Monday, September 28, 2009

A House Divided

It is impossible to talk about culture without talking about politics and government, although this is a subject I don't often address in this blog. But last week I heard a comment that pushed me over the edge, and I uncharacteristically vented about it on Facebook with a simple and admittedly unbalanced comment.

79 comments later, it was clear that at the heart of the current debate on healthcare in the US is not healthcare itself, but a fundamental difference in perspective on the role of government. Many non-Americans talk of the Christian population in the US as a monolithic, extreme right-wing movement, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

A recent religious activists survey showed that, while many conservative as well as progressive activists call themselves Christians, they differ greatly on issues such as social responsibility, biblical authority and the role of government. The spokesman for the survey explained this phenomenon with a quote from C.S. Lewis:

'Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says; we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party.' (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Many conservative Christians believe that most of our social ills would be taken care of if more people would come to Christ, thereby eliminating the need for expensive government programs. Progressive Christians, on the other hand, point to present realities that they feel cannot be ignored, such as prohibitively expensive insurance policies for middle-class Americans, not to mention the disturbing number of Americans still living below the poverty line.

Please go to the blog to leave your comments, which are welcome.


gensis5020 said...


Thanks for your comments, but I think you oversimplify and paint with too broad a brush. What you call "conservative" Christians do care deeply about the plight of those in need. They are among the most generous of all Christians. Those you call "Progressive" are no less generous.

What I think you have failed to grasp is it is not the level of empathy or caring or generousity. It is not a "seeing an ideal situation" vs. "seeing the world as it is."

It is a matter of whom do we trust. Some Christians just seem to put more trust in the secular governemt to solve all of the social problems. Other Christians just seem to believe that any responsibility turned over to the secular governemt will only make matters worse. In the U.S., the latter seems to be proven by history as the poverty levels today are no better and possibly even worse than before the secular government began to take a more active role in taking over charitable works to help the downtrodden.

I have spent nearly a 1/4 of my last 14 years in other countries, many of them 3rd world, and have seen first-hand the depths of the problem globally. I have also seen first-hand the absoutely failure of governments to provide for most of its citizens, other than those in power.

Many, and I would even say most, Christians believe that turning over this important Christian responsibility to the secular governement is NOT the answer.

God bless,

David Durham said...

Alan, there is no question I painted with too broad a stroke -- it was actually at least partially intentional in order to spark some dialogue. The situation is certainly more complex than I portrayed it in my brief post -- there are Christians at every point along this particular spectrum.

gensis5020 said...

Thanks again. One more C.S. Lewis might help put this in perspective:

"The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying "Do as you would be done by" to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences; it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.

People say, "The Church ought to give us a lead." That is true if they mean it in the right way, but false if the mean it in the wrong way. By the Church they ought to mean the whole body of practicing Christians. And when they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some Christians--those who happen to have the right talents -- should be economists and statesmen, and that all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and that their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting "Do as you would be done by" in to action. If that happened, and if we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian solution for our own social problems pretty quickly. But, of course, when they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to put out a political programme. That is silly. The clergy are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live forever: and we are asking them to do a quite different job for which they have not been trained. The job is really on us, on the laymen. The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism and education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters; just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists--not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time."

(Mere Christianity - (Book 3, Chapter 3))


Bry In Sanford said...

A lot of extremists are trying to make out that the government is our enemy - all government - State, Federal, Local - all of it.

Some think their states should even secede from the union. These are not mainstream people, but extreme elements. The trouble is that a lot of folks take them seriously and blend this lunatic fringe philosophy with Christianity.

To me, party affiliation, whether being right-wing or left-wing should have nothing to do with following Jesus.

Many surrender the right to THINK for themselves when they become religious. C.S. Lewis can shed a LOT of light on this far right "conservative" Christian movement
even though he wrote everything before they rose to power.

Whom do we trust? There is an old old saying about that - that you will be cursed if you trust in a man (I take that as ANY man.)

Opposing "secular government"
(whatever that means) is not the answer either. Sorry guys but I just don't speak "Christianese" very much. I am not following a movement. I am just thankful to a Savior.

"Let my people think!"

Peace - Bry

Bry In Sanford said...

Speaking of health insurance. Last year my mother in England needed cancer surgery. It didn't cost her a penny. Contrary to the lies and propaganda here, she did NOT have to wait at all(!) and it did not cost her anything. When she went home, they had a social worker come to her house every day for two weeks to do housework, check on her etc.

I am surprised USA is even getting close to passing (finally) some kind of humane health care reform. It is about time. Before anyone suggests it, NO the church CANNOT replace all of the functions of a modern government such as helping people and with managing health care, and we should NOT be privatizing it out of
existence either.

I LOVE my British National Health System, and having lived for decades in both UK and USA, I know we need a much better arrangement for the USA than the cruel mess we have now.

I respect the opinions of others, and frequently update my views.


Jeremy said...

Thanks for your post, David.

I've spent the majority of my adult life employed at least full time, but have never had a job where health insurance through my employer was even an option, so from the start, I'll acknowledge my bias.

What I find most baffling about this conversation is all the hand-wringing about "the government taking over healthcare". We have plenty of necessary governmentally run services (education, national security, police, firemen, the highway system, education, for starters) that should not be privately funded. Private funding is too fickle.

Where would we be if all of these services were meted out based on ability to pay? Whose neighborhoods would be safe? Whose houses would burn down? Whose children would receive a usable education? Whose water would be drinkable? Why do we expect that a privately funded health-care system is going to work out any differently? I don't believe that it will, or that it can. There is no incentive for cost-containment because that would cut into shareholder profits and executive compensation. Wall Street just isn't a fan of such things.

I've heard all of the horror stories about health care in other countries, but I don't understand why we are deliberately ignoring the fact that many countries do have governmentally sponsored health care programs and that many of those programs work very well. And I don't understand how we've forgotten that we already have instances of governmentally funded health care in place – for elected officials and other governmental personnel, for the military, Medicare, Medicaid – and those also seem to work pretty well. I can't remember the last time I heard anyone in Congress complaining about their government-run healthcare.

What I think is most frustrating about this whole healthcare conversation though, is that the dialogue seems to be preprogrammed to pit neighbor against neighbor so that in the end, I believe that my neighbor's health and my own personal health are separate things – and that I am not my brother's keeper.


p.s. I thought your Facebook post was actually pretty tame... or at least it's much more tame than I seem to be able to muster these days on this topic...