Monday, March 15, 2010

Careful Caring Isn't Uncaring

Norm did a nice job of getting us all thinking the other day, wouldn't you say?  For those who are not up to speed and are too lazy to click the link and read his post, I'll summarize: Christians should take suffering and death seriously because real people are involved.  Therefore, extending health care to those who cannot afford it needs to be a real priority.

And I offer a hearty "amen".  If you are a Christian and and withhold an "amen",  then, well...then...gosh, I don't know what to say to you.  You're being dumb.  There, does that cover it?

Good.  We all agree so far.

I wish I could tell you that I have read widely and can offer a thoughtful opinion about how we ought to handle this incredibly complex problem, but I can't.  What I can offer is an opinion about how we go about having conversations like this.

Here is an opinion on health care that I'm tired of: "People are dying, no one's helping, the government wants to, so we should be fine with that- so what if it costs you a few extra tax dollars?" It's almost an "I don't care what we do as long as we do something" position.  Typically an advocate of this thinking caricatures those who disagree as uncaring, financially selfish, in bed with the Republicans, or simply not aware of how bad it really is.

So here is my opinion: this isn't helpful to anyone.  Here are 5 reasons why:

1.  I know almost no Christians who are actually like that.  They're probably out there, but I don't know them.

2.  This wildly underestimates how complex the issues really are.  It's all well and good that people want to care for the poor- really, it is.  But the issue isn't simple, and a simple solution probably won't do.

3.  Therefore, when a Christian disagrees that the government will genuinely be helpful with this, it may actually be because s/he has a thoughtful opinion about this complex subject.  S/he may, in fact, care so deeply for those in need that s/he is not satisfied with what s/he thinks is a less-than-adequate solution, or a solution that will be hurtful in the long run, or a solution that will set us back even now.  In this case, s/he is not being at all uncaring, unreasonable, or unbiblical, even if s/he is wrong.  Which means the other side is being foolish to shrug off the opinion as any of these things.

4.  Further, how we care for those in need is really, really important.  The rush to care is sweet, but it may actually be unhelpful.  I need only to point you to Africa for support, where it seems that more people are saying all the time, "All this foreign aid may actually be hurting them in the long term." It is important that we care, but it is equally important that we care thoughtfully.  Careful caring isn't uncaring.

5.  On top of all of this, there are legitimate biblical concerns that also deserve serious thought.  For one thing, if anyone who is passionate about government health care wants to get Christians who disagree to change their minds, that person will need to articulate the case thoughtfully.  Passion alone won't do it.  For another, some of those arguments are serious, and you need to actually deal with them if you disagree.  Again, I see too much shrugging off because, well, the Bible says we should care.  That's true.  It does.  But it says a lot of things- we evangelicals must deal with the whole counsel of Scripture.

I suspect that if pro-government health care types took these points seriously, they might be more helpful to those who aren't convinced.

2 comments:

Johnnie said...

Well, no comments yet, so i might as well weigh in. Andrew, I think everything you say is dead-on solid correct....but only if what we're arguing is the straw man you've set up, the "People are dying, no one's helping, the government wants to, so we should be fine with that- so what if it costs you a few extra tax dollars?" It's almost an "I don't care what we do as long as we do something" position. Typically an advocate of this thinking caricatures those who disagree as uncaring, financially selfish, in bed with the Republicans, or simply not aware of how bad it really is."

And you've argued well against that, but the problem is that isn't much more THAN a straw man. At least, mostly so.

Where I live, in SoCal, I can certainly say that there are the "Real Housewives of Coto de Caza" set--a stereotype but nevertheless somewhat to be found in real life--who do, I think, hold an "uncaring, financially selfish" viewpoint. And then, certainly, there are those who are "in bed with the Republicans"...those who think first and foremost about politics, who think that, should a health care bill pass under a Democrat, then Democrats will have no end of political capital and good will, and so we can't let that happen.....

But actually I think those arguments are way in the minority. (Unless you are a Republican member of Congress and/or running for re-election).)

So in point of fact--and I realize you say you haven't read widely on this subject--most of the arguments on both sides are in full recognition of how complex this is. And it isn't very accurate to call this a "rush" since it's been on the table for, oh, at the very least, 60 years when President Eisenhower was talking about it. Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 on a platform that prominently included health care reform, and so was Barack Obama in 2008. Sure the current bill before the House hasn't been around a long time....but it is a bit far-fetched to call it a rush.

One of the major oddities of our political climate--one that most likely our children will be studying years down the line, no matter what happens--is that Obama was elected by a strong majority with this as one of his major public policy goals. And still today we are told by expert analysts that if a bill doesn't pass, he's unlikely to win a second term, because the majority will be so disappointed that health care didn't pass. But at the same time, we're told that if it DOES pass he's in trouble in 2012, because people will be upset....well, hmmm. I think everyone recognizes it's complicated.

What this blog is doing is a nice job of trying to frame this debate in Christian language and Christian terms. If Christians are only to vote on the basis of the counsel of Scripture, then I think that's where the debate here needs to focus. Let's say the Coto housewives and the Republican/Democrat partisan hacks are beside the point.

Andrew Faris said...

Johnnie,

You're certainly right that most don't go this route- I don't think most do either.

But I suspect you don't spend as much time around college-age folks as I do. Frankly, that is mostly who this is aimed at. The published stuff no doubt follows these rules almost without thinking.

In my experience there are plenty who fit into the personality you call a straw man.

Andrew