of view regarding the real heart of God’s will for all our lives. You are wise and well spoken! I truly appreciate your writings. God bless you!
Whenever I feel stressed over toxic faith, I think about the tale of the Good Samaritan and I’m grounded in the spirit of inclusive religious expression.
Having grown up and lived most my life among mostly conservative evangelicals, I have watched some of the changes that have taken place, I would say especially since the Regan era, and more specifically, during the Bush years.
Those tending to the conservative, right, hostile and even militant toward the poor, needy, anyone “oppressed”, and yeah any of those liberal entitled people, move ever more strongly toward extremism. I know at least I didn’t encounter attitudes that to be liberal, progressive, social justice-oriented, and/or Democrat = can’t be a Christian. Period.
I live in one of the most strongly Republican districts in the nation, in rural se Texas, and this shift has been especially evident in this community. Even Social Security is now welfare!
But the most disturbing thing to me in how all this relates to the Christian beliefs and attitudes has been that toward what Max Weber described in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” That anyone’s wealth, health, and position in life is the result and proof of God’s favor and blessing. And lack thereof is the opposite. So if the poor or struggling would just be more obedient to God, their needs would be met.
Experiences with toxic Christian Nationalism is why my husband doesn’t go to church. I found a local church where Love is the spirit, Humanism is one of many sources of wisdom, and Caring for others is a part of the spiritual practice. If I go to hell, so be it, though I seriously doubt I’ll even know it’s happened.