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Discomforting Questions

November 23rd, 2008
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So, I've been thinking quite a lot, about what has struck me as a complex set of contradictions for a long time. Even as we are passionately against abortion, should we not be passionately in favor of universal health care? Why is America the only industrialized nation on earth that doesn't have universal health care? Why do we have the highest infant morality rates of any industrialized nation and our health expectancy the lowest?

If we can spend billions, and trillions of dollars, to kill people around the world, all for perfectly justifiable reasons, I hope, can't we figure out a way to spend even half as much to heal and care for the sick and the poor in our own nation? Why is socialized medicine acceptable in the United States military, but not for the whole nation? Isn't a healthy nation in our national best interest? We have socialized our fire safety long ago. Why are our police forces not privatized? Why is health care based on the availability of cash, not need? Why are sick people treated as customers of health care, not persons in need of it? Why should the Presidents/CEOs of our nation's largest private health insurance company be millionaires and in at least one case, a billionaire, when we have, across our country, chronic lack of health care insurance, or worse yet, chronic underinsurance? Why do we pay more attention to the Dow Jones average than we do the neighbor in need?

I've been reading Luther's Large Catechism, on the fifth and seventh commandments, and these and other discomforting questions came to mind.

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Categories: politics
  1. Mark Henderson
    November 26th, 2008 at 16:03 | #1

    Whenever I hear conservative Lutherans talk about economics and social issues, I wonder whether the American approach to free market capitalism – also in health care – has not been deeply coloured by the heritage of Calvinism? There is a classic book by the English economics scholar R H Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, which argues, among other things, that Luther was much more conservative in economic matters (i.e. conservative of the old social order in the face of the new capitalism)than the later Calvinism which played a formative role in shaping the American ethos. The latter was much more individualistic than the communal minded Lutheranism. Tawney may have been an advocate of ‘Christian socialism’, but his historical insights were at least accurate. Subsequent to the Lutheran reformation, most countries shaped by the Lutheran ethos have been demonstrably more inclined to some form of social democracy, where the extremes market capitalism are ameliorated by state intervention.
    Of course, it is a question of finding a finely tuned balance. The best economic ethos, imo, is one where a country’s economy is driven by the engine-house of free market capitalism and social benefits are provided through a limited redistribution of corporate and personal income through moderately indexed taxation. In Australia, for example, where this approach is followed on a bi-partisan basis at the political level, we do not have the same extreme contrast between rich and poor as the US, and people generally are more concerned about the welfare of the social fabric that knits us all together. This doesn’t prevent us from having a vibrant economy, with a federal budget in surplus, that is not facing recession in the current financial crisis, largely due to strong growth in the past ten years and state supervision of the banks requiring large capital reserves.
    This is not to say that we are perfect, far from it, but perhaps, to paraphrase Churchill, this is the least worst of all systems?
    It certainly enables us to have ‘socialised’ medicine, including subsidised drugs affordable to all. Not long ago I saw a story on TV about American retirees going over the Canadian border to purchase cheaper drugs. That sort of thing amazes most Australians. Sorry to write so much!

  2. Gregory DeVore
    November 26th, 2008 at 19:42 | #2

    I have no doubt that the social democracy/social market model had its origins in the same state churches that gave us historical criticism and rationalism and other plagues of error on both church and state. The American experience and tradition of liberty is different then the experience and traditions of europe and canada and australia. Their is an ontological difference between Americans and Europeans. Our ancesters came here because they did not want to be Europeans anymore, they wanted to give us something different. If its hubris to want to be different then the rest of the world so be it. Let Europe be Europe but let America be America. A society radically different from that of our European ancestors.
    {{{{Greg: I’m really not trying to be argumentative, but your remark that our “ancestors” came here because they did not want to be European anymore is completely wrong.
    [In my personal case, my Irish ancestor came to escape starvation in Ireland in the mid 19th century, and my Grandfather came here to marry his true love and to bug out of Nazi Germany!]
    The Europeans who came here, came here precisely to colonize the New World for their native lands. They thought of themselves as Englishmen, Frenchmen and citizens of Spain. The very same principles of liberty, freedom and egalitarianism that animated the growing social movements in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century, were the same movements upon which our founding fathers drew. The founders of our nation were not Christians, by and large, but Deists, through and through.
    Greg, I don’t mean to sound unkind, but your post reflects the very American hubris that is entirely baffling to many and appalling to most. I really have to disagree with your comment, but thanks for sharing it.}}}

