What was once the American Dream is now dead.
The American Dream goes back to the Puritan ethics in Massachusetts. They believed that God rewarded his loyal servants by making them wealthy, mostly in the form of large houses and property.
This idea eventually developed into what was known as the Protestant Work Ethic. If you worked hard, you got rewarded. If you slaved all day and night and lived honestly and trusted in God, you would be rewarded.
Around the time of the first large immigrant waves in the United States, this idea was supplanted with The American Dream. You would hard, live honestly and be careful with your money and you would be able to support yourself and eventually retire. This promise drew immigrant from all over Europe and later from the east to America.
For many, this was the case and relentless work payed off. My grandfather came to America fleeing Nazi persecution. He didn't speak English, but he managed to hold down a job as a waiter for a very long time. Each week, he would deposit all of the money he earned in the bank, save enough to buy essentials. He did this for decades, and eventually he was able to raise two children and retire.
However, for many others, the American Dream was a lie. They came to this country poor, full of hope, only to be let down by a system that favored the captains of industry over the working class. They found 12-18 hour days, unsanitary living spaces, dangerous working conditions, insufficient pay and unforgiving bosses. Many died of starvation, disease, working place accidents or a combination of the aforementioned.
Later in the twentieth century, the American Dream began to be seriously misinterpreted. Novels such as The Great Gatsby emphasized how materialism and flash became the idealized American Dream, instead of hard-working honest living. In the fifties, Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman, which dealt with the image of success as well. It addressed the misconceptions of the white collar world and the nature of the stereotypical businessman.
Now, in the new millenium, it appears that the American Dream has become to become very wealthy without very much work. Current bling bling, Tommy Hilfiger and cultural trends focus on outwardly showing off money and wealth gratuitously.
The typical notion of "success" no longer has anything to do with moral character, honesty, financial planning and least of all, religion. It's simply to achieve monetary wealth and be able to spend indulgently with reckless abandon.