Import jQuery

Thinking outside the religious box on universal healthcare

Performing a checkup

Here’s a little thought experiment which might lead to some unpopular-but-righteous directions: should disciples of Yeshua support universal healthcare? And if so, who provides and pays for that care?

Followers of the Jewish Messiah have a religious obligation to support universal healthcare:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

-Messiah to his disciples, Matthew 25:35-45

Universal healthcare – the idea that healthcare should be provided to everyone – is an idea with some support in the gospels. Is a brother or sister ill? Then we are to take care of them and visit them when they are sick. Think of this as the original “universal healthcare.”

Does this require us to support social justice policies such as government-enforced universal healthcare? The question has been on my mind lately, given the recent introduction of universal healthcare in the US and the leftist politicians who are promising to further that policy.

Before we can answer that question, we must first clarify what we mean by universal healthcare, severing political ties in the process. Political bias clouds the mind, so let’s analyze this issue outside of politics and look at it from a strictly moral perspective. Let’s pretend no political party is affiliated with universal healthcare; let’s look at it with fresh eyes from a Biblical perspective.

Universal healthcare. “Universal” is hyperbole, of course: it’s more accurately called “worldwide healthcare.” (I’m always amused by titles involving the universe, such as “Miss Universe.” SmileI digress.)

When we in the US talk about worldwide healthcare, we’re actually talking about healthcare specifically for this nation. While the political left may desire healthcare implemented worldwide, when we speak of universal healthcare in the US, we’re really just talking about it in our nation; it is more precisely called national healthcare.

And it isn’t enough to call it national healthcare, because what we’re really talking about is national healthcare provided by and paid for by the US government. We’ll call this government-sponsored national healthcare: the idea that every person in the nation should receive healthcare, and the government pays for that.

Should disciples of Messiah support government-sponsored national healthcare?

Alas, we’re still not done severing the politics from this one. The simple person will stop here and say, “The government wants to pay for something I previously had to pay for? Are you kidding? Why not!”

But the wise person understands the government has no money to pay for anything. It’s like saying your dog is going to pay for your dinner at a fancy restaurant; you dine exquisitely, only to discover you are required to stay and wash the dishes. 

Let’s not wash the dishes. Since the government has no money of its own, the government must borrow money from someone to pay for it.

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t have to borrow. It can forcibly take money from its citizens. And since it writes the laws, the government can transform this form of theft into something legal: taxes.

So, the government is going to use the money it confiscated from its citizens to pay for government-sponsored national healthcare.

But wait! The government already used up all the money it confiscated from us; from whence cometh the coin to care for the health of 300 million citizens? Smile

The answer is new taxes and more confiscation.

Why would citizens ever allow their own government to increase their own tax burden? It’d be like seeing a proposition, “Will you permit us to take more of your money by force?,” and deciding to vote YES. Lunacy, yeah?

Ah, but the political left in the US has very effectively demonized a minority in the US to suit this very purpose, and they plan on confiscating money from that group and duping people to go along with it.

The group is, of course, “The 1%”, a faceless, conspiratorial-like cabal of super-wealthy people. By most measures, they’re people who earn $300,000/year or more in income, which is a lot of money to be sure. But since the Evil 1% are a tiny minority who have lots of money, the majority of the citizens feel it no great sin in coveting their wealth, demanding they share it with the rest of us. (It’s hard to call it sharing the wealth, since sharing implies a voluntary action.)

The 1% is a societal outgroup, a minority that society does not identify with and feels justified in persecuting. This outgroup is demonized, and we openly discuss passing laws that would make seizing their funds easy and legal, and thus, pay for the greater good of government-sponsored national healthcare for the rest of us.

With a outgroup in place and  thoroughly demonized by left-leaning media and politicians, many citizens are ready to pull the handle and vote YES on the Take Money Away From Citizens proposal, as long as that money is being taken from somebody else, and for the purpose of giving us free stuff.

So, we’re really talking about government-sponsored national healthcare paid for by confiscating money from wealthy citizens.

Does God require the righteous to support that?

We’re pretty sure God wants us to take care of people’s health, especially in our own communities. But the Bible is silent when it comes to the role of government in healthcare.

One could argue the Bible gives us the example of setting up a government (kings, judges, elders of Israel) with a military for the defense and wellbeing of a nation, and by a big stretch one could argue that’s a form of healthcare. But whether a government should also tax its citizens additionally in order to pay for that, there is no real example.

So, what are we to do when the Bible is silent on an issue?

The first step is to be honest. God is silent about government providing healthcare for its citizens. Since God is silent about this, we cannot claim, as some religious leftists do, that God commands government-mandated healthcare, or that this government-sponsored form of social justice helps create the Kingdom of Heaven.

(Side note: The socialist utopias leftists dream of and try to institute through government policy may, in fact, be an emanation of the deep-seated longing humanity has for the real Kingdom of Heaven, where suffering and injustice is taken away. But I digress again.)

