“What unites us is far greater than what divides us” – John Kennedy
(It’s not clear who actually originated the above comment. I found a reference to President Kennedy from 1961, but he may not have been the first.)
I’ve read a number of articles lately dealing with Christian viewpoints on such social justice issues as universal health care, minimum wage, affirmative action, and the like. Most of these are written by more progressive Christians, and tend to support liberal orthodoxy of the problem space and proposed solutions. I have found that usually the debate ends within the first two or three sentences, owing to what I will call the Chasmic Divide.
There is a giant gulf between conservative and liberal (again, even when dealing just with the Christians) on how we view problems. We will tend to hear the other side’s argument, view it in the context of our worldview and starting assumptions, and claim mass confusion as to how they arrived at their conclusions. Again – the Chasmic Divide.
The Chasmic Divide is, quite simply, how each of us view the role of government in the lives of men. To the left, government is here to solve the problems of men and make their lives better. To the right, government is here to defend the rights of men and leave them free to decide the rest for themselves. This is the jumping off point. Arguments that presume one point or another have almost no impact on proponents of the alternative view.
Now, I’m a freedom-minded, “law is for the collective defense of human rights,” type of guy. As such, I can obviously can point to more examples where liberals have assumed the former role of government (here to do good) and come to conclusions that I find odd. (They often find these conclusions with a rather nice bit of condescension as well – “how can you, being a good Christian, possibly disagree with our conclusions?”)
Let’s take an example. Universal health care. We all agree, I think, that the world would be a better place if all people everywhere had adequate (even overflowing) medical care. If getting care were as cheap and “commodotized” as getting a loaf of bread from the store (which is easy here in the U.S.), then the quality of life would be better worldwide. So, what ought we to do? Well, the progressive will use the following logical formula: universal healthcare is good, the government is here to do good and help people, therefore the government ought to provide universal health care. How can anyone possibly argue with this?
The distinction is, of course, in the second clause. I don’t believe the government is here to do good, but rather here to defend the rights of men and leave them free to decide the rest for themselves. As such, the notion of universal health care as a good thing never even enters my conscience. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would the government undertake a mission that has nothing to do with defending human rights?
(Side note, please stop yourself before you pick up the silly canard about “universal health care is a human right.” Just stop. It’s silly. Tell me, if all of the doctors called in sick, or tired, or on vacation, have they violated the rights of humanity? Humanity clearly won’t have medical care that day. So then, the doctors are no longer free people but slaves to the collective? Seriously? Nonsense. Human rights are innate, given, I believe, by God – they are not commodities or services. They are human rights, not human needs.)
What is interesting is the argument that comes next. When finding out that we, the lovers of freedom, disagree with the notion of universal health care (just to pick an example), our progressive-minded Christian friends will react with shock. “How can you call yourself a Christian and have no more compassion than that for those less fortunate?” The Chasmic Divide strikes again.
The issue is not compassion. I want everybody to have adequate, free-flowing, health care. I want that. It would be a good thing. I do not want the government to do it. I do not want to compel my neighbor to get up in the morning, go to work, work hard, so that I can have health care. I will not enslave him like that. I am a compassionate person.
So then, how do I think we’ll get there? Well, two things. First, history has demonstrated that economic and political freedom are massive drivers for wealth creation. That is, when people are free to move, work, and spend how they will, the economy thrives. Efficient allocation of resources to the most needed functions becomes a quite natural event – and does not need to be forced. This gives us a basis for which to even think of making health care (or pick another human need) available to all. Second, it is the free action of free people feeling compassion for their neighbors that allows them to give of their own resources for the good of another.
This is how the early church did it. They faced much harsher economic times than we do. They freely gave of themselves for the sake of their brothers, their neighbors.
But to use “legal plunder” (as Federich Bastiat put it) as a means to distribute to the needs of all is beyond the pale. This is not freedom. It is not love or compassion for the neighbor and brother. It is pride, envy, and condescension. These things ought not to be part of the Christian dialogue.
So let us press on, for we all want the same thing – “a chicken in every pot.”