This week’s Connected Kingdom is on “Entitlement.” The podcast includes audio excerpts from others speaking on the subject, and concludes with some interaction between Tim and I. However, you can read a shortened version of the podcast below. Download here.

Jack Chambless is Professor of Economics at Valencia College. Every year he starts his class off by asking his students to write a 10 minute essay on what the American dream looks like to them, and what they want the federal government to do to help them achieve that dream. He describes this year’s results:

About 10% of the students said they wanted the government to leave them alone, not tax them too much, and let them regulate their own lives. But over 80% of the students said that the American Dream to them meant a house and a job and plenty of money for retirement, and vacations and things like this. But when it came to the part about the federal government 8 out of 10 students said they wanted free health care, they wanted the government to pay for their tuition. They want the government to pay for the down payment on their house. They expect the government “to give them a job.” Many of them said they wanted the government to tax wealthier individuals so that they would have an opportunity to have a better life.

Professor Chambless’ students belong to the “Entitlement Generation,” also known as the “Gimme Generation.” They think they can have and should have whatever they want, whenever they want, and from whomever they want it, while others pay for it.” Or more simply, as one Occupy Protestor painted on her placard, “Where’s my bailout?”

That sense of economic entitlement usually goes hand in hand with education entitlement. Students now come to college expecting straight A’s. That’s the default. And, as Anthony Carter notes, woe-betide any professor who “fails” to comply.

Harvard Professor of Law, Lawrence Lessig, has noticed a huge increase in the sense of entitlement among students especially in questioning authority. He says that the Internet “has created a world where everybody feels entitled to question somebody else.” He goes on:

There’s no authority, there’s no like “being the professor of law from Harvard” that entitles you to say “Here’s what the truth is.” There’s an opening. Here’s a professor of law from Harvard who says here’s what the truth is. That’s a way of beginning a conversation. Some fifteen year old can say “I just spent the last 6 months studying about the history about the fourteenth amendment and what you just said is #@X!. Here’s the right answer.” We’ve come to this place where the younger generation just believes it’s their right to be as involved and as engaged as anybody.

Of course, being a Harvard professor, Lessig thinks this is great:

I think that’s a thing to be celebrated and encouraged, but I think that what you recognize that what you can see in a wide range of internet contacts the sense of entitlement has driven enormous creativity and engagement that before was presumed to be disqualified.

So is it just a case of, “Well there are some pros, and some cons to this. No big deal. Let’s move on?”

Jean Twenge wrote the book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before. She describes the entitlement generation as “smart, brash, even arrogant, and endowed with a commanding sense of entitlement.”

But, like Professor Lessig, Twenge also sees a flipside. She sees many of the “Gimme Generation” as individualists, “free-thinkers who are willing to break the status quo and pursue their dreams. Their confidence is what allows them to accomplish great things and can keep companies progressing.”

Again, we’re being tempted to minimize the significance of these societal changes. So, do we just shrug our shoulders and succumb to the spirit of the age? Economics Professor Thomas Sowell was interviewed about this on Fox News:

Interviewer: Professor, we had a series here a couple of weeks ago called Entitlement. There’s so many things that Americans now think they are entitled to because of government largesse. Everything from health care to food stamps, houses, even jobs. How do we get out of that?

Sowell: That’s going to be very tough. Because the whole media, politics, the educational system promotes the idea that you are entitled to something. It just seems obvious. Society is not entitled to anything. We can’t even get the food that we need without working for it. So when you say that somebody is entitled to it you mean that somebody else has to pay for what you want…

I’m totally with Professor Sowell on this. I see no long-term good coming from this entitlement mentality. It destroys initiative, independence, inventiveness, resourcefulness, motivation, the fear of consequences, and the link between cause and effect. It promotes indulgence, jealousy, conceit, laziness, and self-centeredness. It creates bad winners and bad losers.

It hurts marriages by putting the focus on “What can I get from him/her?” rather than “What can I give?” It hurts charity because the rich leave it to the government and withdraw from contact with the poor; the poor just get handouts from an impersonal, faceless, soulless State rather than from real caring people. Above all, a sense of entitlement destroys the Christian life.

As a Christian, I believe in one entitlement.

