". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Happily Ever After?

While doing some driving yesterday I stumbled upon a live radio broadcast of Oprah Winfrey's speech endorsing Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Iowa. During the approximately 10-minute period of time that I listened, there was one statement of Ms. Winfrey's that started alarm bells ringing in my ears. I'm not sure if I have the quotation exactly right, but the "gist" of what she said was this: "Human beings were put on this earth to evolve." In the context of a political speech, her point was of course to hold up Obama as a candidate who can help us to do that--who by virtue of his leadership and character and philosophy will enable the American people (and by extension their country and their world) to become the enlightened and perfected individuals we all know they were meant to be. And then there will be peace on earth and an end to poverty and we'll all live happily ever after.

The same hope is apparent in a "Christmas" song that has become popular in recent years (I guess it's popular, because I continually hear it on the radio, sung by everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Barbra Streisand to Natalie Cole): "My Grown-Up Christmas Wish." Have you heard it? Here's the opening verse and refrain:

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies
Well, I'm all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a child
But my heart still can dream
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list.
It's no wonder this song is so popular. Not only does it feature the lush pop diva ballad style--complete with a modulation into a fortissimo repetition of the refrain that shows off the singer's prodigious pipes--but it also reflects the philosophy that dominates our collective American mindset these days and was the foundation of Winfrey's speech: that if we just put our minds to it and follow the Golden Rule (and in the case of most politicians, spend enough money) we can create a perfect (or near-perfect) society on earth.

Yet as a conservative Christian and confessional Lutheran, I know another truth: this world is doomed, and there's nothing we can do about it. In the words of a friend of my husband, "It's all gonna burn." That doesn't mean that we shouldn't love and care for one another and try to make the best of our time in this earthly realm--that's what our Lord would have us do. But to labor under the assumption that we can by our efforts stamp out the effects of original sin is to sentence ourselves to despair. There is one line in the lyric above that I find particularly tragic: "That time would heal all hearts." In the face of my daily trials I am sustained by the knowledge that my heart is already healed by the death and resurrection of my Saviour. I can't imagine the sadness of a heart that is waiting to be healed by the passing of time.

It vexes me that the average American--whether or not he or she agrees with Winfrey's politics--would likely listen to her speech yesterday and accept its premise that the point of our existence is to make ourselves and our world better. In the world of argument, faulty premises logically lead to faulty conclusions. The premise upon which I stand is the truth of my sin and my need for a Saviour, and I know that if I cling to that premise the conclusion will take care of itself.


Barb the Evil Genius said...

It's even worse when a Christian, like Michael W. Smith, sings such a song.

Marie N. said...

I had not heard the song, thankfully!

It was hard enough to get through reading it :-)

You expert analysis covers all the problem points. I admire how expertly you word being sustained by what Christ has done.