Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Theology of Health Care Reform

I experience a certain amount of cognitive dissonance every time I hear a politician or pundit express opposition to universal health care when the same politician or pundit has previously advocated "Christian values." For example, the "C Street" members of Congress are all very public in their Christianity, very Republican, and very opposed to health care reform.

I describe my reaction as "cognitive dissonance" because it is difficult for me to understand how anyone who thinks of themselves as "Christian" could possibly oppose health care reform or government support of health care.

Consider one of the most well-known of all parables, the parable of the "good Samaritan" in Luke 10:25-37. The context of the parable was an exchange about what Jesus elsewhere described as "the two great commandments," that you should love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus was then asked "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied with a story of a man who had been beaten and robbed by thieves and left as dead by the side of the road. Priests and Levites passed him on the road, but a Samaritan (not a Jew) saw him and, moved by pity, bound his wounds and took care of him. Jesus asked which of the three was a neighbor to the man who was robbed and was told, "The one who showed him mercy," to which Jesus replied, "Go and do likewise."

Is there any doubt but that we are required to show mercy to those who are sick or wounded?

In another often-quoted passage, sometimes referred to as the "parable of the sheep and the goats" but more often as the "Judgment of the Nations," Matt. 25:31-45, the context is more complicated, because Jesus is describing future events, and quotes the "Son of Man" when he "comes in his glory" with "all the nations [...] gathered before him." Jesus says that the king will say to those at his right that they are blessed and will inherit the kingdom, because "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

When asked by "the righteous" when it was that he was hungry, thirsty, naked, or sick, the king will reply that "just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did to to me."

Once again, is there any question but that the righteous will take care of those who are sick, even the least of us?

And yet the self-righteous "Christians" among us are blocking efforts to apply our collective resources to the care of the sick.

I have not seen any public discussion of why someone who calls himself or herself a Christian would oppose universal health care, but the only possible rationale I have been able to imagine is a concern that non-believers would be required to pay tax money for health care for others, and Christians do not want to force their beliefs on non-Christians.

Of course, that same kind of concern doesn't stop those same Christians from being ready and willing to force on others their views on abortion, same-sex marriage, and military spending.

And why don't we let the non-believers speak for themselves? Why don't we who believe in Christian values speak out in support of the principle of health care for all, and be willing (even glad) for our tax dollars to help pay for the health care of the sick and needy? Why is there support for universal health care among atheists and agnostics and so little support among fundamentalist Christians?

Can anyone say "lame rationalization"?

I'm afraid that self-proclaimed Christians oppose health care reform because they are trying to serve two masters, God and wealth, and are failing (as Jesus predicted in Matt. 6:24). If you are so concerned about your own money, and with your own tax liabilities, that you can't support the idea that we should all help each other with the costs of being sick, than you can't really love God and you can't really love your neighbor.