Now We Have an Issue

I have been quite dismayed in recent months about the nature of the criticism coming from conservative Christians toward the cuurent president of the USA. Don’t misread that into a statement of all-out support for the policies and initiatives of the Obama administration. I do think, however, that most of the criticism is ill-informed and inconsistent, given the fact (documentable) that some of the policies now berated were exactly what was promoted by Republicans not so long ago–and hailed as great solutions by the very people now hurling invectives against the same policies when enacted or endorsed by Pres. Obama. Makes one wonder. I’m especially disappointed by the tone of the criticism, which in no discernible way reflects Jesus. If politics trumps our commitment to representing Christ well, we have a problem–and it isn’t a political one.

I also doubt that many of us (if anyone) understands enough about economics to definitvely state that our current crisis/recovery/malaise owes to the current administration or to the debt incurred by our military actions in the Middle East, actions begun (unfunded) by the Bush administration. How can we know this without studying economics thoroughly, especially when those who have done so cannot figure it out? Whether it was right to go there or not, there is a bill to be paid, as there is a bill to be paid for all of the entitlements we have created for ourselves. Yes, ourselves. It’s okay to question welfare, but not social security for example. I’m not an economist; but I know there’s a debt that won’t be paid without more money coming in and less money going out. So don’t soothe my ego with talk of tax cuts.

But that’s not my issue today. What does bother me is the administrations’s inclusion of birth control as a requirement in all health care plans for all employers, including the Roman Catholic Church. No exceptions. This is indeed an instance of serious, probably unconstitutional over-reaching by the federal government. It does, in my mind, comprise a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion. And it is being done knowingly. Well, sort of. I have little confidence that anyone in the administration has taken the time or trouble to actually engage the reasons behind the Catholic opposition to artificial birth control; it is, on the whole, a carefully articulated, well reasoned, and biblically consistent extension of the overall pro-life position. But it is overrun without consideration by the edict to implement the Health Care Reform Act. Why?

There are several factors here that could easily escape our notice. One might be the assumption that “religion” is interpreted as a set of practices, none of which are being threatened by the new rules. That is, since no rites or ceremonies are involved, there is no interference with “religion.” One the other hand, there is a pervading sense in our supposedly enlightened culture that religion is a private matter, according to which one forms one’s own definition of life and its meaning. In that case, it is entirely up to the individual to define what practices, actions, etc., are to be considered morally acceptable; it is not within the purview of any doctrine established by a church. Interestingly, that is very much the line used by the Supreme Court when it struck down major provisions of the Pennsylvania abortion law passed back in the early 1990s. The majority decision declared that it is a fundamental aspect of freedom to decide for oneself the meaning of life. Note that it did not say how one interprets the meaning of life, something that is certainly true; it is the right to determine the meaning itself, which can only mean that no one truly knows.

It can therefore be argued that whether one actually practices artificial birth control is purely a personal decision, and one may choose to follow Catholic doctrine on the matter. But the Church must put aside its reasoned position, built on the premise that God has told us the meaning of life. And what He has told us precludes the artifical birth control that it is told by the government to fund when someone else’s idea of life conflicts with that teaching. If this decree of Caesar does not violate the separation of Church and State so often appealed to, I don’t know what would.

Am I missing something? What are your thoughts?

14 thoughts on “Now We Have an Issue

  1. What business is it in the first place, for the Government to have any say in the birth control methods or practices of any citizen?
    Thankfully because of the growing outrage of Catholics, Muslims, and even some Democratic supporters, this mandate will most likely be “temporarily” reversed.
    Like him or not, take a few minutes to read and listen to the video clips from Glenn Becks’ site.

  2. well, the Church itself is exempt. Any church can be exempt from this rule. (The rule that employer-sponsored health insurance must provide coverage for birth control for those who choose to use it). It’s extra-church organizations — such as Catholic schools — that are not exempt. It gets fuzzier the further you move away from church-as-employer.

    My personal opinion is that we should all be able to buy health insurance the way we buy car insurance, and it shouldn’t be employer-sponsored anyway. Then we wouldn’t have this issue. Just check the box if you want to opt in or out of birth control provision. Then, too, people don’t have to stay with lousy employers just to keep their families on good health insurance. Unions would have so much less to strike about. But that’s not going to happen for a hundred years, so I’m just being a grump. Humbug.

    • The problem with that is that those who have serious issues and would not be able to get anything at an affordable cost. I’d love to have the option of higher deductibles and lower premiums; but so it goes. What no one addresses is the high cost itself–just want to talk about who pays.

      I do think Thom is right; the Dems can’t afford to push Catholics any farther than they already have.

      • I agree with Amy. Individuals should control health care dollars and have the freedom to choose from a wide variety of plans and providers. As for people with pre-existing conditions, give them the freedom to purchase health plans across state lines, which will increase competition and lower costs. Tax deductions for health care costs or tax credits will also help people with “serious issues.” If these options don’t sound like “compassionate conservatism,” The E.C. Church can create a health care fund to provide assistance for those with serious issues. Sounds like creative outreach to me. By the way, everyone has access to healthcare with or without health insurance. A federal law mandates that all emergency rooms provide treatment regardless of the patient’s ability to pay.

  3. Given that (Western) Political Science is the younger sister of theology, I’d like to suggest that we need to move back from discussions of the Constitution and begin the discussion of “inalienable rights” (and where they came from) and then have that flow into a constitutional discussion. This undoubtedly will require additions to the Bill of Rights (BOR), we could call it Bill of Rights II.

