Americans are conflicted with a glaring cultural ambiguity. On the one hand, 83% of us identify ourselves as Christian. On the other hand, we embrace capitalist economic ideology, which idealizes the amassing of wealth and rabid individual pursuit of personal gain.
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:35-40).”
Jesus was a socialist. Repeatedly throughout scripture, he suggests that material wealth should be redistributed among those members of society that need it the most. He suggests that a rich man has as much of a chance of getting into heaven as a camel has fitting through the eye of a needle. He suggests “you cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13),” yet the accumulation of wealth has become a cornerstone of American culture.
“God helps those who help themselves (Benjamin Franklin)”
Many people believe the above quotation actually appears in the Bible. It does not. The sentiment was penned by one of America’s great founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin was a self made man. Through sheer industry and hard work, he raised himself up from being an apprentice in a printer’s shop to developing one of the country’s first franchise businesses (in printing). From humble beginnings, he became one of our nation’s greatest entrepreneurs. Franklin’s story serves as an inspiration and is the epitome of the American Dream. The rags to riches saga is engrained in our collective psyche, and centuries of similar examples have served to strengthen the dream.
For Franklin, and in fact for many of our founding fathers, a strong belief in capitalism did not conflict with religious values because for the most part, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not religious men. The 1700’s when Franklin lived, were penned “The Age of Reason,” and Franklin and his contemporaries embraced reason over faith.
Many Americans; however, should be concerned about the dichotomy and logistically complicated moral implications of espousal of both fundamentalist Christian values and unquestioning capitalist economic ideals. This is exactly the conundrum expressed by the political far-right. Nowhere is the moral contradiction more apparent than with the current healthcare debate where far-right, bible-bashing conservatives decry spending their tax dollars on basic healthcare for those who have none. To these hypocrites I would ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Jesus said, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment (Matthew 10:8).”
Our existing healthcare system is exactly the opposite of what Jesus proposed. Rather than giving and receiving without payment because it is the morally correct thing to do, in the United States, healthcare is ONLY given for payment. Receiving payment for honest work is entirely respectable, and I certainly don’t begrudge anybody working in a medical field a descent, fair salary. However, one must ask the question, “What do insurance companies actually do to earn the 400% profit margins they report?”
The right says, “We don’t want government interfering with our healthcare,” but the government already, very successfully operates Medicare, Medicaid and the VA health system. These government-run healthcare programs are almost universally loved. Most would seek to expand rather than restrict them. We would all hope that healthcare decisions are made thoughtfully by a doctor and the patient, but the status quo of corporate-run healthcare doesn’t allow doctors to make treatment decisions for patients. Insurance companies have reams of staff members whose sole purpose is to deny coverage regardless of what doctors say. We have been trying the capitalist model of healthcare now for some time, and it clearly isn’t working.
“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results (Albert Einstein)”
The right says, “The federal deficit is already too high. We can’t afford healthcare.” Many Americans cannot afford healthcare and some other Americans like the Wal-Mart heirs and Bill Gates could afford healthcare for thousands of people without making a dent in their bottom lines. The truth is that as the wealthiest nation on earth, we certainly can afford healthcare for all. As Jesus recommends, curing America’s sick would be as easy as redistributing some of that American wealth in a more equitable way. The Wal-Mart heirs certainly deserve to live their American dreams, but is it fair that they have more money than they could possibly spend in their entire lives? The folks who are breaking their backs every day at their menial labor jobs at Wal-Mart, lining Walton family pockets with profits, can barely afford to put food on their tables much less pay for healthcare. It is time to fairly redistribute the wealth.
Every thirty minutes someone in the United States dies of a curable illness because they did not have access to adequate medical treatment. The main cause of all bankruptcy in America is excessive, unpayable healthcare bills. Over 70% of those who file for bankruptcy have health insurance. In the meantime, while Americans are dying and losing their homes, the healthcare industry records record profits.
America’s Christians need to literally put their money where their mouths are.