One thing I have noticed about N.T. Wright over the years is that he likes to position himself as the healthy middle ground in almost any debate. After portraying both the “right” and the “left” of any debate as extreme, he shows how his way, the via media, is one that makes the most sense.
An example of this method can be found in Wright’s book, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. The subtitle offers a clear indication of where he is headed. He is going to move us beyond the tired old liberal-conservative impasse onto a fresh new beginning.
Brian McClaren’s blurb on the back is telling, “N. T. Wright opens for us a path beyond of the paralyzing polarization of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative.’”
Now, let me say that there are many, many things I appreciate and value about Wright’s work. His Christian Origins and the Question of God series (Fortress press) is really an impressive piece of scholarship. But, I have to confess that I am not always convinced by his via media methodology. In particular, I think Wright often ends up with a view that is neither new nor middle of the road.
This is particularly evident in Wright’s regular commentary on U.S. politics (most of which is negative). In an interview earlier in the year, aptly entitled “Why Left, Right, and Lewis Get it Wrong,” Wright even decides to wade into the US healthcare (Obamacare) debate:
In your country, for example, there seem to be Christian political voices saying that you shouldn’t have a national healthcare system. To us, in Britain, this is virtually unthinkable. Every other developed country from Norway to New Zealand has healthcare for all of its citizens. We don’t understand all of this opposition to it over here in the U.S. And, we should remember: In the ancient world, there wasn’t any healthcare system. It was the Christians, very early on, who introduced the idea that we should care for people beyond the circle of our own kin. Christians taught that we should care for the poor and disadvantaged. Christians eventually organized hospitals. To hear people standing up in your political debate and saying—“If you are followers of Jesus, you must reject universal healthcare coverage!”—and that’s unthinkable to us. Those of us who are Christians in other parts of the world are saying: We can’t understand this political language. It’s not our value in our countries. It’s not even in keeping with traditional Christian teaching on caring for others. We can’t understand what we are hearing from some of your politicians on this point. Yet, over here, some Christians are saying that it’s part of the list of boxes we all should check off to keep in line.
I find this statement from Wright to remarkable on so many levels. First, Wright’s position is by no means the via media here. In regard to political options, nationalized healthcare is fundamentally on the left side of the political landscape and constitutes a clear move towards a more socialist mode of governance. It is a monumental government power-grab of almost 20% of the U.S. economy.
Second, Wright tries to temper this reality by pointing out that “every other developed country” has nationalized healthcare, implying that American needs to get with the program. But, the fact that America stands alone does not invalidate its approach. Historically speaking, America has always been distinctive from the rest of the globe in precisely this area, namely its commitment towards economic freedom for its citizens, with limited government intervention. One might make the opposite of Wright’s point, namely that what makes America great is its willingness to not join the European socialist program.
But third, and most problematic, Wright defends nationalized healthcare on the grounds that “Christians taught that we should care for the poor and disadvantaged.” While I certainly agree this is a Christian value, how does that fact lead one to conclude that the government should be the body doing it? This simply does not follow. Historically, it was Christians caring for the poor and disadvantaged and not the government!
Wright’s argument simply assumes—without argument and without proof—that the best way to help the poor and disadvantaged is if the government takes over healthcare. This is not a surprising assumption from someone from a socialist background. But, it is an assumption that is completely without warrant.
Indeed, on the contrary, one could argue if government runs healthcare it will actually make things worse. There are good arguments to be made that nationalizing healthcare will limit both the access to healthcare and affect the quality of healthcare. The government does very few things better than the private sector. One need only watch the recent debacle about the Obamacare website to see that this is the case. If the government cannot manage a healthcare website, why do we think they could manage the entire healthcare system itself?
Wright does not seem to realize that committed Christians, who love Jesus and who want to care for the poor, might actually think that the best solution to the healthcare problem might just be in the free market. A free market solution would do the very thing that is needed most, it would lower prices. And that is the best way to make healthcare accessible to the poor without sacrificing access or quality.
Even Bono now seems to recognize the value of the free market for helping the poor:
In dealing with poverty here and around the world, welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure. Entrepreneurship is the most sure way of development. Rock star preaches capitalism. Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it.
Could it be that the most compassionate, the most caring, and the most loving thing to do regarding healthcare is to keep it out of the hands of the government? Wright cannot seem to see this as a possibility. On the contrary, Wright’s statement above comes dangerously close to saying that nationalized healthcare is the only position that is “in keeping with traditional Christian teaching on caring for others.” That is definitely not a via media.
Edward M. Yang says
Great points and ones that immediately leaped into my head when I read Wright’s comments. The “everyone else is doing it so why aren’t we” argument is so tired. Like our mom’s told us, “if everyone were to jump off a cliff, would you follow?”
This unwaivering trust of the government is one that perplexes me. Government does things backed by the implicit threat of force. Government has been the top cause of death for humanity in the 20th century (outside of natural causes). Who in their right mind would believe that the IRS, the DMV or the US Postal Service would be great models for delivering our health care system?
Universal health care by definition sounds great. However, under that model you simply cannot have 1) universal access 2) low cost 3) great care. You can have 2 of the three, but never all 3 at once.
And I for one and tired of being demonized for not caring about the poor simply because I don’t believe government is the best vehicle for delivering health care.
Daniel C. Greer says
Bravo!! Excellent review in my humble opinion. Pity that Wright doesn’t seek dialogue with others such as yourself before making his outlandish pontifications. I am glad you have found some value in his work such as his “Christian Origins and the Question of God”. I have not read that work probably because my patience for Wright has grown so very thin due to what appears to me to be mindless meanderings into areas not needing to be plowed such as the New Perspective on Paul and Federalism. For my study purposes, the good Wright might proclaim gets lost by the nonsense he embraces.
