Health Care Too Great a Good for Caesar

Health-care reform is an economic, political and medical issue. But On Faith panelist and evangelical leader Jim Wallis says it’s … Continued

Health-care reform is an economic, political and medical issue. But On Faith panelist and evangelical leader Jim Wallis says it’s also a “deeply theological issue, a Biblical issue and a moral issue.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Left-of-center evangelical Jim Wallis recently said that health care, the subject currently dominating the news for political reasons, is a “deeply theological issue, a Biblical issue and a moral issue.” For once I can say Jim Wallis is right, though he is wrong to wish for greater government involvement. Health care is such a deeply theological, Biblical, and moral issue that it cannot be trusted to the government.

God loves humankind and commands His servants to reflect His love. Jesus made it clear that none of His followers could pass by a deeply wounded person and ignore the pain. The Bible says ignoring hurting bodies while saving souls is wrong.

Wherever Christians have gone they have founded hospitals and provided medical care, often for free. Support for hospital care is so ecumenical in Christianity that my children could be born in Catholic care, be treated by Presbyterians, and receive nutritional advice from Seventh Day Adventists.

Christians agree: it is immoral to deny any human being basic health care. Since government-run health care promises to provide this service to all it is attractive to many Christians. However, politicians make government promises and we all know how good such promises can be.

Politicians often get obsessed about an issue. When they focus on it, they act as if their pet issue, such as health care, is the only good. If getting health care to people were the only thing we valued or had to worry about, it would be right to provide it in any way and using many means. Sadly, in a broken world there are many competing goods and providing health care by some means conflicts with other goods.

Society loses things when it gives more power to government even when it gains something else.

Liberty is a great good. The more power we give to the government the less liberty we will have. Diversity is also good and, as we are frequently reminded, the United States has become more diverse in the area of ethics. Increasing government control over health care increases the number of ethical issues where government authority will have to be on one side or the other of these disputes.

Sometimes increasing state power is necessary, but it should also be done with care. When religious leaders like Jim Wallis pretend that it is obvious that government should increase its involvement in health care, they have confused the goal (universal basic care) with the means (government programs).

In fact, the European and Canadian experience suggests to many of us that the cost in loss of liberty and ethical diversity is too great. Soon government bureaucrats far removed from families, churches, and businesses begin to make universal decisions for everyone. Though sometimes government involvement is necessary to protect human life, usually there are better ways to solve medical problems. People can become used to looking to government to solve most serious problems . . . an attitude that is long-term incompatible with a free people.

Most of the plans now in Congress, especially those supported by the President, give too much power to government. The cost is simply too high, and it is not fundamentally a financial cost. We might borrow money to fund our neighbor’s surgery, but we will not borrow money to fund the loss of our liberty.

There are other plans like those of the brilliant and rising Congressman Paul Ryan that balance liberty and an expansion of health coverage. Ryan is trying to solve a complex problem in a sane manner, while the President seems intent on winning a political victory by creating an “all or nothing” crisis.

Christians know from painful experience the dangers of giving too much power to the government to do good things. We have been killed in the millions by secular states that thought they were doing good deeds. Worst, we know that we cannot be trusted with such power. Limited government is the result of our knowledge that no human, including Christians, can be trusted with too much power.

Government is particularly dangerous because it commands strong loyalties and great inherent powers. Government already has most of the guns and cannot be trusted with most of the scalpels as well.

Every Christian longs to see medical care for all of God’s children, but not at the cost of loss of liberty, crushing reasonable minority opinions, and giving too much power to the state.

Of course government already provides medical care in some social service programs. These programs do much good and nobody is sorry for this, but bankrupt and expensive programs like Medicare may do as much harm as good. Certainly, the harm they have done is great enough that only a fool would rush into creating more programs that are just the same. The best way to solve overspending by one government entity is not to create a new one that will spend even more.

Assume that some government medical care has been harmless. That does not mean that even more governmental involvement would also be fine. There can be a tipping point where a safety net ensnares us and takes away our liberty.

Even fans of the President should be hesitant to give the government such powers. The Obama plan may be passed with great intentions, but Obama will not be President forever. Worse men may come to power and use increased government control of health care to enforce their will. Caesar naturally wants more power, but the same government that runs the police, the armed forces, and the prisons should not also come to dominate medical choices. Reasonable citizens must not plan for the saints who will govern us, but for the great sinners.

