Just tossing this out for you... a fun fact I stumbled across in a book I was reading.
Please name the country whose people had the world's highest standard of living in the year 1776.
OK, you've waited long enough. I'm not sure what I would have guessed if the question had been posed to me in that form. I ran into this fact in David McCullough's book, 1776, right out of the blue. I suppose I would have guess England, since back in those days, the Brits were the biggest superpower in the world. France would have been a second choice. I'm not sure any other country would have even popped into my mind, let alone the correct answer.
So do you know the right answer yet? The country whose peopole had the highest standard of living in the year 1776 was the world's youngest country. That's right. The United States of America. Before the ink was even dry on the Declaration of Independence, the former colonists were better off than any other country on earth.
McCullough noted that as British soldiers came upon cities and villages abandoned in the wake of Revolutionary War battles, they were astounded at the luxuries the Americans had accumulated. He pointed out that the fact that the rebels were so well off, that the redcoats considered them crazy for declaring independence from the king who allowed them to get this rich. They had a pretty good point.
Personally, I think this blows a lot of so-called patriotic thinking out of the water. I've heard so often that God has blessed America because of our religious foundations or that we have championed the cause of justice and helping the poor. As it turns out, Americans were rich before there even was an America, per se.
Too often we have this bizarre idea that God's Seal of Approval is the awarding of riches. Rich people must be more loved by God, right? He wouldn't let his favorites wallow in poverty, would he? Any good scan of Scripture would poke holes in that theory. Sure, God can boost the bank accounts of people as a blessing, but that's not the only way He blesses. Riches equal responsibility. And, yes, there are many people who cannot handle too many responsibilities.
Remember Solomon? Richest guy for miles. Wives and concubines out the ying-yang (if that's physically possible). What did all his wealth do for him? It brought him down. What was it Jesus said about the odds of a rich man entering heaven? Something about camels strolling through small sewing devices, right?
Not that I'm against wealth. I'm against the boastful attitude that wealth somehow is equated with goodness. I'm defiant against the "God has blessed the USA because we're so stinkin' religious" mindset.
Paul berated the Corinthians for taking on the values of the world. Has America done the same thing? Has the American Church emphasized the seeking of blessings to validate a materialistic lifestyle? Are our hearts bursting with pride as we sing the Star Spangled Banner, thinking that God's blessings have proven that the Founding Fathers surely must have been almost-flawless Christian thinkers?
It seems to me that Americans have been blessed and challenged since before 1776. It's not that we're so great in our governmental style or our general religiousity, it's that we've had more opportunity to accumulate materials. We need to come back to the point where we, as Paul said, know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.