It seems the British have a knack for that sort of thing. Me thinks they spend too much time in their ivy covered halls.
Katherine A. says
Similarly, under the new system, it is next to impossible (and according to some sources actually impossible) to obtain a government supported health plan in which part of your premium does not contribute to elective abortions. This push is not only to universalize health care, but to universalize abortion as well.
For those not tracking, abortion is not compassionate, caring, or loving, and mostly certainly not in keeping with traditional Christian teaching.
Edward M. Yang says
Haven’t you heard? It’s cruel to let children come into the world if their parents don’t want them. In fact, that’s why Europe is at the forefront of floating the insane idea of elective infanticide. This is the steep slippery slope we find ourselves facing when we accept that abortion is morality permissible.
We already have government health care in the United States. Whether or not we have it is not the question. The question is what kind of government healthcare we are going to have going forward.
Timothy G. Givan says
Dr. Kruger, I tend to be in agreement with your views and I have enjoyed your work. To be honest I have not read enough of N.T. Wright’s works to agree or disagree with you, but I have found the New Perspectives on Paul to be troubling.
However, I do want to point out on your comments about health care that the the free market has not worked in the health care delivery system. We have had a trend over the last 30 years for for-profit companies to buy out most local non-profit hospitals. Why? Primarily due to the mounting costs of uninsured patients who turn to the emergency room for the health care delivery. Often times these uninsured who use the emergency room are employed, but are unable to afford health insurance.
20 years the Clinton’s tried to introduce a nationalized health care to Congress. Their plan was shot down at that time by Republicans saying that as Americans we should let the private market fix the situation. Until the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) passed several years ago, things were pretty static in terms of government regulations. In the meantime insurance companies got richer, there wre fewer and fewer not-for profit hospitals and most health care is now being delivered by for-profit companies who require primary care physicans to meet certain criteria before they will be reimbursed for their care.
The “market place” has let down American consumers in the health care arena, especially those who are poor, unemployed, have chronic illnesses and those with mental illness. The market is not, has not and will not provide a fix for the system that will benefit all Americans. The only people that obtain quality physical, mental and dental care are those who are lucky enough to have a middle class income. Many doctors won’t accept a patient if they don’t have insurance. If you don’t fit into the middle class category, you are out of luck if you want quality health care. The best place for these people medical treatment is at the emergency room—the most expensive place to provide treatment. And they won’t treat you for dental issues at the emergency room. The care for the mentally ill is even worse unless you are in danger of hurting yourself. Then you are placed in a facility that is incapable of treating the issues that affect the person; at best they watch them for a few days and then discharge the person back into the same environment they came from which has no resources in which to seek help. These problems are what the Affordable Care Act is attempting to fix. The government is stepping in since the “market” can’t and won’t take care of those who are most at risk. I agree it is not a perfect solution, but it was time to do something since the market was not fixing the problems, only making them worse.
My family’s income is typical if not above average for middle class Americans. I work for a bank and have good (but not cadillac) health insurance. Four years ago I had a daughter diagnosed with Anorexia who had to be hospitalized. Luckily, this happend 3 months after my state passed a mental illness parity act. My daughter’s first hospital stay stabilized her medically was largely paid for. We only had to pay about 10% of the hospital bill out of pocket. Only lost my wife’s retirement savings. Felt lucky at that time.
A year later my daughter was still struggling with the mental illness that led to her anorexia. She went to a different hospital that was located out of state. It was not a medical facility but an in-patient mental health facility. Insurance, despite the mental health parity law, paid next to nothing. There went my retirement savings.
We still face continual challenges to obtain appropriate treatments where the private insurance company denies our choice of providers (not in network), it delays payment or reimbursement for no apparent valid decision, the insurance company determines on its own if treatment is even justified and sometimes just decides that there is no valid reason for the treatment so it won’t pay. The private insurance company unilaterally decides what the reimbursement rate should be even though that is less than what the doctor charges. We are left paying the difference out of our pocket. I can’t tell you how many thousands of dollars we have had to pay in out of pocket to out-patient counselors because the insurance company decides that the treatment for my daughter was not needed.
The reason we need the government to step in and adjust the health care system is that individuals are unable to fix the problems. I have no choice in my insurance plan. My employer picks it for me. We are at the mercy of big businesses, big insurance companies and big medicine companies who don’t give a rip about the majority of the population. They are all out to make a buck and caring for people is not part of their DNA. They don’t want to fix it and the lack of changes in the 20 years since the Clintons tried to institute similar changes shows that the health care system cannot be fixed from within.
One of the primary functions of government is to ensure the rich don’t run rough shod over ordinary people. I see Obamacare as a reaction to a system that is only hurting the majority of people in the country, especially those who are poor or down and out and not included in the benefits of “the American way of life.” Many of the problems people complain that Obamacare will bring we already have due to regulations from the insurance companies. The Affordable Care Act is just shifting around who is making many of those decisions. At least the government is accountable to the people (in principal). Private health insurance companies are not. At least not in my experience. They currently have absolute veto over what treatment you do or don’t get.
I can’t see where Obamacare is going to make things worse. I think the example of Medicare and its health insurance programs is a model that we are evolving too. Not perfect, but better than it is now.
Sorry for the long comment, but thought you needed to hear from someone on the other side.
