Friday, September 4, 2009

Catholic Bishops and Obama's Health Plan

Comments in this post refer to the article, “Despite Church’s Push on Issue, Some Bishops Assail Health Plan” in the New York Times, Friday August 28, 2009, pages A1 and A12

I begin at the end of the article, with a quote from Bishop Nickless (oh, that divine sense of humour!) of Sioux City who wrote "The Catholic Church does not teach that government should provide health care..." adding that "Any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect."

I will talk about each of these statements in turn, but his Lordship should know up front that, Jamaican ginnal that I am, I long time spot what him up to.

If it is true that “The Catholic Church does not teach that government should provide health care..." then equally, “The Church does not teach that the government should not provide health care.” B cancels A. As I say, a likl Anansi business there. As for the second statement, his Lordship (I bet you he’s known among his friends as “tricky Nicky”) puts it beside the first to make us think that it too has the force of Church teaching (or Church not-teaching). I know, just as he knows, and just as you know: that is merely his Lordship’s opinion, nothing more or less!

But let's presume for a moment that the Bishop is correct and that "The Catholic Church does not teach that government should provide health care..." then all I can say is that the Church should check the Gospel. What has Jesus to say about health care? As I was at pains in my last post to point out, Jesus not only led by example but his teaching on this matter is unequivocal. He carried his hospital in his healing hands and his prayerful faith in the power and purpose of his father: "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." I can't think of a better description of a health program -- "Life more abundant"!

Jesus always fed and healed people first, and then he taught them. And among the things he taught them was their responsibility for one another’s physical, economic, social and spiritual welfare. [Please see my last post, and my exchange there with FSJL.] So I don't know which Catholic Church Bishop Nickless is talking about, but if any such Church exists, it needs to go back to reading the Gospel as well as revisit Catechism class.

As for his Lordship’s comment about legislation and the private sector, surely he jests? If he doesn't, then I can only say the good Bishop has a lot of nerve, given a world economy callously, carelessly and utterly shattered by the very private sector that he's concerned that legislation shouldn't undermine! Who's been doing the undermining here? I remind his Lordship too of a furious Jesus chasing the buyers and sellers (the ‘private sector’ of the day) out of his house of prayer, accusing them of making it into a den of thieves. It’s the only time Jesus is portrayed as angry in the Gospels, isn’t it?

The New York Times article also reports that Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia calls the proposed division of government funds (according to which funds are segregated to ensure that federal money does not finance abortions) "an illusion," insisting that taxpayers' money would still indirectly help cover abortions. I respectfully submit, Your Eminence, that there is lots of evidence that taxpayers' money has gone and still goes to cover sins every bit as heinous as abortion. What kinds of sins? What about unjust war that takes the lives of innocent non-combatants as well as of those young men and women in the army who are ordered to do that dirty work? [Please see, for example, my post of April 28 2009.] What about all those secret service activities designated as 'covert operations'? Does the Cardinal imagine for one moment that they do not include murder from time to time?

My Granny, that wise lady, would say that, in this case, the Church "making argument to suit itself". How well I remember being told as a child that we could give donations to 'non-Catholic' churches (after all, they supported our raffles and church fairs and festivals, so we had to do our bit for them in return), if we made the intention that the money we donated was to go to any 'tearing down' that those churches did, so that we could not be said to be supporting their misguided non-Catholic efforts.

Why don't we just make the intention that any money that goes to abortions is not from taxpayers?

It's specious, really, and has to do with the letter of the Law and not the spirit. Kudos then to Bishop Murphy of Rockville Centre who went on record as opposing inclusion of abortion as part of the national health care plan but emphasized the priority that the church placed on coverage for the poor and called health care, “not a privilege but a right”. Plaudits too for Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association who endorsed the President’s plan without reservation.

I come now, finally, to FSJL’s remarks in the post before this one. This health care plan benefits two groups of American people: those who have no health care and those whose health care is inadequate. (I don’t think the President and his family are underprovided in this regard.) Whatever people’s qualms – and the concern about abortion is an important issue – a solution can be found if well-meaning, serious people work together to find one. President Obama has hit a serious roadblock on a matter upon which all Americans with conscience should be agreed. It saddens me to think that the so-called ‘religious right’, waving the flag of Christianity and Jesus’s concerns, may at heart be motivated by the fact that this is the proposal of an uppity black man, already far too big for his britches, and that he needs to be put in his place.

Is prejudice still the engine that drives America, never mind the Black Man in the White House?

Americans need to examine their consciences and their motivations on this issue. It is almost autumn. There are resistant strains of H1N1 and we have no idea of what they may bring, nor of what else awaits us in North America and the world. Jesus’s teachings on this matter are clear. It would be wise not to provoke him and his father, for God is merciful but he can also be very severe. Selah!

