Saturday, March 3, 2012

Josh Part III

(Tonight I'll conclude the conversation with Josh. To see what we have already covered click here and here. )


Can I ask you something related to all this in my mind? Does it seem to you, as it has to me lately, that the first wrong step in this whole ordeal was the mistaken notion that the government should be providing what the church actually should and vice versa?What I mean by that is that the role of the church in the past was to care for the poor, and be a voice of charity and conscience in a depraved world. Somehow the Church seemed to accept too readily the state stepping into that role. The church has now grown a loud political voice and  conversely the state is stepping into a moral realm saying people have ‘rights’ to such things as health care and mandating issues that have always been attached to a moral dimension?

Don’t misunderstand me Josh, I want for the poor and all men to have health care, but I don’t think it can be a right- per se. Certainly not in the same sense as life, liberty, and pursuing happiness. I also think that would be best if it was brought about, not by an imposition of the state as that eats away at how we then define our freedoms. Is a poor man who is fed by the state, and clothed by the state, and cared for medically by the state, and directed to which doctors he can or can’t go really free any longer? Is he not simply a slave of a new breed- and perhaps an even worse slavery we could ever have  imagined than before?  Is it not a slavery of complacency and entitlement?  How is this freedom any longer, even if all those needs are being met? At what price are they being met?

It is interesting that throughout the last few years the bishops, following Catholic Social Teaching, have consistently agreed that universal health care is a priority -- but note they say universal health CARE, not universal health INSURANCE.  Many people have taken Catholic Social Teaching to imply that we need a government-sponsored health program such as the Obama administration proposed; but there are other ways -- including, as you suggest, more charity and justice on behalf of individuals -- to ensure universal access to health care.

Moreover, CST also demands respect for the rule of law, and there are strong arguments to be made that under the US constitution the federal government is not supposed to be in the business of providing health care or health insurance.  The bishops are aware of this, and they are also aware that the fact that something needs to be provided doesn't mean that the government should provide it.

Apart from the constitutional issue, you know the standard liberterian economic arguments about how government is not going to be an efficient and effective provider of goods.  And beyond that there is the moral/theological concern you raise, that to assume that government is responsible for the provision of goods is to remove the provision of goods from the sphere of voluntary action where it can actually be virtuous.

HOWEVER, I don't want to go so far as to say that government should play no role in providing goods.  Government is not evil, not even a necessary evil; people need government and it is a natural part of the social order.  When as Christians (or just people of good will and common sense) we see that there are others in need, we should look for ways to help them.  Government is one of many means available to our disposal, but not the only one; we know that other individuals, churches and church-affiliated institutions, creative business enterprises, and yes our own selves through charity and generosity are able to much to provide and distribute goods, and we need to ensure that this remains possible.  One of the saddest things about the HHS mandate is that it could literally shut down many excellent social services; in the name of "access" (to cheap things already widely available, like contraception) it could gravely harm many people most vulnerable and in need (like all those dependent on Catholic hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc.).

And we should not forget that one of the blessings of our government is that there are mechanisms by which citizens can respond lawfully, safely, and we hope effectively, when fundamental rights and liberties are threatened.  It is significant, indeed, that we have been able to oppose the HHS mandate through all three branches of our government: putting pressure on the executive branch for a change in policy, advocating a legislative fix through passage of a conscience bill, and of course taking recourse to the judicial branch through lawsuits.  There are people in other parts of the world whose governments do not have such clearly defined or separated powers, and who would not feel safe mounting opposition to a government policy.
Thanks Josh. 
As always-you have helped me tremendously!

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