Christian approaches to healthcare — thoughts on the synchroblog
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:
- Phil Wyman at Square No More (that’s me): Clowns to the Left. Jokers to the Right. Stuck in the Middle of the Health Care Debate
- K.W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent: Christian’s Responsibility to Healthcare
- Ellen Haroutunain: Christian Perspectives on Health Care
- Steve Hayes at Khanya: Self-evident Truths and Moral Turpitude
- Kimber Caldwell at Convergence: Is Health Care a Right?
- Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House: Baby Steps Toward More Humane Humanity
- Liz Dyer at Grace Rules Weblog: A Christian Perspective on Health Care Reform
- Kathy Escobar at Carnival in My Head: It’s Easy to be Against Health Care Reform When You Have Insurance
- Susan Barnes at A Book Look: Carrying Your Own Load
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.
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.