And by the way–the second facility my daughter went to was in Utah. It was free to members of the Morman Church. The Church paid all their bills. How many Christian churches today step up and do the same thing for their church members?
Daniel C. Greer says
You might want to investigate coverage involving Christians helping Christians thru Samaritan Ministries at this link: http://samaritanministries.org/ The monthly expense is affordable by most working families and it functions much like insurance without the dependence on government involvement. A good article on this alternative can be found here: http://americanvision.org/9564/get-obamacare/#sthash.WzwtLlAc.dpbs
Edward Yang says
The US system is far from a free market. 60% of it is already socialized. The other part is hobbled by a broken insurance system with little to no competition. The free market always leads to lower prices, more choice. We should try it in health care for once.
Mike Bird says
Michael, mate, I understand the concern, but it ain’t so mate. I’ve lived in two countries with universal healthcare and cannot imagine living without it. The US healthcare system is why I’ve always been scared to move to the USA with my family. Any way, I do have a response on this, comes out tomorrow. Blessings to you!
Eric Verby says
This makes a good point. Love the Bono quote; he’s a hero to me.
Some helpful thoughts on this from a global perspective are available here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2013/11/n-t-wright-and-michael-kruger-on-healthcare/
“Wright’s claim that every western democracy from Norway to New Zealand has universal healthcare should give Americans pause for thought. Yes, America is in many ways distinct, but not always in a good way. It has higher rates of gun violence, higher rats of incarceration, and greater economic inequalities than other nations. The fact that the USA has ten million children without adequate healthcare coverage is indeed distinct, but a distinct injustice and a travesty. Economic freedom is great, so is small government, low taxes, low deficits, and responsible economic management. But fiscal policy should not be pursued at the the expense of our moral obligations to help others in need and to take care of the poor and vulnerable among our citizens. Call that socialism if you like, I call it Christian ethics! In fact, the reason why so many other countries have universal healthcare – not just Europeans by the way – is because these countries were driven by Christian voices to do so!”
Daniel C. Greer says
If you have extra money, then just give it to those in need. You don’t need to run it thru the government to have them do it for you. What part of “thou shalt not steal” do you not understand? When the government takes money from a citizen who does not want to give the money up, that is theft. This theft is done under the implied and often real threat of force not unlike being robbed. It may be legal by man’s law, but it is immoral by God’s law, which, by the way, is the only law that matters.
The Good Samaritan did not need the government to do what he knew had to be done and he did it freely without coercion.
Edward M. Yang says
Well put. I find it humorous that those who call for higher taxes don’t just write a check voluntarily to the IRS, which anyone can do.
“If you have extra money, then just give it to those in need. You don’t need to run it thru the government to have them do it for you.”
Collective action problem.
” What part of “thou shalt not steal” do you not understand? When the government takes money from a citizen who does not want to give the money up, that is theft. This theft is done under the implied and often real threat of force not unlike being robbed. It may be legal by man’s law, but it is immoral by God’s law, which, by the way, is the only law that matters.”
At this point, you are in serious heresy with *all* of Christianity.
Daniel C. Greer says
Please explain “collective action problem” and your charge that I am in serious heresy with all of Christianity. I ask because you may be right. I certainly don’t know all there is to know about God’s law and how to apply it. Quite honestly, I have no idea what you are talking about.
Daniel, taxes all governments collect are the price civilized societies pay to be…well, civilized. Even those governments St.Paul talks about in Romans 13 had to tax their subjects. So it’s totally inappropriate and uninformed to equate taxation with ‘stealing’. If you really hate taxation, you should try Somalia: no government, no taxes, everybody for himself. Now if governments use tax collection to enrich themselves (as it has been the case throughout most of human history with kings, princes, dictators etc) then it would be called theft, but we are talking here about civilized democratic societies where all tax collection is used for some kind of government services. This makes all of us ‘makers’ and ‘takers’ at the same time. You see, the real issue here is how you see the government: if you see it as ‘enemy’ or ‘problem’ (exhibit A: United States) then you would see taxation as stealing (not all of it, mind you, only the parts being used for services you disagree with). If on the other hand, you see the government as expression of the social contract, meaning as ‘us’, as expression of our free decision-making, as it should really be the case in Western democracies (exhibit A: Switzerland, Norway, Germany etc), then you would never consider taxation as stealing, but as a legitimate price to pay for services.
Daniel C. Greer says
Ernie, thank you for taking the time to prepare a well structured response. I see nothing in your answer that speaks to your “heresy with all of Christianity” charge. You do cite Romans 13 and rightly so, but that does not explain a charge of heresy. Clearly, Paul instructs us to pay our taxes. Christ paid His temple tax as recorded in Matthew 17:24-27. Romans 13 goes on to say the authorities are ministers of God. Now a minister of God does not rule in an unGodly manner and that would include the laws they create and the actions they undertake. I can not imagine anyone would say that the US Federal government conducts itself in any fashion that would resemble a minister of God. A minister of God is subject to God. The US Constitution is antithetical to God’s law in almost every clause. Hence, a Christian American has every reason to complain about unjust and unrighteous rule. In fact, that is his duty to his God. In Acts 5:29 Peter stood against the Sanhedrin when brought before them for teaching in the name of Jesus against their instruction saying “we must obey God rather than men”. When a government taxes its citizens and uses the money for unGodly purposes such as abortion and the unjust wars they wage, then yes the government is stealing.