  3. Tom Huguenot
    November 27th, 2008 at 05:13 | #3

    “I have no doubt that the social democracy/social market model had its origins in the same state churches that gave us historical criticism and rationalism and other plagues of error on both church and state.”
    I am sorry, Gregory, but you’re wrong.
    Christian social thought came from all sectors of Christianity (Protestant Mainliners, Roman Catholics, Free Churches…)and was frequently promoted by very conservative believers. You are confusing the issues for the sake of your own ideas.
    And anyway, even if your point was true, where would the problem be?
    AS I have already mentioned, I am fairly conservative, but I totally support our Social Security system, just like my Liberal friends do. We agree on that, and try to work for the common good with our different world-views that sometimes coïncide, that’s all.
    The very ideas of solidarity, care for the poor, dignity of every human being stems from Christianity. The fact they were secularized by some does not change this reality.
    I could also say things about the fact that “free-market economy”is blindly supported by the same churches that are Arminian, baptistic, individualistic in ethos and often turn ministry into a business, but I won’t go further…

  4. Greg
    November 29th, 2008 at 01:26 | #4

    It is quite amazing that Americans, who have received the greatest form of government (a constitutional republic) in the world, keep finding ways of ruining it. What happened to the idea that the STATES have the power that is not delegated in the constitution? Yes, it may be a crazy idea to not have the federal government involved in every aspect of our lives: abortion, education, health care, etc. It may also be insane to think that we should keep more of our tax dollars in our states instead of sending it a large centralized government and receiving a PORTION back…
    Why not let the states decide on health care? Texas limited lawsuits and guess what? Health care costs have gone down by 30%. Other states have more of a safety net. Fine with me. If our tax money stays in our state and then the people of our state determine how it’s spent. Not some politician who is beholden to some corporate lobbyist a 1,000 miles away.

  5. November 29th, 2008 at 15:10 | #5

    You asked Father Paul, “What is so unChristian about socialized medicine?”
    I can’t say for sure that socialized medicine is unChristian, but it does, at the very least, have Darwinistic tendencies. Though the passing of Initiative 1000 in Washington was not born of a socialized medical program, I think it offers a glimpse at what we have to look forward to under a Socialist government:
    I am concerned about how my family’s hard-earned dollars are spent. Frankly, I trust neither the “immanentize the eschaton!” people nor our government to love my neighbor through wise stewardship of my treasure.

  6. Otto
    November 29th, 2008 at 23:39 | #6

    Pastor McCain, you’re the first confessional Lutheran I’ve met with these views, and I’m thankful!
    I agree, that the government is us! Yet so many conservative Lutherans and other Christian conservatives continue to play the fear card when it comes to socialized medicine. They act like a bunch of old ladies. Man up, folks. Seriously!
    I see no difference between conservative Lutherans and other Christian conservatives when it comes to these issues (I spent nearly three decades in the latter before becoming a Lutheran several years ago). The conservatism in both cases looks to me like a knee-jerk reactionary stance. I’ve actually been kind of shocked at how vehement and close-minded many folks are. I guess it’s like the old joke –
    “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Answer:
    I believe Luther would be on the side of socialized medicine. It’s a way to love and help the neighbor. Insurance companies don’t give a da*n. Try being self employed with preexisting conditions and try to get health insurance from one. Good luck — won’t happen.
    I hope we can continue to dialogue and explore more than one point of view. For that, Rev. McCain, I thank you!

  7. Otto
    November 29th, 2008 at 23:42 | #7

    ‘I can’t say for sure that socialized medicine is unChristian, but it does, at the very least, have Darwinistic tendencies.’
    What?! Darwinistic tendencies? What about free market capitalism? There’s the ultimate in Darwinism! Every man for himself! Rugged individualism! The haves and the have-nots!

  8. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    December 1st, 2008 at 06:03 | #8

    Drag, I’m late to the party. In case anyone is still there:
    Maybe the discussion should include this — what is insurance anyway? It’s not simply getting someone else to pay for something. It is, but there’s a little more to it than that. Insurance is a transfer of the risk of the financial consequences of an event from a person to another party, for a fee based on the likelihood of that event happening to the person. That’s why older people pay more or can’t get life insurance; you’re more likely to die. That’s why bad drivers pay more or can’t get car insurance; you’re more likely to have an accident. That’s why group policies are often cheaper than individual ones; the likelihood of the event happening to a member of the group is less than the likelihood of it happening to you. That’s why employers are getting more picky about who gets into the group either by finding ways not to hire older people, overweight people, smokers, etc or encouraging if not mandating wellness programmes etc. Finally, the industry that insures is related to but distinct from the industries involved in the events insured against — State Farm doesn’t make or repair cars — so while related to it, the problem of providing health insurance is quite distinct from the problem of providing health care.
    The insurance problem is, how to provide it other than simply doing what insurance does, charge a fee proportional to the risk assumed, because there are many for whom the risk is great and many who cannot pay the fee, and, if the insurer does not have the funds from collected fees (and return on investments thereof) to cover the claims, it’s not insurance at all. The issue then is, where will the money come from to cover claims if proportional fees are not charged, and if proportional fees are charged where will the money come from to cover the fees?
    Also, some insurance insures against events that may or may not happen (that’s property/casualty insurance against car accidents, house fires etc) and some insurance insures against events that are going to happen but may not happen to you within the insured period of time and will not happen to everyone insured at the same time (that’s life insurance, you are going to die, but it’s more likely later than sooner and not at the same time as everyone else).
    Health insurance is different; it’s the worst of both, in that you may or may not get sick or have an accident in a period of time yet sooner or later you will die of something and taking care of it will cost when it happens. Added to that, the product for which the insurance will pay wasn’t even known until within the lifetimes of some now alive — a level of health care even at its basic levels unavailable throughout human history until recent decades to any one at any price.
    None of which is a matter of Commandments or Constitutions, but about which clarity on the real issues is lost among such talk.
    Another complicating factor. Think you have freedom of choice of doctors? Try showing up at the doctor of your choice without insurance or money in the bank, and see how much choice, or freedom, you have.

