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Christian approaches to healthcare — thoughts on the synchroblog

3 September 2009

A couple of weeks ago I called for a synchroblog on Christian approaches to health care, and the synchroblog took place a couple of days ago – you can find the links to it here:

I must say I was rather disappointed in the result.

Most of the posts dealt with political and economic approaches to health care, and Christian approaches were mentioned just in passing, if at all.

One blogger I know mentioned attending a conference on “The future of theology” (he didn’t contribute to the synchroblog) and that is perhaps symptomatic of the problem. Theology has become too introspective, talking about itself and its future.

I invited some Anglican blogging friends to join in, but none of them seemed to do so. The Anglicans seem to have pushed introspection to the limit, with few exceptions blogging almost exclusively about their own internal squabbles.

Why am I writing this?

Perhaps I’m one of the children in the market place, saying “We have piped for you and you have not danced.”

But I see it as a symptom, and perhaps a pointer to the future of theology. When a group of Christians write about Christian approaches to health care, theology has nothing to say to them. The voices of politics and economics speak louder. Theology has nothing to say to the world, or even to the church, it speaks only to and for itself.

Several years ago John Davies, who was then the Anglican chaplain at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, visited the UK, and met people from the Anglican Students Federation in Britain, which he described as “introspective, theoretical and irrelevant”. He said there was an opposite danger, of being “woolly and humanist”.

And perhaps that is the state of much theology at present.

Some bloggers took the line that health care is a right.

When one talks about rights, some people remind us that we should not talk only about rights, but also about duties.

And in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which I take as a paradigm case of Christian approaches to health care, nothing at all is said about rights to health care. The message is primarily about duty. It is not that Lazarus has a “right” to health care, but the the rich man had a duty to provide it.

What sparked of my interest in the topic, and my original post on it, which was my contribution to the synchroblog, was a statemnt I read on another blog, that said quite baldly, “universal health care is theft.”

The statement seemed such a complete antithesis to a Christian approach to health care that I thought it was important to try to think about such things from a Christian point of view, as opposed to political or economic points of view.

The statement “universal healthcare is theft” puts me in mind of another parable of Jesus. It is the story of the man who went from Jerusalem to Jericho and got mugged. A priest and a Levite passed, but offered him no health care. That fell to a Samaritan, who cared for him.

The point of the story, however, was to answer the question of a lawyer: “Who is my neighbour?”

At the end of the story Jesus says to the lawyer, “Who then was neighbour to him who fell among thieves?” and the lawyer answered “He who had mercy on him”. Jesus never answered his question, all he said was “Go thou and do likewise”.

Jesus turns the lawyer’s question around, because it is the wrong question: the right question is not “Who is my neighbour?” but “Who can I be a neighbour to?”

The question “Who is my neighbour?” comes from a mean, stingy, niggardly and ungenerous spirit. It is trying to establish the bare minimum that I can get away with.

Holy Unmercenary Doctors Cosmas & Damien

Holy Unmercenary Doctors Cosmas & Damien

And the statement that “universal health care is theft” springs from the same mean, stingy and ungenerous spirit. It seeks to justify stinginess, and even exalt it as a virtue. Jesus sdaid, “Freely have ye receive, freely give”. But the spirit of meanness and stinginess turns it around “Freely ye have received, so make sure that you can grab as much as you can and make sure no one else gets any”.

That is why the statement that “universal healthcare is theft” is the antithesis of Christianity. It is the attitude of the priest and the Levite, and above all of the lawyer, approaching it with the mentality of “Why should I do it?”

But if we put that aside, and agree that universal health care is a desirable goal and not an immoral one, the question of how it should be achived obviously involves politics and economics. So obviously politics and economics come into it, but for Christians those should be secondary to theology.

Health care is a hot topic in the USA at the moment, and in other places too. There are many different viewpoints, and there are many vested interests, and many different proposals. But before jumping into the fray and taking sides, as Christians we need to ask how we should approach the debate.

Rather than jumping in running before our feet hit the ground, we should be asking how we can approach it with the mind of Christ. Rather than saying that this option is good and that is bad, we should consider what criteria we are using for deciding which is good and which is bad. And theology ought to help us decide on those criteria, rather than getting lost in the contemplation of its own future.

See also Anargyri.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 September 2009 2:30 pm

    Steve, wrote a more detailed reflection here.
    http://mattstone.blogs.com/christian/2009/09/has-theology-become-too-introspective.html

    • 3 September 2009 8:30 pm

      Thanks Matt. You’d said you were opting out of this synchroblog, but I think that’s a useful contribution.

      • 4 September 2009 12:04 pm

        I was too sick and busy to contribute to the synchroblog itself but getting back into the swing of things now.

  2. 3 September 2009 5:01 pm

    Honestly I felt as though many of us did explore what it means for a Christian to approach the debate because of our focus on the very nature as a living entity called the Body of Christ, which is to reflect Christ in His service to this hurting world. It is disingenuous for Christians to fight solutions because of our own fear and prejudices or greed. It bothers me that so many of the fear-mongerers and foot-draggers are Christians waiting for the “perfect” solution (that won’t cost them) but who are unwilling to engage in anything sacrificial to get to the goal. It bothers me more that that the *passion* for the underprivileged, poor or underserved is not more obviously demonstrated from the Church. The lack of caring or worse does indeed reflect poor theology and that was challenged.

    But if you are looking for a theological solution that’s another thing all together. Scriptures such as the Good Samaritan and the Lazarus story do show us the right heart and the shoulds, but not theological model for the “hows”. I don’t think there is a clear “how” in scripture, just a mandate to care as Christ did which is always sacrificial and therefore, probably unpopular. (The theology is found in the why’s and in the compassion required to pull it off.)

    Solutions will require a collective, imaginative effort (springing from the passion expressed by this group of bloggers). We do have resources and trained people but there is not a clear theological way to put those together.
    So, we end up at the same point as you did – how do we approach this from the mind of Christ. The “how”.
    What’s next then? A blog on possible solutions? Maybe that will get closer to the heart of what you are expressing?

    • 3 September 2009 8:20 pm

      Ellen,

      I think the “how” is part of politics and possibly economics, and that is as it should be. But before we discuss the “how”, we need to discuss the “what”. What are we trying to do, and what are we not trying to do? and as Christians, we need to try to think it through theologically. Marxist like to say that the end justifies the means, but how can we discuss the means if we aren’t clear about what the end is?

  3. 3 September 2009 5:48 pm

    I had wanted to write a post on solidarity in contribution to the sychroblog but unfortunately it didn’t happen.

    If youv’e not come across it already you may appreciate this recent post by William Willimon:

    http://willimon.blogspot.com/2009/08/thinking-like-christians-about-health.html

    • 3 September 2009 8:24 pm

      Perhaps that should have been included in the synchroblog too.

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  1. Christian Approaches to Healthcare « Persona
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