With all due respect, I fear you argue from the position of the absurd. Nowhere do I propose anarchy. Government is ordained by God in Romans 13, but only Godly rule is included in that ordaining. I do not recall contracting with the Federal government for any social service. I have posted elsewhere in this blog how individuals and churches are to shoulder the burden of caring for the needy. Please read those if you have not already. Caring for the immediate needs of the citizens is not a legitimate function of government which brings us to a point of agreement, namely, what is the appropriate role of government? Romans 13 says it is to be an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on wrongdoers. That’s it. That doesn’t say anything about national healthcare, social security, foreign wars, empire or what constitutes a civilized society. A civilized society is a Godly society that lives under God’s law. Anything else is uncivilized and that applies to America today.
The Federal government and the politicians involved in it are in the business of creating problems for which only they can provide the solution. Nice work if you can get it, but terribly inefficient and counter productive. You see, an inconvenient truth is the Federal government limits competition between insurance companies across state lines. The state governments even regulate how many hospital beds can be maintained in any geographic area. There is no faith in the market place to sort out such decisions. By such constraints they create the problems that appear only a national solution can fix. I maintain there are hundreds of solutions to the perceived problem, any one of which can be delivered more efficiently than what is being undertaken now. The current law is aimed at forcing the young and healthy to pay for the healthcare of those who cannot pay. That’s the same notion behind the Ponzi scheme we call Social Security here in America. The fact is that no one goes without healthcare in America. Every hospital in the country treats people every day at no charge. Yes, some always complain the hospitals shift that charge to their paying customers. So what, I ask? How is that any different than what is going to happen with national healthcare. The local solution doesn’t have a massive bureaucracy administering it for one thing. That requires growing government beyond its already outrageous size. It’s also the socialist, fascist solution. Forgive me, but that just is not the American way of doing things.
I do hope you won’t view this response as “uncivilized”. It’s just a peculiar trait many Americans seem to have. We don’t like being told what to do by people who do not fear God or who choose to work against Him. More often than not, they can’t even conceal their hypocrisy. I personally think they don’t even see the evil of their ways. It’s one of those “ears to hear” and “eyes to see” things that God gives only to the elect.
Daniel, thanks for your compliments, I would never in the world view your response as ‘uncivilized’. Your response expresses a sincere concern about the role of government and I applaud your willingness to engage the subject. But I’m afraid I cannot agree with you on the substance, and I will explain why.
First, the charge of “heresy with all of Christianity’ was not mine, it was Barry’s, so let’s get that one out of the way promptly. I will address the main points of your response nevertheless.
On Romans 13 I think you are stretching it a bit when you say ‘only Godly rule is included in that ordaining’ as it’s not what the text says. Very hard indeed to talk about Godly rulers in Paul’s time. In fact that verse has been used throughout the ages to defend the most tyrannical regimes, but that’s another story. I’m totally with you on what you say about the US Constitution, unfortunately today the most vocal Christians in America believe exactly the opposite, i.e. that the US Constitution is christian in spirit and that it was promulgated to secure the advancement of a Christian society.
You call ‘abortion’ and ‘war’ as unGodly purposes, and you make hereby my point: you call ‘stealing’ exactly those parts of government activity that you disapprove of. I beg you to recall that for many Americans ‘abortion’ is only ‘women healthcare’ and ‘war’ is the expression of the highest patriotic duty to defend our country. Consequently they would not call them ‘stealing’, but would apply that notion to other kinds of activities THEY disapprove of. Some p.ex. would reserve that notion for Big Oil subsidies. All this is to say that it’s practically impossible to reach a complete agreement of ALL members of a certain society on ALL types of governmental expenses, and that’s precisely why we have elections, and representatives that are supposed to express the will of the majority. This is is valid for all democratic societies, not just the US, and that should answer your objection that you ‘do not recall contracting with the Federal government for any social service’.
Now on your next point of churches having to carry the burden of caring for the needy, my answer is that it has never been seen in reality. I mean there are no historical examples of societies going from ‘government care’ to ‘church (or charity) care’ and seeing improvements in poverty rates and other social ills. Churches used to be in charge for most of the Christianity’s history, and it was blatantly insufficient. Victorian England would be a good example. On the contrary, there are many examples of societies going from ‘charity care’ to ‘government care’ that have seen fundamental improvements of said problems and most of Western European countries would be good examples.
As for your further contention on Romans 13 not saying ‘anything about national healthcare, social security, foreign wars, empire or what constitutes a civilized society’ I think it’s not appropriate to consider Romans 13 as an essay on the role of Government, as your assumption seems to do. If we take everything to the letter, then most of modern life would have to be scrapped, and i’m sure it’s not what you are willing to do (Amish anybody?).
In the same vein your assertion that ‘a civilized society is a Godly society that lives under God’s law. Anything else is uncivilized’ is too general to serve as guide for anything. What do we mean by God’s law? If you really want that, your would live in a theocracy, where Leviticus law would be the law of the land, but I don’t think there are many takers on that, Christian Reconstructionists exempted.
And finally, what you say about national healthcare and somehow relating that to ‘socialist, fascist solution’ is totally out of place, as you resort to name-calling (and doubling down by mixing socialism with fascism, which is equal to using the adjective Socialist-Republican to describe a politician in today’s America, i.e. devoid of meaning). You also refuse to look at the positive examples of European nations with universal healthcare and better outcomes than the US (see also my previous comments on this), where almost all of them were promoted by Christian political parties.
I hope you find my response helpful. Peace.
Mary Lou Cornish says
I, too, live in a country with universal health care. Everyone, no matter what their financial situation, can get excellent medical care. Yes, we have waiting lists, but why should the rich get immediate attention and the poor not get any at all? That is the American way of doing things with regard to health care and, quite frankly, it doesn’t seem Christian to me at all!