Christianity and Racism... comments by FSJL

On 4 August FSJL posted the comments below in response to my blog post on July 30th entitled "Nervous (in one case) notes". I publish them (very lightly edited, first paragraph omitted) here with thanks, and of course, his permission, since they seem as good a lead in as any to my promised reflections on the remarks of conservative Catholic bishops cited in last week Friday's front page article in the New York Times. Anyone interested in his complete comments need only go to my post of July 30th.

North American racism has traditionally been deeply associated with Christianity, and relied on the Bible for justification. No surprise there, the Bible, after all, endorsed slavery and commanded slaves to obey their masters. In the aftermath of slavery in the United States, organisations which emerged to sustain white supremacy did so in the context of the prevailing ideological system, which was Christian.

Thus, every Klan Klavern in the US had a chaplain called a Kludd, who would lead the sheetheads in prayer. This was a requirement of the Klan Klonstitution. That's what it was klalled, er, called. The heartland of the Klan in its heyday was not where it was founded, down here in Georgia, but Indiana, by the way.

There have, not at all by the bye, been a couple of studies on the role of Klan women in promoting the cause of women and raising issues germane to (white) women back in the 1920s.

More germane to the link you cite. I've seen this argument for the past fifteen years or so. It's a reflection of a deep-seated fear by a significant segment of white working class and middle class and middle class men as they face competition for opportunities that had in previous decades been reserved only for them. That's seen as the fault of threatening women/Jews/blacks/Asians/Latinos who are taking away jobs/manhood. The solution is to go back to the good old days when [white] men had everything their own way [or so they thought].

As my father once said, "I'm not going to talk about 'the good old days' -- dem was neva good".

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Obama Health Plan

It's such a very small world now. You get on a plane in Miami and by the time you land in Toronto, you've ingested the germs of every passenger on board. Ditto for the subway, the city bus, country bus, the school bus. Go to church, or to the movies, the supermarket, the store or indeed the hospital (often the worst offender!) and you are in intimate contact with a world of germs. There is no homeland security, army, navy, air force or marine corps that can protect you from them. Either you hide in a sterile bubble, or you are at risk.

Your best recourse in this hazardous world of lethal microbes? A community that is in good physical and mental shape, a society whose citizens are cared for by diligent and committed professionals who continually remind it about how best to preserve its health. Folks with good health and good sanitary habits won't get sick so easily and will know how to avoid spreading their sicknesses if they do.

I am glad to be a Canadian for this reason. That is not to say that health care in Canada is perfect, but at its best it is as good as health care anywhere. Also, all of us who live in Canada have access to it, the poorest pay nothing at all for it, and what the rest of us pay is not very much and is directly related to what we earn. It is time intelligent, thoughtful citizens of the USA recognize that it's not a good thing that all Americans don't have decent health care. In fact, in these times, it is a very dangerous thing.

Seems some religious folks, some bishops of my own (Catholic) church included, have reservations about the plan Mr Obama has put forward. So let's clear up one thing. There's no dispute as to where Jesus stood on this issue. He spent the three years of his ministry feeding people, healing the sick, performing miracles to restore deformed, dysfunctional bodies, driving out demons that disturbed the mental wholeness of many. He even raised the dead. His health care policy is in the Gospels and the Acts for anyone who cares to read it.

I'm proceeding slowly on this one, taking thought before addressing what some bishops in the Catholic Church had to say, as quoted in a front page article in Friday's New York Times. Their statements had one member of our family threatening never to set foot into a Catholic Church again! So it's a matter about which people have very strong, not just opinions, but convictions.

As for abortion, which appears to be a sticking point for some - do we cut off people's hands so that they don't steal? As I've said before, I don't believe in abortion, but I understand that it is a complex issue and that if it touched me, I might find my attitude affected. Very few women take this step lightly, witness the many teenagers who continue to have babies, a choice that's easy for me to understand and one I use to help make the present argument. If we truly want women not to have abortions, what we must do is create a social, economic, and moral context that will encourage them to keep their babies. By moral I mean the morality of Jesus, he who enjoined us, in the Great Commandment of the New Law, to love our neighbours as ourselves - not threaten those whom we perceive as sinners with damnation.

My sister recently told me the story of a woman who was read out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, to which she was devoted, when she went to live with a man to whom she was not married. She had been married prior to that time, and had two children for her husband whom she was now raising alone. She was not afraid to confront the church elders. "Are you helping me with my children?" she asked them. "Are you concerned about their welfare, or about mine?"

Do we really want women not to have abortions? What if we tried supporting the women of childbearing age in our communities? Insisting that all jobs make generous provision for maternity and paternity leave? Ensuring the availability of affordable child care, good schools, free school meals? What about providing these women with quality health care? Might it make a difference? Or could it be that it's easier to condemn, to shake our fists and call down fire and brimstone? To feel righteous, better than our neighbours?

More on the statements from those Catholic bishops shortly. Meanwhile, remember those microbes!