So, we acknowledge it’s extra-biblical; an idea without biblical evidence for or against.

OK, but that still doesn’t answer whether followers of Israel’s Messiah should support it. To answer that, we must look at existing Biblical principals and apply them to our question.

Let’s do this by applying the biblical principal of charity. Charity is a great analogy to healthcare, because healthcare might be considered a form of charity, and because God requires of us both charity and healthcare, and because giving to charity is considered a righteous act by leftists and rightists alike, by Judaism and Christianity, it crosses political and religious boundaries. It might be considered a universal (wink) good work.

God explicitly commands charity in the Bible. One example:

Every third year, you must set aside 1/10th of all your produce and give it to the fatherless and the widow, the Levite and the foreigner, so that they may eat and be satisfied.

-God speaking to Israel, Deuteronomy 26:12

How can we apply this principal of charity to the question of government-funded healthcare?

Since God commanded both charity and healthcare, let’s play a game where we peer into the future and imagine the tables turned, swapping healthcare for charity.

City of the futureSuppose 20 years from now, in the year 2035, there is a movement among right-wingers called Universal Charity. An idea which provides a basic good – giving to charity – for all people in the United States. Everyone should give to charity; who can argue with that?!

But, there’s a problem. Not everyone has money to give to charity. Some people are too poor to give to charity; some cannot afford to give to charity at all!

How does the US Republican Right of the future implement Universal Charity? How can they pass the Affordable Charity Act of 2035?

They do so by having the government give to charity for you. On behalf of each citizen, the government will donate to a charity of its choosing. (The President at the time had promised, “Don’t worry, you can keep your charity, and use the charitable organization of your choice!”, but that turned out to be a false promise, a political play meant to pass the bill into law.)

Alas! In the year 2035, the government is inefficient and bloated and not very frugal; all of its monies are spent on other things. There is no money left for the Affordable Charity Act.

But the 2035 Republican Party had a solution to this, too: they would increase the taxes on the top 0.5% (half of the top 1%!). A tiny sliver of the population of the US, even in 2035. image

By requiring the top 0.5% to pay more taxes, citizens no longer have to give to charity; the government simply gives tzedakah for you. Now, everyone’s righteous! Everyone’s giving to charity!

Would this be a good thing? Would God deem a person righteous for giving to charity, seeing as how they taxed the top 0.5% and used that money to give to charity?

Well, it’s not really giving to charity at all, is it.

If I take your money and give it to charity, I’m not really giving to charity. I’m stealing from you and giving it away. The fact that I gave your money to charity does not cancel my theft of your dollars, no matter how rich you might be.

I think this answers our question.

“Should disciples of the Jewish Messiah support government-sponsored national healthcare by increasing taxes on the top 1% wage earners? No, clearly not.”

Should disciples of the Jewish Messiah support government-sponsored national healthcare by increasing taxes on the top 1% wage earners? No, clearly not. Just as a person taking your money and giving it to the poor does not fulfill the mitzvah to give to charity, neither does taking money from the top 1% and using it to fund national healthcare release a person from the divine command to visit and care for the sick.

Who should provide the healthcare?

I began this post by asking, “Should disciples of Yeshua support universal healthcare? And if so, who provides and pays for that care?”

We have answered the first question: we have a command from the Master to care for the sick, thus, we should support healthcare for at least those in our community, if not for all people.

As for the 2nd question, who provides and pays for that care, the answer is not the government. The divine command to care for the sick is on us, as individuals, not on the government. We cannot use the government as our crutch and say, “I pay taxes, therefore, I do not need to care for the sick.”

But this is an insufficient answer, then, isn’t it? We asked, “Who provides and pays for healthcare”, and we answered, “Not the government!”

OK, if not the government, then who?

Today, we have a problem that didn’t exist in the 1st century: healthcare is prohibitively expensive. Even wealthy people today would have difficulty paying for healthcare out of pocket. Treatment for serious diseases can easily surpass 10 years’ wages. So, we pay for healthcare insurance, which spreads the exorbitant cost over a lifetime. Contrast this with the 1st century, in which seeing a doctor may have cost some money, but not likely on the same scale as today.

In the 1st century, a man who was ill may have stayed at home and rested until he was well, or until he died. Hence Messiah’s words, “I was sick, and you looked after me”, speaking as though no one may be looking after the sick.

Some might argue, “Then we should not visit doctors or go to hospitals at all!”

But this is foolish and obtuse; physicians certainly existed in Biblical times – Bible scholars even suggest that Luke, author of the book of Acts and the gospel of Luke may have been a physician himself – and there is no biblical injunction against seeing physicians. Indeed, many Western hospitals were – and still are today – founded and staffed by the devoutly religious, and this is why we have hospitals named after saints image(“St. Thomas Hospital”), religious sects (“Minneapolis Methodist Hospital”) or righteous and holy things (“Sha’arei Tzedek Jerusalem Medical Center”). We even associate religious symbols with healthcare, such as the Red Cross, the snake raised on a pole, or Magen David Adom.