    I would suggest that the issues of our day the Founders would have almost considered “Oral BOR”, they just couldn’t have imagined that they would be in dispute. At this juncture the constitutional categories are insufficient, so we must turn from the late 1780’s (Constitution) and look at the mid 1770’s (Declaration) using “inalienable rights” as the category.

    Do you believe that there is an “inalienable right” here? And what is it?

    Do I have the right to resist being forced to pro-offer the instrumentalities of sin?

      • Paul’s appeal is an historic fact if you take the canon seriously, and there are many in the canon, some of which do not represent moral/ethical teachings. If this is one, than what would be the cultural equivalent, who actually is sovereign in this country? The head of DHS, the president? In fact isn’t this situation potentially more correctly paralleled in another rich vein of canonical narrative, from the midwives, to Daniel, to a pair of apostles before the Sanhedrin? Maybe we should take our favorite medium and get onto YouTube and listen to Liddell read Isaiah 40 for overall context.

  4. The core of the problem here lies beyond what almost everyone is discussing (except maybe Amy). In almost every civilized nation, the very idea of “medical insurance” is virtually unheard-of. The fact that we have allowed huge profit-making corporations to insert themselves into our healthcare “system,” in between doctors and patients, is an abomination. The additional fact that the people with the best health care are those lucky enough to have the most generous employers should be another obvious problem (take, for example, congressional medical plans). The existence of insurance for medical care is the problem.

    It has bothered me for years that most insurance plans will provide men with Viagra but will not provide women with birth control. It bothers me much more that “insurance” exists for something as essential as health care. That is the crux of the conflict. It’s a good thing no insurance company ever figured a way to provide “coverage” for food and clothing. We’d have co-pays at the grocery store, and arguments over whether church-based employers should be paying for the purchase of wine.

    As has been mentioned, it is not a “church” which is being mandated to cover something. It is church-affiliated businesses such as hospitals, who out of necessity and a desire to obtain the best people to employ, would be foolish to refuse to employ non-Catholics. So perhaps the other-side question should be, was it ever appropriate for the employer to impose its religious or moral standards on the private lives of its employees who are not of that faith?

    But we can disagree endlessly over this topic, because it is one of those issues which should not even exist as an issue. And it would not exist, were it not for the hideous system which has allowed for the growth and power of the massive health insurance industry. That’s what needs to be eliminated.

  5. Does that mean that a newspaper owned by Christian Scientists should have the right to opt out of any sort of health coverage for its janitorial staff of they feel it contravened their notion of what their own religion teaches. How about refusing to collect or pay the medical portion of Social Security?

    • Exactly – if we allow any “employer” to be granted exemptions to their coverage due to their particular religious teachings, then we open the kind of Pandora’s box you describe. Which emphasizes my point – “insurance” (provided mostly by employers) is no way to provide health care. It should be between you and your doctor – private, personal – nobody’s business. Not the employer, not the insurance company. We should not be having this discussion. And in most of the world, we wouldn’t.

      • True, the system does not make economic or medical sense and has become something of a Leviathan–it started with reasonable intentions of sharing the costs, knowing any of us can become ill/be injured. There’s good reason to do that. But it became a separate third-party endeavor–a capitalist one, meaning profit had to be involved. Couple that with the way it became a bargaining tool for labor unions. There is nothing wrong with an employer saying that health care costs will be covered for employees; and I don’t think it unreasonable to expect that they would do so within the bounds of their vision of the good, as the Catholic Church does throughout its various arms and appendages. I don’t think the employee should have the right to impose on them their privately formed view of what is good. But that’s only an issue when the new form of government intervention came along and said the employer must–not may, not is being nice if it does, but must provide such insurance. This raising of the ante brings your concerns to the fore. I wish that it would give us pause sufficient to reevaluate the whole mess–I’d much rather have my employer give me the extra thousands (many of them) rather than give them to an insurance company which never has and never will set my broken arm or prescribe the medicine I need to keep my blood pressure under control.

        Since we aren’t likely to get to that point from the present one, it’s a case of doing the best we can with what we’ve got. And having the government add yet another layer of bureacratic interfernece in the curing of my mounting headache over the whole thing isn’t what I need. Something had to give–the costs were just too high; unfrotunately, the cure may turn out to be worse than the disease.

      • Just for historical note is that the Doctor’s through the AMA brought this upon us and themselves (in the US). In a different age at least into the early 30’s, people belonged to “societies” whether it was absolutely religious in foundation (the Knights of Columbus) or had less clear religious foundation (The Odd Fellows), these societies contracted with local doctor’s to provide medical service to members in good standing (and their families) at no cost. The AMA eventually gained enough power to actually make this illegal – they believed this was holding down their incomes. Intermediation has been part of health care for a long time, but it was once intermediated by a local quasi-democratic set of institutions or at least that as part of the mix. As an aside, some people can just barely remember that many hospitals were founded by charitable organizations of many stripes, and some are still held by those organizations. The world was different in the past, and not all of it was bad….

  6. I find the disintegration of societies in the US during the 20th century to be an interesting artifact, it suggests some things right up your alley. I had the opportunity to talk to the Ziff clan who invented the concept of hobby/areaofinterest publishing starting in the 50’s (Car & Driver et al) and then who divested it in the 90’s, I met them when they were contemplating the Internet as an organizing principle. I would generalize and say we moved from organizing around “other” to organizing around “me”.

    Bringing this all the way back to the issue at hand. If one was a philosopher or some kind of ethicist in the administration, one might be weighing the difference between squeezing/attacking an institution that seems to be organized around “other” opportunities, to optimize (in their mind) the me/consumerist opportunities.

    Just a thought.

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