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  • laslo23

    John Mark Reynolds wrote:”In fact, the European and Canadian experience suggests to many of us that the cost in loss of liberty and ethical diversity is too great. Soon government bureaucrats far removed from families, churches, and businesses begin to make universal decisions for everyone. Though sometimes government involvement is necessary to protect human life, usually there are better ways to solve medical problems. People can become used to looking to government to solve most serious problems . . . an attitude that is long-term incompatible with a free people.”In fact, Mr. Reynolds, the European and CANADIAN experience tell you no such thing. What your commentary shows me, though, is that it’s about time that “academics” (and I use that word EVER so lightly) from evangelical “universities” put large asterisks behind their more-or-less worthless degrees. Masquerading as an “academic” when, in fact, you are an ideological shill is bad enough — the WaPo giving you space to write your nonsense is downright vile, given that they are constantly laying off actual journalists and reducing public discourse to the ranting of ignorant, ideologically deluded individuals such as yourself.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    It is an urban legend that Canada and Europe have poor health care systems. The number of Americans who do not have health insurance is far greater than the population of Canada, and probaly of many if not most European countries. I guess you just don’t get it.The health care system in America does not operate according to free market forces because it is subsidized by insurance companies, thus inflating the prices for everything, and making it completely inaccessible to people without insurance.If you do not want the government to be involved at all, then all health insurance should be abolished, so that prices would be come down. Then at least, some of us would have a chance.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    “There are reports that say…”I don’t call that evidence.In America, millions of people wait alot longer than 18 months to see a doctor. In fact, they don’t ever see a doctor at all. In America, we don’t ration health care. We just exclude 50 million people. How does that make our system better?It is a dysfunctional and disconnected morrass. Why do people say it is the best in the world? Because it is where the richest dictators in the world come for their cancer treatment?What if you are just a regular person with a child who has a broken arm? Then it ain’t so great!

  • coloradodog

    “In fact, the European and Canadian experience suggests to many of us that the cost in loss of liberty and ethical diversity is too great. Soon government bureaucrats far removed from families, churches, and businesses begin to make universal decisions for everyone.”Why do EU countries and Canada have higher life expectancies than the US (number 50 in the world)? This is Fox News propaganda wrapped in a Sunday Church bulletin. Could Rove be Reynold’s ghost writer, too.

  • dhsheppard

    In reference to laslo23, what is so threatening about ideas contrary to your position that compel you to make personal attacks? I also find it interesting that you take the time to respond but never address the issues being raised? All you do to refute Reynolds claim that European and Canadian health care risks the loss of liberty and ethical diversity, is to say it isn’t so. Thank you for your well reasoned and educated rebuttal to this complex issue. Your attacks are much more persuasive than Reynolds thoughtful and considerate contribution. I suggest we at least try to address the issue. What is it about European and Canadian healthcare that makes it a non-attractive alternative to our current American system? Are there more reasonable alternatives that don’t place our lives in the hands of government bureaucrats? There are reports of European and Canadian patients waiting 18 weeks or longer to be seen by doctors. The load on the system can be so great that rationing is the inevitable compromise to meet the demand. Who makes these rationing decisions in a universal health care system? Other reports show initial cost estimates for universal health care almost always under estimate the actual expense. I can’t think of any government run system that is more effective than the free market alternative. With that being said our system is broken and something can and should be done but the answer isn’t to create a system where the government has excessive control and power over decisions that ethical and moral.The point is that we don’t allow the obvious need in our country to cloud or judgment for what is best. An ethical health care alternative will require hard work, thoughtful discussion, consideration of past and present systems and an open mind in order to arrive at a reasonable solution. Lastly, the health care discussion should necessarily invite the contribution of those who seek truth, fairness and ethics to resolve these complex issues. The thoughts of theologians, philosophers, pastors and teachers can contribute to the safeguarding of a health care system for everyone.

  • Dermitt

    Christians agree: it is immoral to deny any human being basic health care. Give all the rapists and other scum gold plated benefits. You pay. I’M NOT. That was EZ.