Yes, we Christians should be doing something to help the poor, the sick, etc., but that doesn’t mean the job has to rest entirely in our hands. Why not encourage the government and non-Christians to help accomplish that? Is it really a fear of ‘socialism’ or just a desire for the rich to keep their money and not use it to provide much-needed health care for others?
I used to take prayer requests from an American ministry for people with chronic health issues. It used to break my heart to see the requests from Americans who could not afford to see a doctor. One woman thought she had had a heart attack, but had no money to get medical help. That would NEVER happen in a country like mine where there is universal health care. She could have gotten immediate attention if she lived where I do.
Edward M. Yang says
“or just a desire for the rich to keep their money” It’s not one or the other, as people like to frame the debate. It’s “why should we trust the government who has run Medicare into bankruptcy with the entire health care industry”? We already cover the poor and the elderly through Medicaid and Medicare.
Jordan Monge says
The problem is that the rhetoric of the right in the US doesn’t seem to come from a place of “we care about the poor, we think the free market will do a better job of securing them better healthcare” but rather a “it’s wrong to tax the rich to help the poor.” I think Wright is clever enough to understand that thoughtful people may disagree about whether the best way to help the poor involves the government, but he thinks it bizarre that Christians in the US seem to be more concerned with defending individual liberties (a notion not explicitly found in scripture) rather than helping the needy (which we are commanded to do again and again). So if there is fault to be found, I think it’s likely in Republican rhetoric and not simply Wright’s analysis.
Michael, your contention that “what makes America great is its willingness to not join the European socialist program” would perfectly stand if it were not for a pesky little fact: America spends much more in healthcare per capita than do all the other industrialized nations. And we don’t see Germans, Swiss or Swedes running en masse to our shores to get high quality health care. Which means that the quality of their healthcare is comparable to ours AND less expensive. What more can one expect?
As for that scary adjective “socialist” that people keep throwing around, it means absolutely NOTHING. All modern industrialized nations are socialist in some sense, all Western governments provide a wide range of services paid for by levying taxes. We are all ‘makers’ and ‘takers’ at the same time (Iowa corn farmers would testify to that). What I find flabbergasting in all these unending debates about ‘small’ or ‘big’ government is this: no supporter of the ‘small government’ position has EVER offered a simple definition of exactly what they mean by ‘small’ and how do they measure it? Is it by the percentage of the government services in the GDP? It could very well be, but then what is the magic threshold that marks the passage from ‘small’ to ‘big’? Is it 30 percent of GDP? Then what catastrophe befalls a nation once it becomes 31 percent? Has any Western democracy ever seen such a catastrophe? How can people debate so long and so passionately without ever defining the object of the debate?
We should not forget that all the ‘free market’ methods for delivering healthcare have already been tested and apparently found wanting, this was the simple reason why Christian political parties in Europe made universal (socialized) healthcare one of their battle flags. Also the Canadian system was started by a Baptist minister, Tommy Douglas. This means that whatever some American Christians think of universal healthcare, they should at least be so humble as to recognize their position as not being ‘the only’ Christian position in the matter.
But I think that all this confusion comes from an idea deeply rooted in the American psyche, especially among conservatives, namely that totalitarian Soviet-style socialism (or communism) can be established gradually, through continuous increase in government regulation and intervention in the national economy. This has NEVER happened in the history of the world, which means that this deeply rooted idea is also deeply wrong. Maybe if they knew that, they would not be so scared of socialized medicine. Just a thought.
I’d like to know where the free market has failed. I really would like to see evidence not third or fourth hand conventional wisdom being passed down as is so common, like the notion that some gov’t debt is a good thing (a Keyesian notion no doubt).
Trent, what I mean is that all Western countries since the beginning of the capitalist era have relied on the free market. Only gradually, and after seeing the dysfunctions of the free market they realized it was the role of society (i.e. government) to intervene and correct them. Want proof of this? Look at 18th & 19th century England, and the abject poverty of the lower classes. This means that private charity was totally insufficient. Evidently, if one wants the government to intervene, one must not see the government as the enemy, as is unfortunately the case here in the good old USA, but as expression of a national compact for the society to function. That’s all that it takes.
Edward M. Yang says
“We should not forget that all the ‘free market’ methods for delivering healthcare have already been tested and apparently found wanting”. Not quite true. 65% of America’s health care is already socialized (Medicare, Medicaid). The other remaining portion is far from a free market. The current system of health insurance paying everything has warped the relation between price and demand. In reality, the very definition of insurance should mean only for catastrophic possibilities. Unfortunately now we have health insurance plans that cover everything under the sun, including things you don’t even need. This is akin to auto insurance plans that covered new tires, oil changes and truck cab cleaning even if you didn’t own a cab.
I would not be so bold as to say if one position is “Christian or un-Christian”, but I would ask that those on the left not attack those on the right as being for the 1% or not caring for the poor simply because we believe government is not the best or most efficient means of delivering health care.
“no supporter of the ‘small government’ position has EVER offered a simple definition of exactly what they mean by ‘small’ and how do they measure it? ” Here’s a simple definition. Spend as much on the government as you take in. In other words a balanced budget. No trillion dollar deficits every year.
Sorry but this wouldn’t cut it. What you are saying only means ‘balanced budget’, no more no less. Norway, by your definition, would be ‘small’ government as it constantly runs surpluses. Yet, no Tea Partier in their right mind would call Norway a ‘small’ government country. And all kinds of regimes throughout history have had balanced budgets, but I bet you wouldn’t like to have lived under most of them. What you said only underscores what I pointed out: no real definition of ‘big’ or ‘small’.
