Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Healthier America

...the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.
Luke 7:22b

Yesterday, in a 219-212 House vote that every media outlet in the world is calling "historic," the United States took one giant leap toward universal health coverage. The more than 2,000-page bill is, by no means, perfect, but we think there are at least 6 reasons why this will make our country healthier and safer, and, ultimately, that it is the kind of event that reflects the “whole new world” that Jesus came to inspire.

1. Fear Didn’t Win

The Tea Party protestors who confronted John Lewis outside the Capitol Building on Saturday chanted "Kill the bill, N--ger!" and the conservative protestors on the lawn of the Capitol shouted "Nancy, you will burn in hell for this!" as congressional leaders debated the passage of the Senate bill yesterday. There were cries of "Baby Killer" from the Republican House members when Bart Stupak (of all people) gave a speech on the House floor after switching his vote to "yes." And, of course, the comeback kid, Newt Gingrich is working to inspire millions of his fellow conservatives "to save America from a leftwing machine of unparalleled corruption arrogance and cynicism."

2. The Poor and Disadvantaged Will Win

An estimated 16 million people will be added to Medicaid (those earning less than 133% of the federal poverty level) and federal tax credits will be available to working families earning as much as 400% of the federal poverty level, but are not covered by their employers.

3. It Will Be Paid For

According to the nonpartisan CBO, the bill will cut deficitis by $138 billion over the next decade and by around $1.2 trillion in the decade thereafter. It does this by cutting $500 billion from Medicare over the next decade and imposing a 40% excise tax on the most generous employer-provided policies (probably not starting until 2018), adding a new 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income for families with more than $250,000 and a variety of excise taxes on medical device makers, as well as pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

4. It Supports Life

6 Democratic "pro-life" House members who had been consulting with the Catholic Bishops over the past year agreed to support the bill when Obama agreed to an executive order absolutely restricting the public funding of abortions. It is against the law to fund abortions with tax-payers money (it's called the Hyde Amendment). Of course, to be "pro-life" extends far beyond the fetus. Millions of poor women will now have the opportunity for care during their pregnancies (an obvious incentive to have the baby) and millions of young men and women graduating from high school will now have access to health care outside of military service.

5. It Mandates a Different Bottom Line

Americans will be now mandated to buy health care coverage, but insurance companies will not be able to kick off costly patients or deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. My friend, Justin, who has had a history of seizures and is pursuing his PHd in political theology, will not have to fear being sidelined by insurance company "death panels." My friend Charles, who has a Berkeley education and is looking for work, will have access to coverage.

6. It is a Form of Brotherly Love

We participate in an American story that, from day one, has played out in the tension between individual rights and the community good. Over the past 30 years, the pendulum has swung towards the narrative of personal responsiblity. This piece of legislation is partially correcting that course. To be American is to care for the downtrodden and marginalized and broken-hearted. We are a people of brotherly love, but too often, that love is stymied by dualistic and simplistic accounts of our poor brothers and sisters: "too lazy" and "not responsible" and "living off the government." At the core, we cannot afford to be a people dominated by a competitive, scarcity mentality. We are wealthy. We have enough for everyone. We are people that proclaim good news to the poor.

--Theological Autopilot


  1. When did Jesus preach to the government that it needed to care for the sick, feed the hungry, etc, etc? I'll save you some time, HE DIDN'T!! He told you and me to do that as individuals. What happened with the passage of this bill was Christian laziness.

    Jesus didn't say, I was sick and you taxed the upper 10% at 50% of their income so the government could look after me. I was in prison and you had a court-appointed attorney come visit me. I was hungry but the government provides food stamps so we're cool. Since you pay taxes, do you stop tithing?

    You and I have been charged with looking after the sick, the poor, the hungry....NOT THE GOVERNMENT! I can't think of a worse caretaker than the US government. What a plague. Name for me one thing it does well, name for me one group it seeks to help that hasn't been immeasurably hurt, name for me one group of poor/sick/hungry that they have actually reduced as a result of the trillions they've spent on social programs.

    This is what I will not understand about Christians thinking the government is charged with social justice. You are outsourcing your responsibility to a demonstrably inept, corrupt, inefficient and power hungry institution. It's laziness.