  • Paganplace

    Kert1: “I think there is a reoccuring misconception that government will be able to “create” more healthcare. There are a limited number of doctors, hospitals, and other health resources.”The problem is that most of these resources are diverted toward getting paid the most for offering the *least:* that means all the interest under a purely-private and unregulated scheme is to try and treat fewer patients that can be charged more, while dumping people onto the street to suffer and deteriorate until they’re a very expensive case for hospital ERs that won’t get paid for. Thus raising costs for everyone while insurance companies walk away with billions and claim, ‘We can’t do any better,’ Even if fourty percent of a hospital’s budget is doing paperwork for all the different the billing of all the different for-profit health plans.

  • Paganplace

    Simple fact is, government’s *already* involved. As it *is* the corporations are getting us to pay coming, going and staying, in ways that cannot be sustained and are the primary drag on the *rest* of our economy, and even our dear small-town and entepreneurial capitalism itself. They’re already taking more than there is. Only question is do we, the people, start getting what we pay for. And I’ll tell you this. It’s not going to happen if even the best-intentioned and far-sighted companies have to compete with the greediest and blindest to survive to next year. This is the kind of thing government *can* fix.

  • Paganplace

    Ridiculous to presume that for-profit corporations are going to suddenly start being ethical unless we, the people, ie the government, stop letting the corporations *use* the government, and lack of government action, to feather their own nests while people sicken, die, or go bankrupt and lose their homes because the moneyed interests that took their money don’t want to pay for what the people bought the insurance for. It’s profoundly naive to believe that ‘Christians’ are going to suddenly start founding a million charity hospitals to handle the scale of the problem as well. That’s simply a red-herring for ideological Calvinism. Corporations, as we should be able to see by now, are capable of being far more oppressive than governments, since they are accountable only to their shareholders and making a profit. (Even then, the shareholders often get the shaft, as well, if government isn’t watching.)How many people are to suffer and be sick because some right-wingers prefer to say ‘Government bad, moneymaking good?’ How many are enough?

  • kert1

    I think there is a reoccuring misconception that government will be able to “create” more healthcare. There are a limited number of doctors, hospitals, and other health resources. If the government legislates that everyone gets healthcare, that won’t create more helthcare. That will be a process many years in the making. And without proper funding, it won’t happen at all. This will just result in most people being denied good health care. The government will get to decide who gets what, and that doesn’t make me comfortable. The government is just changing the problem. This isn’t even to mention the fact we can’t afford government giving away healthcare to everyone. That in itself could colapse the economy and make healthcare even more scarce.We do need to work for more affordable healthcare but governments just change the problem. They make the same amount of healthcare cover more people. We need to work to make healthcare more affordable and create fair practices. It doesn’t make sense why we so limit the number of doctors in this country or bill uninsured patients many times more than insured patients. These are things we can work on to actually create more healthcare and make it more accessible to all.

  • kert1

    Paganplace,

  • artistkvip1

    hi JMR, i read your words and it is possible maybe there is something that can actually be done for all people in america. the idea of the all or nothing is perpetuated most likely by people who want nothing.. government in a society as i understand it is to to build the skeletal structure that all can build onto and benefit off of not a few insurance companies or banks. The obvious thing to do would be to put in place a worst case bare bones yes entitlement, every one is entitle to heath care, policy that was..always there no matter what job or financial circumstance a person found themselves in. this would do two things. one keep the insurance companies and hospitals from making life and death decisions based upon money and insurance that are in my experience being done already by bureaucrats in accounting office of insurance companies who i trust with my health even less than the government. Please feel free to look at my medical horror story on president Obama’s website. The other thing it will do is keep the insurance companies honest with what they provide product wise ,as people will not pay for something that has no value to them. A good example of where we made the right decision with respect to growth and upkeep is our free hi way systems. Business left with no rules or competition would have have us stopping at a toll booth every mile. i am old enough to remember toll roads and they are a waste of recourses all the effort is in collecting money not building services ..this might be the fundamental problem of our healthcare system.. just think how much of every health care dollar is wasted in collection call mailings and etc.. that is not product use of resources and a symptom that the insurance companies are maybe rotten.