Friday, September 28, 2007

Oprah and Healthcare

I caught the tail-end of an Oprah episode recently, in which she was interviewing Michael Moore about his newest faux-documentary, Sicko. She raised the question of whether or not each child in America deserved equal health coverage. One of her other guests asked if we really wanted it to be a luxury, which only the rich can afford, or if it should be considered a right for all citizens. Oprah, Michael, her other guests, and the audience all clamored for equal treatment concerning healthcare.

Most of us (myself included) have been thoroughly indoctrinated with the American ideal of freedom and liberty for all. We see each other as inherently equals under the law, as we should. I can even agree that all people in America should have access to good healthcare, even while providing that there may be different levels available. Oprah's got my vote to a point. What was conveniently missing from her great plan for America, however, was an idea of who is going to pay for it. The easy answer is government, but who pays the taxes and what other programs are cut to afford the tremendous cost of the program?

I might suggest that she and her friends would say, "the rich will pay." Many of the poor will rally behind the notion of a leveling of the playing field at the expense of those more well-off than them. But is this right? Is it right to take from someone just because he has more? Recently, a couple of Basketball icons were targeted by thieves who broke in, while their victims were at home, and stole very expensive items. One of the stars commented that he would never step foot in that house again and that he was leaving Chicago for good. He felt raped. While our society would not advocate so violent a theft from anyone, the premise is similar, "He/she is richer than I, so I will take from them to make my lot easier. After all, they can afford it." But I would respond, who are you to say that another can afford your deprecations? If someone less fortunate than you stole from you, would you put up with it? Then why should the rich?

Michael Moore made the point that this was not social reform, but Christian reform. He used Jesus as an example, implying that Jesus would establish governmental healthcare for all. Yet he certainly does not have a clear concept of the New Testament. His ideas reflect the Social Gospel, rather than the true Gospel.

Jesus did care for the sick, the poor, the widow, the orphan and taught his disciples to care for their physical needs. But Jesus never said that we must eradicate poverty, or disease, or famine. Instead, he said that these things will always be among us. Rather, his emphasis was on the salvation of souls from spiritual death. Jesus also certainly never said that we should force those more wealthy to give to those less fortunate. He recommended that one (the rich young ruler) do so, as a sign of his loyalty to Christ. This was a specific situation involving that particular individual. If we take i to mean a test for all, we misread the text. Besides, how do we then measure wealth? Instead, if we look at the New Testament understanding of sharing wealth, we see that giving is to be voluntary, not enforced. God loves a cheerful (voluntary) giver, think of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts, etc. God does not rob anyone, and robbing others in God's name is wickedness. Oprah's gospel is the gospel of Robin Hood, not that of Jesus Christ.

So, if it is wrong to charge the rich to care for the poor, how do we accomplish healthcare coverage for all? I have a couple of suggestions. First, smaller government. We have so many programs that government has swelled to the point of bursting. Many programs are unneeded or are abused, sapping enormous amounts of taxpayer money (think welfare for one). Second, oversight and accountability of government spending. The old joke of $500.00 for a toilet seat is not far from the truth. Third,a flat tax. This could be done as a single amount that all citizens are required to pay, or a single percentage. This, of course is borderline, because it does take more money from the rich than from the poor, but at least it is done correlatively. if all payed one or three percent of their income, it may be sustainable. The present income tax system is set up so that you are taxed higher percentages the more you make, which, if one thinks about it is a penalization rather than a reward for making money. This seems counterproductive for a capitalist democracy.

Feel free to write-in and tell me what you think.


J&B said...

Amen. You know, that woman (Oprah) gives me the heebie-jeebies. I agree with the idea of a smaller government. So as to be facetious... have you heard Ron Paul's ideas regarding government? Get rid of the FBI, CIA, IRS, Medicaid, and.... well, you get the point. Ha.
I'll catch you later, bro.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you all your points, but now that the government is so large, how would you propose making it smaller? Looking at history, governments are never happy to give up ANY power, so do we get this one to give up power without an all out civil war? (which would be practically impossible, considering what weapons the government has) I agree we don't need things like welfare bogging down our tax system. But our churches usually no longer offer to fill a permanent (a poor widow) or temporary (out of a job) monetary need. How can we get the churches to step up and the government to back down? do you think there even is a solution in this sinful world?

Steven Douglas said...

Great questions! You are right that government will tend not to change itself for the better. Usually there needs to be some sort of outward impetus for change. Large changes have occurred within our government in the past, generally brought on by war or by tragic events. Isn’t that the way with every government? Yet each event of change has seemed to either enlarge government or cause it to become even more rigid. Welfare, for example was instituted by F.D.R. in order to ease the suffering during the depression. This, mixed with his public works program worked with the “lift-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” mentality that was so part of the culture. They had their place and purpose, but now these have turned into handouts for the ne’er-do-well and the dregs; those who have no intention of working if they don’t have to.

How do we get things to change? Well, keeping in mind that I don’t hold a Political Science degree, I would suggest we as voters start making ourselves heard. Conservative voters are generally rather poor at this because we are, well… conservative. But we should attend meetings and rallies and ask the tough questions of our politicians. We should call offices in Washington and e-mail representatives and congressmen. These are the practices that the liberals spend a lot of time at, and why they have been so successful at harming our country the last 40+ years.

Next, we should hold our politicians accountable. We should make it clear through the media and other resources (and certainly our votes) that we will not stand for false promises or practices that lead toward even larger government. We should also vote for those who pledge (and have stuck by their pledges in the past) to reduce government programs. If we could do that much, then we can tweak things further later.

As far as church involvement goes, the Church is only as strong as its membership. If there are fewer members and they give less and less, obviously there will be less money going to specific projects. The answer here lies in financial accountability. Some Christians do not believe in tithing (viewing it as an O.T. tradition only), but I do not agree. Even if we are to take the obscure mentions of giving in the N.T. Church and build a theology around it, we still see the giving of large amounts of money and goods to support fellow believers. Recent figures are dismaying. Within mainline churches, giving is around 1.5% on average. Evangelical churches, on the other hand, enjoy a meager 3-4% on average. For the average small church, that barely covers the building upkeep and pastor’s salary, much less evangelism, special projects and hospitals. What could we accomplish by giving a full ten percent, or more?

Just because the Church steps into the gap left by government, however, does not mean that everything will be fine. Many who want handouts from government will simply want handouts from churches. I would suggest Paul’s model: all who want to eat should work. Now this was really aimed at Christians, but I believe all who can, should work. Those who work should be taken care of.

My suggestion is, then, that all Christians should be activist citizens, working for the common good of their brothers and sisters in the faith worldwide, first. We should also work toward the good of all men (not their interests which we should consider sinful, but their needs). This must always be done carefully and prayerfully.

That’s my twenty-six cents. How about you? What would you suggest?