Theocrat Watch 3
One of the most obnoxious tendencies of the religious left is to conflate their political goals and legislative priorities with the teachings of Jesus, and then seek to impose those goals, using religious reasoning, on a country where they are a very small religious minority. (And yes, I am aware that there are more than a few of the religious right who do the same thing.) Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, who writes the “Catholic America” blog at the Washington Post, does this egregiously in his column on Palm Sunday and Obamacare:
Holy Week reminds us that religion can as easily distort consciences as illuminate them. This year, the entry of the Affordable Care Act into the Supreme Court invited Palm Sunday-like displays of acclaim accompanied simultaneously by dark threats of rejection. The final court decision is not on a par with Jesus’ passion, nor is Obama to be confused with the Messiah, but just because we consider ourselves God’s friends we are not exempt from the sin of distorting the Gospel message.
I’m troubled that public opinion so easily characterizes religion as only right-wing Republican politics. (Catholics like Rick Santorum probably falls into this category, so my critique is ecumenical.) The question of health care insurance is an example of how persons professing to be the most religious among us can nonetheless violate basic teachings of Jesus.
Last time I checked, the subject of health care insurance was no where to be found in all of Scripture, much less in the “basic teachings of Jesus.” Of course, neither are nuclear weapons, so it’s not as if that lack means we can have nothing valid to say about the ethics involved. But note where this goes:
We Christians are called to care for material needs of our neighbors (Mt. 25) without imposing evangelization as a condition. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk:10:25-37), Our Lord criticized the temple priest and the Levite who passed by an injured man. Jesus praised instead the non-believer’s material help to his neighbor, while condemning the religious leaders’ escapism in the name of religious purity. Direct action for mercy is valued over abstract passion for piety. Logically then, it goes against Christian discipleship of Christ to repeal the Affordable Care Act without offering a substitute that will provide for 40 million uninsured, most of them children. Talk of “government take over” or “use of abortifacients” does not relieve the Christian’s need to be keeper of our brothers and sisters. Yet, we are treated these days to the irony of religion being invoked as reason to avoid Christian responsibility for health care.
This is simply nonsense, for several reasons:
1) The Christian responsibility for our neighbor is personal and institutional. Unless we live in a theocracy, our duty to our neighbor doesn’t translate into getting the government to take over that responsibility, and then pat ourselves on the back because we pay taxes that supposedly constitute the fulfillment of that responsibility.
2) “Direct action for mercy” is not a re-wording of “lobby your congresscritter.”
3) There are simply not 40 million uninsured, and most of those who are adults. This canard is holy writ on the left, but it simply isn’t true. Adjusting the typical numbers for Medicaid undercounting, those who are S-CHIP eligible but not enrolled, those who choose because of age not to have health insurance, illegal aliens, and those who make more than 300% of the poverty line but choose not to get insurance, it’s more like 10 million, or fewer than 1 in 30 Americans. The question, “how do we cover medical expenses for 10 million people not currently covered by insurance or government programs?” does not have only one answer, either practically or in term of Christian ethics. Stevens-Arroyo assumes that those who oppose Obamacare have offered no alternatives, but can only do so by ignoring the numerous proposals that have been made by conservatives over the last several years, proposals that he may not be aware of, because the mainstream media has acted as though they were never offered.
4) I have not heard anyone say that “religion” is a reason to “avoid Christian responsibility for health care.” Indeed, I don’t even know what that phrase is supposed to mean, at least not in the context of the public debate over Obamacare.
Similarly, God’s friends say they want to remake the U.S. government in the model of Christian values. That clearly would include spending public tax dollars to perform the corporal works of mercy: food for the hungry, housing for the homeless, health care for the sick, etc. Yet the construct of their “Christian government” removes these functions from legislative action. Ironically, today’s so-called “secularists” promote Jesus’ values in government while the “Christian nation” folks largely oppose them.
Empty, theological bogus rhetoric. “Jesus’ values” had nothing to do with what the state was supposed to do for the poor or disadvantaged. They were about what you and your religious community were to do for the poor. “Jesus’ values” were the ethics of the Kingdom, and had to do, not with generalized principles for good conduct, but for the way His disciples were to live their lives in obedience to God. Getting the government to “perform the corporal works of mercy” is a way of shifting the burden from one’s own shoulders to those of the state, and to the polity as a whole, but Jesus never expected that non-disciples would follow His commands or do His works.
Stevens-Arroyo is also dishonest in the way that he portrays those with whom he disagrees. No one outside of certain libertarians are suggesting that government get out of the business of feeding or housing the poor, or providing health care for them entirely. They are suggesting different ways of doing so, some of which may be good, some bad, but none of which are meant to tell poor people that if they are hungry or homeless or sick, they’re on their own. For example, Paul Ryan has proposed moving toward block-grants to fund Medicaid and premium supports for at least some Medicare recipients. Whatever you may think of those ideas, there is no intention to throw Grandma or her poor grandkids under the bus.
What makes me sick is the way people like Stevens-Arroyo act as though if you don’t agree your preferred policy solution for a given problem, it must be because you don’t care, you’re a bad Christian, you aren’t being obedient to Jesus, etc. Here’s how Stevens-Arroyo ends his screed:
When God has friends like these, why worry about His enemies? In the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday, we in the pews are required to shout out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Maybe we should ask ourselves whether this is merely a ritual or if we are betraying Jesus all over again in our politics.
So here’s his message in sum: if you are a political conservative, and seek ways to help the poor and sick that don’t conform to the orthodoxy of political liberalism, you are betraying Jesus just as much as the crowd that called on Pilate to crucify Him. You are, in effect, an enemy of God.
Are you feelin’ the love yet?
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