Monday, November 9, 2009

Hey, I Hate Ayn Rand, Too, But Aren't You Going a Little Far?

I'm not going to do a full post about this (mostly because I haven't really decided what I think about the universal health-care plan currently making its way through Congress), but I want to make one point about this article from Peter Laarman.

Laarman turns the tables here on the Religious Right, who are fond of saying that if you're at all sympathetic to pro-choice politics, you care more about convenience or respectability or whatever else than the teachings of Jesus. I don't like that argument when James Dobson uses it because it ignores how complicated these things are--how complicated belief itself is and how hard it is to boil down a person's religious commitments to a set of political issues.

So it makes me pretty angry when Laarman says the following of Christians who dare to oppose universal health care:
The reluctant conclusion I draw is that these are Ayn Rand Christians who were never touched by the spirit of the Christ whose ministry was emphatically defined from the start by his compassion for the sick and for his healing of the multitudes who came to him with all manner of diseases. Jesus did not seem to think that it was taking anything away from the already-healthy to restore the health of the physically and psychologically afflicted. He did not operate from a zero sum mentality nor from a neoliberal economics of scarcity. In his economy of radical abundance—one version of what Lewis Hyde calls the “gift economy”—the more health you give, the more health you get.
He gets at least two things wrong here. One, he compares the healings of Jesus to the healings of State-funded medical institutions, which is at the very least short-sighted and, depending on how you want to spin it, is blasphemous. Jesus' miracles didn't cost money, and they were guaranteed to work. I'm not even sure what Laarman means when he says that Christ took "away from the already-healthy to restore the health of the physically and psychologically afflicted." I don't recall His passing a hat around the crowd before healing the blind man.

Two, he throws up the classic liberal smoke screen of refusing to recognize the difference between a person's not thinking a government can or should make it its business to take care of poor people and a person's not caring about poor people. (Lest someone throw me in with the reactionary right, I'll point to the classic conservative smoke screen of confusing government care with government instrusion.) I can think that Obama's universal health-care system is a wasteful boondoggle that will not accomplish what it was created to accomplish without wanting hundreds of millions of sick people to die, uninsured, in the street, and it's a particularly ugly form of bad faith for Laarman to suggest that's not true.

The stories from this website tend to be blindly offensive blanket statements without any middle ground or connection to reality--last week, for example, one of their authors declared ex cathedra that the homosexuality debate had been settled and that there was nothing wrong with it, a proclamation that doesn't seem to have been based on anything or to have had an effect on anything. But this one struck me as particularly one-sided, writing off, as it does, an entire political party as un-Christian on the strength of a cheap and faulty argument.

(For the record, I am vaguely in favor of universal health care but would prefer a complete revamp of the system rather than the current subsidization plan, which I think is just going to waste a lot of money.)


stanford said...


The human heart desperately wants a lens to look through that diminishes the other. Any lens will do.

The answer to the religious right is not the religious left. It is the same beast, with a little more flair.

Michial said...

You're absolutely right. I had high hopes in 2005 when the Democratic Party began seeking out Evangelical voters, but the Religious Left has become a beast that's just as ugly as the Right.

I think my biggest problem in all of this is that poor Jesus' name gets invoked to end arguments. "Well, Jesus would support this." Really? You're capable of saying what a first-century Jew under the Roman Empire would do in a largely Anglo-Saxon democracy in the 21st century? I wouldn't dare to say.