So the answer is not, “God doesn’t want us to have healthcare at all; just stay home and get well (or die).” This answer is foolish and disconnected with reality.

Some religious purists might argue that God intended healthcare to be faith healing. Heal all the sick through faith, the laying on of hands, anointing with oil, and prayer. But this doesn’t seem to align with the Bible, given that Messiah commanded us to visit and care for the sick. (Why would we visit and care for people we could simply heal through faith?) Nor does it align with reality: if faith healing worked this way, hospitals would be empty and religious people would not suffer, yet reality shows otherwise.

So the answer is not, “God didn’t expect anyone to remain sick; everyone should be healed through faith.” While God does command us to lay on hands and indeed God can and does heal people, the sick will always be among us. This is a reality of a world in an imperfect state.

We as individuals are still on the hook to keep Messiah’s command to visit the sick and care for them and their families in any way we are able, and that can include procuring professional healthcare by doctors and hospitals; often, they are your best chance at getting well, and throughout the Scriptures, God favors the preservation of life.

Who should pay for that healthcare?

Given that ultra-expensive healthcare is a phenomenon foreign to the original audience of the Bible, God is silent about who pays for healthcare. Can we apply a similar Biblical principal to give us an answer?

One example that comes to mind is how God does indeed account for the poor in the Scriptures: while a family was required to bring an offering to God – say, a whole ram, a valuable and expensive offering – a poor person was permitted to bring only a bird, or even grain in some cases.

Applying that principle, I’d suggest that if a person is unable to afford expensive healthcare, he should do what he is able. Sometimes this means fewer visits to the hospital, opting to stay home and avoid expensive treatments where possible. A man begging for food need not require organic filet mignon.

The principle in which the community helped their poor by directly giving 1/10th of their produce could also be applied here. Should an ill person require expensive healthcare – say, surgery – and he is unable to pay for it, it is our duty as the religious community to care for our own and come together to pay for the cost. Just as the community provided food for their own, so should the community provide healthcare for our own.

Keep in mind, this does not imply indirect care, such as paying taxes to provide care for others. Nor does this imply care through confiscation, such as raising taxes on others to provide healthcare for all. Rather, this is direct care, individuals helping individuals. No government or taxes or politics involved.

Finally, should both the individual and community be unable to pay for required medical care, righteous and responsible religious healthcare providers, such as the myriads of religious hospitals and doctors, should provide a final safety net and provide the care regardless of payment. (And the righteous individual receiving the care, and his religious community, should reciprocate by paying for the care over time.)

Conclusions on our thought experiment

We did a little thought experiment about healthcare. We followed that trail wherever it led, politics be damned.

In my honest observation, a righteous people who follow the God of the Bible ought to:

  • Be in favor of healthcare for all. Messiah commands us to care for the sick among us.
  • Ought not support the Affordable Care Act. Government-mandated healthcare paid for by the confiscation of wealth of others is neither righteous nor a divine command. It is the product of a covetous society that demonizes a minority group, the 1%, and wishes to confiscate their wealth. While its intentions – to provide healthcare for everyone – is indeed a noble goal, the means to this end is not. It is a human corruption of a divine ideal.
  • Visit and care for the sick, regardless of who is providing and paying for healthcare. This is an imperative from the Master; doing this is valued as though we were caring for and visiting the Messiah himself.
  • Lay hands, anoint with oil, and pray for our sick. James, the brother of the Messiah, commands that the elders of a community should practice this and the confession of sins to one another. These, coupled with the prayer of a righteous and faithful person, and God will heal the sick among us.
  • Get medical treatment as needed. The reality of a sinful and fallen world is that disease plagues humanity. This is a divine law set in place due to human sin, and this law that sickness will be upon mankind appears very early in Biblical history (in Genesis!) and isn’t taken away until the restoration of all things (in Revelation). Like the poor, the sick too will always be among us. If a person is ill and needs medical attention, we should seek to preserve life through medicine; there is no shame in doing so, and indeed modern medicine is a blessing from God which can alleviate suffering and even cure disease.
  • Get treatment within our means. The Biblical example is not that the poor pay nothing, but rather, that the poor pay what they are able. This is shown to us in how God accommodates, but doesn’t exempt, the poor in their offerings in the Temple.
  • Help pay for the medical needs of their community. The Biblical example is that the community took care of their poor directly, by setting aside 1/10th of their produce every 3 years and feeding them with that holy portion. Likewise, a Biblical community could set aside funds to help the poor within it by directly helping with medical care.

It seems to me universal healthcare is a good and righteous thing that should be provided for not by the government through confiscation of wealth, but by the righteous charity of individuals, religious communities, and religious hospitals.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

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