  2. You must either be part of the upper 10% and or just a shallow, heartless soul who cares only about yourself and the "privileged" lifestyle that shelters you from the realities of the real world. Christian laziness has nothing to do with this. Rather, your egoistic goad on the issue has more to do with myopic minded arrogance that will leave you bitter and resentful in the end. Such is not the Christian way.

  3. Michael,

    By claiming radical individual responsibility on the part of christians to help the poor you have drastically misunderstood Autopilot's theological impetus - not to mention the kingdom-purpose of Jesus himself. This bill is, as was admitted, not perfect. In fact, I'm opposed to it, but not from a right wing, classical liberal mindset - I'm not sure it's radical enough (more of a gauchiste opposition)! But without giving you too much fodder for a comeback my point in responding is to simply voice an opposition to what is clearly an overly "americanized" reading of the christian faith. This is why there is a necessary tension between american politics and the christian message. There is no clear, simple harmony between a political system that motivates its citizens on the basis of self-reliance and greed and the message of the kingdom that is rooted in a morality and message of group-reliance and selflessness.

    While this bill may be a weak attempt at reform, your attitude and "solution" (simple "charitas") are both hasty and skewed.

    Jesus did not ever give a mandate for government control, but he did spur on his followers to communitarian living. How to find the balance between such a vision and political life in the West is NEVER as easy as simply waving the banner of self-reliance and individualism; nor is the opposite the case.

    This issue is much more complex and sensitive than might be supposed. And I think that Autopilot is doing his best to truly weigh both matters with discernment and wisdom...

  4. Really? I don't see that. I see a leftist agenda at every turn. Where do you see weighing both matters equally? Where do you see any focus on individualism or self-reliance? Look at every link on this page and tell me this is a man that considers both sides, that's crazy.

    There is no virtue in government doing what you and I should be doing. There is no virtue in forced "charity" or forced communitarian living. My solution is to empower the organizations and churches that are already doing know, the ones that are successful and accountable. None of us trust government, regardless of who is in power. I think we'd all admit to that. How do you reconcile then giving it more power over your life or worse, more power over the poor and powerless?

  5. I've known Autopilot for a while, and from what I can gather, he's been on this road for a long time. True, the conclusions manifest here coming from a particular perspective. However, to claim that there has been no sincerity in thought over an extended period of time is simply a "conservative" trope (I use this phrase satirically, of course). At least, give respect to the person as an historical being who is obviously educated, thoughtful, concerned, and trying to reconcile two competing visions of the world. No?

    Plus, the whole "leftist agenda" language is obviously a misguided understanding of how thought develops through history based on metaphysical misunderstandings of time, repetition, and difference. Rather, than try to fit this particular instance into some general form that makes sense for your limited scope of rationality, try to listen to the multifarious voices that exist; giving each a fair hearing without simply boxing it/them into a preconceived generality.

    And I too do believe that the church has failed. In so many ways. By being consumed with doctrinal language and disputes for the majority of its post-Constantinian history the Gospel has been lost in favor of a system of hierarchy. With that said, can you give any explicitly "Christian" defense of why you oppose this bill from said standpoint?

    And you seem so skeptical of power yet so willing to "empower" churches and organizations to live out charity. Are you really convinced that such is the answer? After all, aren't they a major source of the problem, historically???

  6. Give the 4 syllable thesaurus a rest.

    I came here only because I kind of know Tom (and I don't know if he's Autopilot) but what I do know of the man, I respect. We're all thoughtful, concerned and trying to reconcile our ideas with the world. I haven't been disrespectful here...I'm merely disagreeing with thoughtful, concerned and historical points. Whether I respect you, Tom or anyone else in this debate is beside the point but the mere fact that I'm having the debate implies that I do. That I haven't responded to Ho'omakua should also tell you what I think of him/her.

    Should you be seeking the 'nice tone' label you've self-applied, I'd recommend not making accusations of "limited rationality" and an implied closed-mindedness. This does nothing to further the debate and focuses on me instead of the argument....who I am, how much I make, who I work for, my political affiliation all have nothing to do with anything.

