Today’s post is a special treat, I’ve asked a friend to guest post with His thoughts on the healthcare bill. This is what he sent me, and allowed me to publish in his name. Chris is a very good friend of mine and here are some more things to think about in light of healthcare legislation. His voice is one I’ve appreciated over the years, and hopefully he’ll co author some posts with me in the future, but here’s today, and here’s his post.
This note comes in response to a discussion on [Jimmy’s] wall regarding Obama’s Healthcare Bill passed on the 22nd (thus the references to justice, communism/capitalism, and other odd things). Sorry I can’t provide more context, but this is mostly for the participants in that discussion anyway. So here goes….
I think it’s important that we think and speak about these issues firstly as Christians, then secondly, and subserviently, as Americans (which can be hard to do, because unfortunately, they are often tragically tangled together). That said, I would like to gently challenge a few americanisms that I think have been mistaken for Christian values.
Justice – what is justice in regard to this issue? There are two discussions to be had here: Liberty, and Economics. It is fully an American value to claim that to uphold liberty, one must be given “rights” which allow one to live autonomously, away from any compulsion to give to anyone except to the extent that one’s resources are required to protect said rights. The American idea of Justice is FOR the individual over and AGAINST his/her neighbor. In other words, it is completely individualistic.
However, this is surely bears no resemblance whatsoever to Christian liberty. If you read the New Testament, it is quite evident that Christian liberty is precisely the opposite – it is freedom to be FOR one another; in other words… the freedom to love, to be Christ-like, to be free from sinful selfishness and establish right relationships with our neighbors. To be human in the way God means us to be human – to be conformed more and more to the image of Christ, is, in part, to be connected to one another and to God in love (which is more than just fuzzy feelings – sometimes it requires action and sacrifice).
Economics… also known as the “science of scarcity” – how appropriate for this discussion. It simply is the case that there can never be enough resources to meet everyone’s wants. It is also the case that when some, having the ability and opportunity to gain all they want and more, eat up disproportionately large chunks of the available resources, it leaves many who are not blessed with such opportunities unable to meet simple needs, let alone wants.
And now I must challenge a more deeply-ingrained americanism – that devious myth which says that if one just works hard, one can always pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps. It’s not true. A great many people will never get the opportunity to succeed – they’ll never even have the chance. Many people living in poverty work harder than the richest of us. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen whole families suffer and struggle to obtain relief for basic survival needs, and the greater part of my life this past year has been to try and give these people a hand up (I work for a Christian organization that helps refugees).
If it weren’t for the social aid that they already receive, I can’t imagine how much worse it would be for them. Granted, once in a while, we have these great success stories where some immigrant shows up with just a buck-fifteen and the clothes on his back, and twenty years later he’s a millionaire, but does everyone have that same opportunity? Of course not. Most people are concerned with living life, taking care of their families, living in solidarity with their beloved communities. Your average Joe doesn’t have the know-how, the education, the guidance or, again, the opportunity to make it big. Those of us who are born into privileged homes and communities should not forget those who are less fortunate. Please, don’t believe the lie that people in poverty are lazy or deserve to exist in such a deplorable state “because they could escape it if they only put the work it and tried hard enough.” It’s a lie. I can tell you because I live with them, I know their stories and their struggles, and I do what I can to help.
If the ideal in the economic realm is the needs of all citizens being met, we all know that Communism doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean that Capitalism does any better at addressing the needs of the poor. The economic success of a nation is dependent on what we call “the market,” and generally speaking, this market is incentive-driven. If there is no reward for working hard, people won’t produce. But if you swing all the way to the other side of the spectrum with Capitalism, you make the mistake of commoditizing people. Human beings become the means to an end, and those that will to power will suck up all the resources. With pure Communism, everyone is poor because no one works. With pure Capitalism, everyone works, but only a few benefit, while the rest go hungry. There is a polarization of resources.
Believe it or not, there can be a balance, and I think as Christians we need to strive to find that balance where human beings are regarded as God’s children – as the end itself and not the means, while still fostering a productive market.
America still leans toward the Capitalist end, but government involvement – what some call “socialism” – has increasingly served to close that gap more and more between rich and poor. And if you take a look at other countries that are further along that road, access to and provision for basic needs is much more favorable (that is, even). Of course, there will always come along with policies like this problems with enabling poverty for those who become dependent on the aid they are given, but the old adage of teaching the man to fish for himself doesn’t quite work if there’s no body of water in which to fish…
Sometimes we simply need to give him what he needs.
There is still a lot of poverty in our country – more than the average middle-class American may realize, and as Christians, I think we need to reconsider what justice is for those people who live in the midst of it. And we need to think about what Liberty is – is it protecting our so-called “rights,” which elevate the individual? Or is it freedom to pursue wholeness together, being free from violence and corruption, while speaking instead of our duties and responsibilities to one another? I for one will be happy to surrender a little more of my paycheck to help someone get medical attention from which they would otherwise be forced to abstain. If I was in their shoes I think I would want the same. I am for Justice. I am for God’s Kingdom. I am for my neighbors.
If you think there is a better way to accomplish that, or move in that direction, I would be happy to discuss that… This post is not meant to debate the efficacy or efficiency of the program, and I don’t pretend to know that much about how the health care system works. I’m just a humble theologian who knows a little bit about economics and poverty, trying to separate true Christianity from American myths and Enlightenment philosophies.
I also want to make it clear that I do not think the new Health Care Bill is going to solve the problems touched on here – that is part of the Mission of the Church, and I believe we are meant to fight this injustice as Christians from the venue of the Church, and not look to the government as savior. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, right?
Check out this post by my good friend Eli Silva for more on that note:
Legislation and the Christian Community