Blake Reas says
Actually that isn’t true. I would think that Cruz or Paul would hold something very close to Robert Nozick’s the “night watchmen state”, but I don’t expect you to know what that is. It isn’t on the front page of the USA today.
Blake, it’s not very clear what part of my post you are exactly referring to when you say “that isn’t true”, but as you mention Cruz or Paul I can safely assume you are referring to what I said about the non-clarity of ‘small government’. By the way I’m very familiar with “night watchman (not watchmen) state”, but the fact that Cruz or Paul may hold to that idea doesn’t make it automatically the standard for all ‘small government’ supporters. And then, they should say so if they think ‘NSW’ is their ideal state (i.e. no corn subsidies, no subsidized utilities, no public parks, etc etc). And also, can you provide any historical examples of successful ‘NWS’? Was it America in 1850? Or England during Victorian era? What I’m saying is that all successful Western countries moved on gradually from ‘NWS’ as a consequence of seeing the free market fail in major aspects and needing thereby some regulation (and not as a consequence of sinister liberal plots). But nothing catastrophic happened by that natural move, to the contrary, all major indicators of human development got improved. This explains why the Nordic ‘big government’ countries top every ranking of any possible index of human development. This is s fact, but still, I don’t think Paul or Cruz would let facts get in their way.
The more I think about Wright, the more cautious we should be with him and ultimately reject him. The Christian Origins series is remarkable and yet, even then one has to read it with caution. Justification is a no brainer, reject him on that. His popular level crap is horrendous and at every point he has the ability to blame the Reformation, he does so. It’s also bizarre how he has a cult following amongst some people with a ‘WrightSaid Forum’ as if he’s the Pope, though I am sure he wishes he was. He also doesn’t always do via media; his Bible studies he always sets up a false dichotomy, most recently his Paul and the Faithfulness of God taking about election.
After reading him I’d decided to reject him. People say he has a mind for systematics but fails at that. His followers claim he’s a good exegete and yet he doesn’t even do that, he just paraphrases as if the word choice doesn’t matter in Paul. He thinks he’s the first to see certain facets in the Biblical text and their connection to the OT. Hello? The Church has been around for 2000 years, and yes people have noticed, Mr. Wright, so read them!
steve hays says
Compulsory universal healthcare is soooo compassionate
steve hays says
Totalitarianism often begins with a wonderful sounding idea. A utopian promise. That’s the bait which hooks the gullible. But gov’t run healthcare isn’t about healthcare. That’s just the sales pitch. Gov’t run healthcare is about power. Social engineering. Social control. Ceding control to nameless, faceless, unaccountable bureaucrats who will take the decisions out of your hands. Insurance companies are far from ideal, but they are accountable in ways that gov’t is not. They can be sued. They have competitors. By contrast, gov’t is monopolistic. Gov’t officials immunize themselves from lawsuits. They don’t have to live with the consequences of policies they impose on the populace.
It’s true that “totalitarianism begins with a wonderful sounding idea” like “equality for all” (Communism) but then needs violence or extraordinary circumstances to get to power. No examples exist when totalitarianism just crept by gradual steps, which it seems you are implying. Do you know any Western country who became totalitarian through universal healthcare?
steve hays says
“It’s true that ‘totalitarianism begins with a wonderful sounding idea’ like ‘equality for all’ (Communism) but then needs violence or extraordinary circumstances to get to power.”
No it doesn’t. The boiling frog strategy is an excellent way for totalitarianism to achieve power by nonviolent means.
“No examples exist when totalitarianism just crept by gradual steps, which it seems you are implying.”
To the contrary, we see that in police states in the Western world. Through increasing taxation, speech codes, ubiquitous surveillance, judicial tyranny, &c.
“Do you know any Western country who became totalitarian through universal healthcare?”
Wesley J. Smith documents that on a regular basis at Human Exceptionalism. However, the totalitarian impulse is hardly limited to universal healthcare.
Steve, sorry but again you openly avoid responding to any of my objections:
-when you say “boiling frog strategy is an excellent way for totalitarianism to achieve power by nonviolent means” you are just using general words, not giving any historical examples. So I ask again: do you know ANY cases when totalitarianism got actually to power by using the “boiling frog” strategy?
-when you say “we see that in police states in the Western world. Through increasing taxation, speech codes, ubiquitous surveillance, judicial tyranny etc” you again are using general words. What police states are in your mind? Germany? The Netherlands? Norway? Denmark? Are you saying people in Western Europe live in “police states” without knowing it? I’m sure that would be news to the great majority of people, and also of Christian believers I would surmise, in that part of the world. So again some concrete examples would be helpful.
-as for the third point, I was asking for concrete examples of Western countries who became totalitarian through increased role of government, and you refer me to Wesley Smith. Can you please provide ANY examples of what Mr. Smith has apparently documented on a regular basis?
Sorry, but by not being able to provide specific and concrete examples, you only make my original point about fears of totalitarianism being totally unfounded.
steve hays says
“Steve, sorry but again you openly avoid responding to any of my objections”
I avoid loaded questions. You commit the fallacy 0f question-framing. You build tendentious assumptions into your questions, as if the true answer must conform to how you choose to frame the question. Since I reject the tendentious parameters of your objections, I reserve the right to reframe and correct your loaded questions.
“you are just using general words, not giving any historical examples.”
I’ve giving you criteria. The criteria select for examples.