    I don't have a Christian defense of my opposition to this bill because Christ didn't preach to or about government. It's equally ludicrous to support this bill on Christian grounds and again, is a means of shirking one's Christian responsibilities. You and I are instructed to give to the poor, is all that's required of me then is to pay my taxes because the government already does this?

    I'm skeptical of government power being used wisely or to anyone's benefit but itself. If you're being honest with yourself, so are you! We all are and have been since government's founding. I don't know why you silence that natural skepticism though when government claims they're going to do something nice. How many times does it have to fail before you say "enough"? You want to look at its historical track record, great! I'll put churches up against government any day.....the pain government has caused is orders of magnitude greater than anything the church has done.

    Here's something else I would challenge you with: who did Obama win over with this? All I hear reported is what a great victory this was and what great winners the Democrats are today. Who did they beat? There was bi-partisanship in this was in its opposition. Democrats and Republicans came together to OPPOSE this. And the people.....they're even more united AGAINST this. So yeah, Obama won and his opposition was the people of this great nation and unity...something he campaigned on.

  7. Michael,

    I really don't support this bill or government in general. I tend to be of the post-anarchist ilk myself. I was merely hoping to point out certain inconsistencies in your thought that I often see among Western Christians. Namely, there is far too often a conflation of Christian thought and American/Western ideals, which leads to (and has led to) a true bastardization of the Gospel, of how to interpret the Bible, and how to carry out Christian praxis.

    My intent was not a personal affront. So if it was perceived as such, I do apologize. My use of limited rationality and the like was not pointed at YOU per se, but at human perspective as a whole - although I was not clear with that... my bad...

    Regarding Christ and preaching about government: if I were you I'd check out some works on Jesus' and Paul's Political Theology (and the rest of the NT writers), for contained in the very clauses "Messiah" and "Jesus is Lord" are direct assaults on the Roman government - not to mention that the rest of the NT is pepped with political allusions and direct statements. It states that Jesus is Lord NOT Caesar. This implicit assault would have been readily apparent to those in the 1st century. And in all honesty, if given a fair reading, I think it should be apparent for us as well. Jesus had a radical political message. It was not about personal "salvation" as such. It was about setting the world to rights; about restoring right order. And this was only done through kingdom and covenant language, which are blatantly political in a very primary sense.

    I actually think that the church should NOT be involved in the political system at ALL. I think that the church is necessarily opposed to the State. Therefore, what the church needs to do, IMO, is to maintain a distance from the State, while remaining ever active in the "political" and "social" spheres. This means that traditional understandings of the political must change, but that "political involvement" must remain. But rather than using the tools of the State or the system provided, the church uses the radical political and social means of the Gospel. This does not support any sort of radical individualism, for there is still a huge communitarian aim and motor that drive the church in this model, but neither does it rely on governmental agency because the latter will always be at odds with the Christian Gospel.

    Considering what I've said above, it should be obvious that I too am skeptical of government power. However, I'm equally as skeptical of church power. To claim that governmental failure has a worse track record than the church's is something that I will have to fundamentally disagree on. I don't think we have yet seen the extent of the church's failure to the world - it is much more widespread than simply the Crudades and the hundreds of wars between catholics v. protestants, colonialists v. indigenous people groups, american revolutionaries v. native americans, etc. The corruption of the Gospel as the church abroad has sublated its role and message to the world under the auspices of hierarchical "divinely ordered" oversight and care has truly led to the radical misunderstanding of the purpose and message of messianic redemption. This latter point is not more serious than that physical and territorial violence that the church has carried out, but is something that is yet to really be uncovered. And I fear that the damage is so vast that it might be irreparable.

    Sorry I rambled on so long... If you're interested, I'd recommend reading some works on Jesus' and Paul's political theology. I could recommend some, if you'd like. If not, no worries. Just keep in mind when you read the Bible, there is no separation of church and State. It ALL has political undertones; often times overt overtones...

    BTW, metaphysical is FIVE syllables ;)


    Trusting in an Executive Order to protect the unborn is a bad idea. The Executive Order, while looking good, IS NOT law. The President cannot create law. If he could, he would have passed Health Care with an Executive Order. What’s more, the President can rescind the Order anytime he wants and substitute it with “softer language” or even scrap it altogether. Furthermore, any President after Obama can change the policy of the Order. (i.e. the Mexico City policy.)