  9. Byron
    December 1st, 2008 at 10:00 | #9

    It seems to me there to be a great confusion in the premise of Pastor McCain’s, and many other of the respondents, argument for the universality of health care as opposed to the privatization of it.
    Firstly, there is a confusion regarding the distinction between what ought to be desired by the Christian heart (namely, the right to health care for all citizens) and the means and methods employed to achieve these ends (governmental control of, inevitably, the entire health care system). This is a flawed premise for many of the reasons already listed by, what some of the more liberal posters seem to have chosen to designate as, the “less enlightened”. We are those darkened by self-interest, devoting ourselves to the philosophies of free-market capitalism rather than the purposes of Christ.
    I would like to dispel this notion immediately by first stating that I am in total agreement with the Lutheran Confessions that God, in all of His sovereignty, has chosen to work through various forms of governmental institutions in order to achieve His own desired ends. This is not a point that can be disputed by any practicing Lutheran. However, Article XVI section 61 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confessions states:
    “It is also a most empty myth that Christian perfection consists in not holding property. For Christian perfection does not consist in contempt for public ordinances, but in the inclinations of the heart, in great fear of God, and in great faith. Abraham, David, and Daniel, even in great wealth and while excercising public power, were no less perfect than any hermits.”
    Furthermore, section 63:
    “The Law of the Ten Commandments, when it says, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15), distinguishes rights of ownership and commands each on to hold what is his own.”
    In addition, the words of Martin Luther in The Freedom of a Christian make the point abundantly clear, that the Christian is the slave of no man, but the servant of all men. What does this mean? Simply that we as Christians cannot be held by compulsion in order to do what is right.
    Pastor McCain, is compulsion or charity the motivation by which you seek to collect your church’s tithes and offerings?
    Therefore, while the Lord may work through any form of government, even a tyrannical one, surely this does not mean that a tyrannical form should, or can in good conscience, be desired; that is for God to decide for Himself. We as Christians, bound to the word of the Lord, should strive for a more Christian nation and governance. Capitalism is certainly not a perfect economic approach, however, it is consistently Christian in its preservation of life, liberty, and property. And it cannot be honestly argued that the socialist school of thought is even remotely consistent with Christian principle, as can be seen by the majority of its adherents. Socialism, at its foundation, is a philosophy of materialism, seeking the abolition of heaven above and hell below for a utopian bliss here and now.
    The consequences for allowing our government, or any for that matter, the authority over the whole of health care will be detrimental to the Christian cause, as abortion, euthanasia, and many detestable bio-medical practices will reach unprecendented levels.
    It is we Christians who are to blame for such a failed health care system. Do we need to be taxed before we are willing (or unwilling) to give? Do we seriously expect the government to provide when the demands of health care provision far exceed the divinely ascribed mandates of the institution? Must we actually persist in the flawed logic that charity by complusion is charity at all?
    Let us not fool ourselves.
    {{{McCain: In nearly breathtaking fashion, Bryon poses false alternatives and introduces several red herrings. The reality demonstrated in this post is that we have American Lutherans doing a very nice job of equating American democracy and capitalism with some sort of reflection of Christianity. There is nothing less, or more, “Christian” about free market capitalism than with socialism.}}}

  10. Gregory DeVore
    December 1st, 2008 at 14:25 | #10

    So my political beliefs are baffling and appalling. I am not surprised since my religious beliefs are also baffling and appalling to Europeans and the rest of the industrial world. Since we are already hated by the Europeans and America’s Europhile elite for our shared faith in Christ why should I care if they hate me for my politics?

  11. Gregory DeVore
    December 1st, 2008 at 14:32 | #11

    Tom writes: “And anyway, even if your point was true, where would the problem be?” Finally Tom we may have found some common ground. It would make no difference who created the social market system. Its origin is irrelevant to the question of its justice. I was simply responding to your point that it was created by believers working out the implications of the social teaching of their churches. This is a kingdom of the left question upon which believers in Christ can hold differing opinions. I am glad that I am a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod where such social teaching does not have place. The LCMS has a strong two kingdom doctrine which prevents the Church from interfering in the kingdom of the left with such social teaching.

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