“Denmark? Are you saying people in Western Europe live in ‘police states’ without knowing it? I’m sure that would be news to the great majority of people, and also of Christian believers I would surmise, in that part of the world.”
Some are acutely aware of it and oppose it, others are oblivious, and others are compliant. You yourself illustrate the mindset just fine.
There’s nothing novel about creeping totalitarianism, where the gov’t takes over the lives of the citizenry through incremental steps.
In some cases, it’s invisible. A VAT tax is invisible. Gov’t eavesdropping is invisible. In some cases it’s more overt, but people get use to it, or feel helpless to oppose it. Take ubiquitous security cameras. Or taxing milage, which requires the gov’t to track your movements through GPS.
“Can you please provide ANY examples of what Mr. Smith has apparently documented on a regular basis?”
If you have to ask, that just shows you haven’t been monitoring the situation.
“you only make my original point about fears of totalitarianism being totally unfounded.”
You’re the perfect citizen for totalitarian regimes. Docile, loyal, compliant, unsuspecting. People like you make it possible. You rush to defend your prison guards.
Yeah, Steve, mate, it’s exactly like in the story:
Student: I know birds with 3 legs do exist, I’ve seen them in my backyard.
Teacher: What? Birds with 3 legs? Can you show us some examples?
Student: Your question is loaded, my dad told me to avoid framed questions.
I think the cultural difference between the US and the Uk is shown up in this debate. A blind belief in the Private Sector/Market reducing cost and increasing access to all kinds of services seems to dominiate US thinking – even when there is substantial evidence that it is not always so. In the UK the 1980’s rush to privatise every conceivable service is now coming home to roost – with basics such as power becoming hugely expensive – and no real competition existing.
It might be time for all of us to stop commenting on internal political decisions of other nations!
Edward M. Yang says
Trent, do you have statistics to back up your claim of “substantial evidence”? It is not “blind” faith, just as the Christian faith is not blind. It is backed up by real world evidence. Socialist states tend to lag behind or ultimately collapse on their own accord. Freer nations economically speaking tend to prosper. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but that seems to be a pretty consistent rule.
“no real competition existing.” Then that’s not a free market then, is it?
Can I just ask – do you consider the UK to be a Socialist state? If so – there is little point in continuing a discussion!!
Edward M. Yang says
No, although they do have welfare programs that are socialist in nature. But their economy is a free market capitalist one.
I must have misread you…
1. The problem is that the government is unable to fix the problem. It is spending and printing money it doesn’t have. Apparently, if we follow their example, individuals should all become counterfeiters. ACA is just living in an illusion until the music stops and it doesn’t have a chair to sit in. To the degree that it helps someone today, it does so by simply robbing future Americans of their health care when it all comes crashing down and nobody gets adequate care at all.
2. If being at the mercy of “big business” is bad, how does it follow to give full control to a the single biggest business in the world?
Edward M. Yang says
“If being at the mercy of “big business” is bad, how does it follow to give full control to a the single biggest business in the world?” Bingo. The government has no competitors. And it has guns. Lots of them. And IRS agents. Lots of them.
Gary Zanow says
Tax me $100 to feed the poor and a large penion of it will go towards feeding the poor (that’s minus govt overhead in administrating the program). Give me $100 and ask me to use it to feed the poor and you’d be lucky if I contribute $10 to helping my fellow man. I may not waste the other 90%+ (might invest, might pay bills) but it’s very unlikely I will give it all to my impoverished neighbor. Can you say that you, personally, would do otherwise? Would you use a tax rebate to help your fellow man? Average “tithe” in American churches is 2.38% …let’s talk about that before claiming charity is best left in the hands of the faith community.
Edward M. Yang says
Do you statistics to back up your estimation of how much of our taxes actually go to the recipient? When I give to the food bank or the church or directly into the hands of a beggar, I know that the vast majority goes to the needy. Finally, I don’t think many here would disagree that temporary assistance of the needy through the govt is a bad thing. What is bad is the entrenched entitlement mentality that has created a permanent welfare class. The War on Poverty launched so long ago is an abject failure. Just as there are Bible verses on caring for the poor, which many Christians do, there are verses on the responsibility one has to work and be productive.
Were our healthcare system actually “free market”, prices for every procedure and treatment would be advertised, there would be a degree of transparency, and the consumer would be fully informed. Unfortunately, the consumer can never be fully informed re: matters of medical treatment — that’s why we visit trained medical staff. And medical treatment is part science, and part “art” (which includes wisdom as the fruit of experience). Were there enough Christians living the faith, including the injunction to care for the less fortunate, govt. involvement in healthcare might not even be an “issue”. That it is is perhaps evidence that Christians aren’t doing enough (which might be a factor in deciding whether to contribute to a politician running against the ACA vs. covering the health needs of those who cannot afford it). In fact, EMTALA (1986) is part of the reason for rising healthcare costs, as it is an enforced payment for the care of the poor and uninsured levied by the healthcare industry onto the backs of those who do pay their bills, and a federal law. For those who want govt. out of healthcare and are concerned about rising costs, EMTALA (which requires that life saving treatment and stabilization should be given without regard for ability to pay) should be a place to start the attack. If the Reagan/Thatcher mantra re govt. were accurate, healthcare in the US should be better than in any other country – both in terms of costs and outcomes. As a consumer, I do not find this to be the case. Note the empirical evidence against privitization in the experience of the British rail system and others.
