Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Healthcare Question: A Rejoinder

I always apologize for doing this, but why? So here is another shameless link to another blog post written by a doctor– and not one of those doctors from the fifties who told us smoking is healthy for us (and who is apparently still telling John that snuff is good for him). Even if you won't agree with him, Eric Chevlen offers a good cross-section of the situation and some factors that may not be readily visible.

One word of warning: it's a bit on the long side, so you may want to pull up a rolling stool, don a hospital gown, grab a decanter of good 20 year old rubbing alcohol, and make yourself comfortable.

Confessions of a Health Care Rationer

My favorite line? "People love honesty, but they hate the truth," Ah, how deep our depravity runs!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reading the Word with Liza Hamilton, Part 1

I love the Dickensian depiction of the "dour Presbyterian" Liza Hamilton in Steinbeck's East of Eden: "Her head was small and round and it held small round convictions...She had a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do".

Throughout the novel, Steinbeck is determined to bury her simple fundamentalism by the burgeoning free-spirited, individualism of her husband Samuel, his friend Lee, and their curious reading of Genesis 4. Samuel remarks, "Give me a used Bible and I will, I think, be able to tell you about a man by the places that are edged with the dirt of seeking fingers. Liza wears a Bible down evenly." This begs the question, Who's reading their Bible rightly? The seeking fingers or the even wearing?

Ultimately, there is room at the hermeneutical table for both readers. The Word is relevant and timely, answering burning questions of burdened fingers. If I cannot approach the Word with my aches and fears and joys to whom else may I go? It has the words of life.

Contra Steinbeck, however, it is not the only way or even the best way to read. To paraphrase Newbigin, the Bible does not have answers to all our inquiries because more often than not we are asking stupid questions. Our reading and preaching today has joyfully joined the ranks of Samuel and Lee, hungry for individualistic, therapeutic, myopic tidbits. This Sunday morning snackfood energizes us for another week of living within our own story, the one untarnished and uninterested by the one in Scripture.

Joining Liza in evenly wearing our Bibles is crucial. What breaks to the fore from Genesis to Revelation are not anecdotes for our ailments but the thundering story of God gaining glory for himself by redeeming a people and recreating a world. And we are guests on that sacred ground.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Oliver O'Donovan and Public Health Care

“It is a Western conceit,” O’Donovan writes, “to imagine that all political problems arise from the abuse or over-concentration of power; and that is why we are so bad at understanding political difficulties which have arisen from a lack of power, or from its excessive diffusion.” He cites the example of Somalia, admitting that “such power as there has been has, as a matter of course, been abused.” But a more crucial problem is that “political power was never strong enough to cope with the daunting natural obstacles.”

Disease and famine, he suggests, are as crucial “enemies” as tyrants and invaders, since they are “depoliticizing forces” that “prevent people from living in communities, from coordinating their efforts to the common good; from protecting one another against injury and maintaining just order; and from handing on their cultural legacy to their children.”

The above is a short blog post from Peter Leithart, where he is summarizing some of Oliver O'Donovan's thoughts from his 1996 book, "The Desire of the Nations." The skepticism of nation-state power that O'Donavan bemoans is relevant to the current debate over reforming health care. One of the main criticisms that is lodged against pursuing the option of a public health care plan is that health care is not a right, it is actually a commodity, or a privilege. Therefore, the American government, with a public health care plan, would be providing something that it does not have business or authority to provide. This has been shouted to the world via televised town-hall meetings with the threat that if we go this route we are wittingly lifting up the dust ruffle and inviting the boogy man with the S branded on his chest into our bedroom to have his way with us.

Beyond the obvious ridiculousness of such alarmism there is a more subtle problem with this warning. As O'Donovan is aptly pointing out, can it honestly be maintained that the tyrants that our military defends us from are more "depoliticizing" than the immobilization of our citizens from untreated disease? We have picked and chose randomly where we want government to interfere with our lives- a product of the post-enlightenment skepticism of everything authority. Yet, in the wake of increasing awareness of the things that threaten our health, and the technological wherewithall to combat them can these arbitrary distinctions be maintained? Why do we consider health care a commodity? Seriously, why? Why is this proposed plan any different from the preventative care I get from the United States Marine Corps? Why am I owed one (as a U.S. citizen) and not the other?