I’m entitled to Hell. That’s the only entitlement I have. That’s all I deserve, because of my sin. Anything else is grace, an unmerited bonus from the God of all grace. I don’t deserve a breath of life, a crumb of food, a drop of water, a stitch of clothing, a cent in my wallet, or an hour of education. I’m not entitled to one friend, one vacation, one verse of Scripture, or even one sermon. I’m certainly not entitled to salvation and heaven. I’m entitled to damnation and Hell.

That sense of entitlement makes me seek mercy, receive mercy, enjoy mercy, and be merciful to others. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “What have I that I did not receive as a free gift of divine grace? How therefore can I ever boast as if I had actually been entitled to it or earned it?”

So, there are basically only two ways to live: with a proud and angry sense of entitlement or with a humble and thankful sense of responsibility.

To summarize, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

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  • Tiago Baia

    Excellet!! Thank you so much, Dr. Murray!

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  • Lou G

    Totally agree with the application for us personally as Christians: “So, there are basically only two ways to live: with a proud and angry sense of entitlement or with a humble and thankful sense of responsibility.”

    Yet, a shepherd pastor/elder cannot have this attitude toward his service. My pushback comes from reading articles from sources like the Leadership Network and others that tend to prefer to show pastors more as CEOs instead of as shepherds.

    Our role as pastor/elder includes administering the sacraments freely to believers, facilitating a community where disciples show true love to one another (john 14), communicating a message that says come all ye who are weary and heavy burdened – your Savior will give you rest, and so forth…

    Some things that are called “entitlements” in our times (like Social Security) are not unpaid for handouts, but benefits that have already been paid into by someone’s blood sweat and tears. In the same way our churches ought to reflect that the free gift of Christ is a very costly one already paid for by Jesus’ blood, sweat, and tears for them. What the Church is to the believer ought to reflect the gravity of this costly gift, not by simply turning in on the unworthiness of the recipient, but also turning outward to see and grasp the One is worthy and who paid for all that has been given to us. The pastor’s heart ought not be to withhold the gift from the undeserving, but to turn the heart of those who presume on God’s grace toward their Lord and Savior.

    Yes, the attitude of the Gimme Generation is selfish, prideful and depraved in the extreme. As you say, no good thing can come of this mindset.

    The real problem is they want Cheap Grace. However, just because they are 100% wrong to expect Cheap Grace, does not mean that we should withdraw the Costly Grace with which we’ve been entrusted. No matter what generation we’re dealing with, they can’t afford it. It is simply too costly (as you said) and it’s already been paid for (let’s not forget).

    • David Murray

      Lou: like your comments on cheap grace. The question os the Social Security “entitlements” is a difficult one, isn’t it. The promised money has been spent. So who pays? The generation whose money has been spent? The upcoming generation who are not responsible for the money being spent? No easy answer to right that wrong is there.

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  • Erika Pizzo

    Really enjoyed this article, great insights. Will definitely be re-blogging! Thank you for bringing this situation to the forefront of people’s minds, what a huge issue that goes to the very core of our faith and discipline in Christ.

    • David Murray

      Thanks Erika.

  • mike

    Why should younger generations pay for baby boomers old age pensions? This “gimme generation” you speak of is asking for the same security and chances that your generation received. Stop being hypocritical.

    • Lorb

      This is an old post but this guy Mike is crazy if he thinks baby boomers are looking toward young people to “pay for their old age pensions.” Get a grip. Baby boomers paid for their “old age pension” and it’s called “Social Security.” Messing with that is where the problem comes in. You are mistaken, young man. It is the socialist belief that the wealthy pay for the indigent and ‘spread around the wealth.’ Mr. Obama saw nothing wrong with that.

  • Joshua Lagan

    Great post, David! I’m a Senior at the University of Connecticut applying to be a student speaker at their Tedx conference. My topic is the entitlement bubble and how if my generation or as you mentioned Jean Twenge puts it “Generation ME” doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities that does exist in the US, then people from other countries will. This provided great insight!

    • David Murray

      Hope your speech goes well, Joshua.

  • The dude

    That was fucking horrible. Entitled to hell? That’s barbaric.

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