The American dream, as it is called, seems to be the object of universal scorn, condemned from both inside and outside the church. Indeed, in some circles, faith in an American dream is no doubt considered the very litmus test of naiveté. This may be because such derision is in vogue, or because the American dream is an easy target; I don’t know. But I do know this attitude toward the dream makes me sad, especially when it has for its object so noble a thing. But I think it’s not unlikely that the dream being criticized is deeply misunderstood.
What do dogs, “2.5” kids, the suburbs, and white picket fences have to do with the American dream? Well, very little. (I hate whenever someone says 2.x kids; every time I see it used, it is used as mockery.) The American dream, as I see it, is not primarily about one’s own success or comfort as it is about the wellbeing of one’s children, and dedicating one’s exclusive love to one’s spouse. That is, it is not centered around the self, as many seem to think, but around the family. Surely, one’s own financial success is closely related to what a person is able to provide for his or her family. But therein lies the reason for seeking such success and why that success is tied as it is to the American dream—for the sake of others, namely one’s own dependents: one’s children, one’s wife, one’s husband. The people you love and care for the most. Is the longing for this, the working for this, so wicked? Would you aspire to raise a family in squalor? If you did, why would your aspiration be more praiseworthy? That’s what I can’t figure out.
If there is anything wrong with the American dream, it is that it is poorly named. It is the American dream to us only because we are American, but the dream is not uniquely American. Not at all. It is universal in its scope, and is realized in countless forms in countless cultures around the world. It means the hope for a decent life, relative comfort, and opportunity for your posterity. It is nothing more or less than is wanted by almost everyone. In fact, I have to be honest here: I find slinging mud at the so-called American dream to be one of the most judgmental exercises one can engage in. It is basically making a sin out of one of the most cherished and honorable goals that reside deep within the soul of man.
God may call Christians to abandon the American dream. He may call them to abandon a life of relative comfort, or the raising of children in a livable neighborhood. He may call them to celibacy. If this happens, jump ship and leave the American dream behind, by all means. You will not regret it. The point I wish to make is merely that such calls are the minority of cases and are not more holy than the call to plant yourself in the culture and city where you find yourself (be it in San Diego, Dublin, Tokyo, or Ulan Bator) and to work with your own hands and raise and love a family. That is what, and that is all, the American dream is.