Daniel C. Greer says
Yes, I can say that I personally would do otherwise. In fact, I do now, despite the taxes. One method I utilize is the Mercy Fund at my church. My church observes the Lord Supper on the first Sunday of each month. On that day, two offerings are taken. The first is for the normal tithe or offering that one makes to the church. The second is taken during the hymn after we come away from the Lord’s Table and it is designated for the needs of church families and the local community. The is a fairly typical practice of churches who first their origins in the Reformation. The money is administered by a committee of Deacons who are diligent in seeing to it’s use in a Godly manner. The committee doesn’t just hand out money. They come along side those needing help and design a means to assist with their needs without giving them the money directly. The help might take the form of a gift card, direct payments to a drug store or a doctors office, payment of utility bills, clothing, food baskets and other similar methods. Now comes the important part. While there are no conditions attached to the aid, such as attending our church, there is a direct effort made to address the spiritual needs of the recipient. This might take the form of telling them the Gospel, perhaps, for the first time, praying with them or just listening to their need. Christ instructed us to care for widows and orphans (see James) and that is normally thought of as a hands on effort. Yes, get your hands dirty helping those in need. His message was not pay someone else to deal with the problem. That method removes you from carrying the burdens of those in need, yes bearing their suffering. That’s not what He had in mind would be my reading of the scripture. I think the Lord knew full well the benefit that comes to you when you live in this manner. That is totally lost when taxes, force, are the means of allowing the government to do what He has given you to do.
Another thing you can do is always carry a few $1 dollar bills on you reserved just for the opportunity to help someone in need. However, never give a needy person cash without telling them about Jesus. I have a personal rule that I will never say no to someone who asks for help. I can only imagine how humbling it is to ask for help. If I find I just can not afford to help, then I inform the chairman of the Mercy fund and ask them to get involved. They have yet to deny one of my requests.
Now, let’s talk about why the tithe is so low nationally. I suggest that it has something to do with the high taxation rates in this country. When you consider all the places where we are taxed, which is essentially every transaction, then it is easy to see how taxes approach 50% of your income. It’s not hard to see why giving 10% to your church is difficult when you’re trying to live on 50% of what you make. After 50% taxes, that 10% represent 20% of what you have left. Tuff living on 30% of what the Lord gives you.
I hope these ideas are useful.
This is what we should be doing, and more. Unfortunately, the fact that people are still without healthcare etc., need to utilize Medicare and Medicaid (including seniors, for medication) demonstrates that we have not done enough. Ie this is a political problem because there are still people in need.
Daniel C. Greer says
I suggest that politics is the problem. Note my last paragraph about how taxation influences one’s ability to give. The nature of politics is that politicians create a problem and then offer the fix which typically involves increasing the size of government which requires more taxes. Jesus said the poor will always be with you. It is foolish to think all poverty and need can be eliminated. That’s a utopian fallacy not supported by scripture. The tears of humanity will not be wiped away until Christ comes again. The poor and impoverished are there for those more gifted to minister unto. This is one of God’s ways of sanctifying people. The Bible is to be used in its fully integrated form to devise a means for living. It’s called the full orb of God’s word whereby scripture explains scripture. Yes, we are to help those in need, but not by stealing. Thou shalt not steal is a basic and foundational moral teaching just as providing for the needy is. The two are not a contradiction or at cross purposes. The end does not justify the means. So, how do we help the needy? Answer, one at a time with individuals doing the work. Render unto the poor with one hand and give them the Gospel with the other. Don’t feel guilty because you can’t save the world. That’s work only God can do. Be faithful to what God has given us to do and He will bless it and multiply it beyond anything we can imagine.
I agree that there will always be poor until the coming of Christ (and likely because of our imperfection), and some of what you say agrees with Christians of the 3rd, 4th, 5th c (etc.). But I’m not sure that taxes are wholly responsible, nor are they theft (see Christ on taxes). I don’t suggest a “utopia” – I don’t believe they can exist. Still it is clear that Christians are not doing enough, or there aren’t enough Christians, else we wouldn’t be having this discussion re: healthcare. (Thanks for the recc. on the Holy Scriptures; I read them daily, and they are to be lived, even to understand.)
Fred Clark says
Kuyper? Sphere sovereignty? Any of that ringing any bells? How is it possible for folks at a Reformed seminary to be so befuddled by the idea of complementary and subsidiary responsibilities?
I expect the false dichotomy of either government or individual responsibility from Christians who don’t have the rich Reformed or Catholic traditions to draw on. I’m not surprised when I see them creating a false either/or between church and state responsibility for the common good. But when I see it from an academic at a Reformed seminary, it’s just depressing.
steve hays says
Perhaps Fred would like to enlighten us on the massive welfare state that Kuyper implemented in Holland during his prime ministership.
Thomas Keningley says
I live in the UK, and almost everyone here is in favour of nationalised healthcare; to suggest it’s not a good idea is treated like heresy (someone did once say that the NHS is the closest thing the Brits have to a religion).
Of course, I now live in a country where people have frequently been arrested for preaching Christian truths. Doctors and teachers cannot be explicit about their faith with children or patients. We are constantly surveyed by security cameras. The government is introducing lobbying bills that will restrict free speech, and we have just passed a Royal Charter which regulates the press. The police behave like a paramilitary force. Political correctness is more or less compulsory in work places, as are the quotas introduced by the 2010 Equality Act. Parents have been forbidden from fostering children due to their Christian beliefs about homosexuality. You can be detained without charge for two weeks. Obviously this isn’t yet a police state. But it is gradually creeping in that direction.
That isn’t to say that the US doesn’t have its fair share of these sinister measures.