I Know You Don’t Care, Ayn, but She Died from No Healthcare

I heard about a memorial service the other day for an old friend’s sister. She was a home healthcare nurse without medical insurance. She knew she had something wrong with her, but she kept putting off going to the doctor because she was afraid – afraid of what might be wrong with her and afraid she couldn’t pay for any treatment. When she finally couldn’t stand the pain and uncertainty, she went to the doctor. But it was too late, the cancerous tumor had burst and she died within weeks.

I think this woman had other choices than the ones she made. And I am sure there were personal reasons for her behavior which I do not understand. But the fact that someone could not afford health care and died as a result makes me want to speak to the powers in the small way I have at hand today – this blog post.

I am feeling the prophet Isaiah on the subject:

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
   to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
   and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
   and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
   when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
   Where will you leave your riches? (Isaiah 10:1-3)

The legislators in congress, who, for the most part, equal “the rich,” have made choices and are on the verge of making more radical choices that have an impact on us all, especially the poor.

It is reported that Congressman Paul Ryan makes every member of his staff read philosopher Ayn Rand, the shameless promoter of the gospel of aggressive self-interest. His new budget proposal reflects this.

 Jim Wallis says, “Congressman Ryan’s budget isn’t really about deficit reduction. It’s about choices — choices that will determine what kind of a country we become. And Paul Ryan has made the choice to hurt people who don’t have the political clout to defend themselves. Two-thirds of the long-term budget cuts that Ryan proposed are directed at modest and low-income people, as well as the poorest of the poor at home and abroad. At the same time, he proposed tax cuts up to 30 percent for some of our country’s wealthiest corporations.”

While cutting into our country’s modest attempt at providing a social safety net, people who call themselves “deficit hawks”  completely ignore the most consistently wasteful, and morally compromised area of the whole federal budget — our endless and unaccountable military spending.

Isaiah says:

“Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims — laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you?”  (Isaiah 10:1-3, The Message)

Ryan’s budget is a bonanza for the rich and devastation for the poor. That’s a fact. It is frightening that the main rationale for the cuts is about the so-called immorality of deficit spending, instead of about the choices the officials are making about what kind of country we are becoming. Further impoverishing the poor in order to add more wealth to the wealthy is not an acceptable political or moral strategy.

When President Obama offered his budget he said, “In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”

But what Obama failed to say was that we are currently wasting lives and billions of dollars in Afghanistan on a strategy that fails to make us any safer, which is its stated justification. And he should mention the billions being spent on Iraq, Libya and untold expenditures in trying to police the world. For instance, the U.S. has 3,500 troops in Djibouti, 53,000 in Germany, and 8,000 in Qatar.

Last night we had a congressman in our meeting (a first, I think). He seemed like a nice man. I managed to open up the Israeli-Palestinian mess as part of our closing prayer. He started talking to me about it as soon as I shook his hand. He immediately embroiled us the intricacies of visionless statecraft. The whole congress seems to be tied up with Randian, self-interested competition, which results in a predictable, endless conflict over protecting wealth and getting more. Where are the wise people? I told him I needed to leave the government to him while I tried to serve Jesus. Mostly, I mean that. But when someone dies because they can’t afford healthcare, because they have been made afraid to go to the hospital, I think we all need to put on some Isaiah.

[On a related note: join us this Friday for the Good Friday vigil outside of Delia’s gun shop, 4pm]

25 thoughts on “I Know You Don’t Care, Ayn, but She Died from No Healthcare

  1. Hello, I am a long time reader and first time commenter. Thank you Rod for this and all the other posts, they have been spiritually invigorating and refreshingly candid. Although I don’t agree with all that you have said in the political realm, other commenters such as Jon K have expressed many of my own sentiments more eloquently than I could have done myself.

    I do, however, want to remark on a strong negative reaction I had to the dialogue that has ensued via this comments section in the hopes that future dialogue could better demonstrate love and openness. Specifically, as I read the comments and read Adam E.’s reaction to Rod’s and phillygator/Jon K’s comments, I was turned off by the comment that equated a portion of Jon’s view with being of Satan. Is that really appropriate? Rod has said he controls the comments, and therefore I assume he condones it.

    I was so irked by Adam’s comment that I sought out an introduction with him last night after the vigil. Although we were able to meet, due to the commotion of people greeting and leaving, we were unable to discuss what the intent of the statement was.

    I would simply like to implore the community to be more open to opposing views in the name of truth and understanding, and especially that we are all brothers and sisters of Christ and do not deserve to be accused of Satanic thought unduly. There are many varied political views held by our congregation, and not all of them hold Chuck’s assertion that taxes exist as reparations for exploitation of the poor. Such diversity of viewpoints should be an asset to the church, should it not? (Of course excluding viewpoints that we hold in agreement as being false such as violence as a means to anything good). All of the races, republicans and democrats, people of different countries—we can all be brothers and sisters.

    Once again, thank you all for dialogue, and thank you for challenging my viewpoints in the interest of becoming more Christ-like.

    1. Hey Eric,

      Since I was unable to speak to you in person I did write Aaron an email explaining my comments/thoughts and asked him to forward it to you. Unfortunately, he did not receive it (?)

      Part of what I told Aaron in person, when I had the opportunity, is that people feel about the term “Satan” as they do about the term “Nuclear” which is an unfortunate amount of hyper-sensitivity based on a misunderstanding of the word (in my opinion). The word “nuclear”, remember, was removed from the acronym MRI (which should be NMRI — nuclear magnetic resonance imagining) but folks get scared to think they anything “nuclear” is happening to them! This is silly because we are all nuclear! We are all made up of billions of nuclei.

      Likewise, we all (that follow Jesus) have Jesus. We also all have, which I’m convinced is biblical (here’s where Rod has the chance to correct me because his understanding of the bible vastly exceeds mine), some Satan. In the gospels, there’s a point where Jesus talks to his best friend Peter as if he is speaking to the devil. This is not only his best friend but a huge ambassador of the gospel and someone who did much to spread the kingdom! Everyone is liable to be under the influence of Satan. Spiritual warfare is real. And most of the time it is constant and subtle, where thought patterns are created in our minds. It has often been said that the most convincing lies are half-truths, and if the devil is as clever as they say, I’m sure he works that way.

      Rod’s diction “Flee from…” resonated to me as if he was fighting evil. That’s how I read it.

      I doubt this clarified too much which is why having a conversation in person will work out best. Hope to see you soon Eric!


    1. Right, and I would still be using the words of Isaiah toward the government if we had universal healthcare. I have trouble taking sides in the political debate about healthcare, because my “side” generally believes the government will never do a good job taking care of people because it’s rooted in worldly power systems. This conversation has been encouraging, because you are all pointing us toward taking care of each other, and developing a real community rooted in Jesus. Thanks.

  2. Well, we should start by paying for some care-Isaiah would. In lieu of care our health system is filled with treatments that poke and prod but never actually care for people as humans in need. And too, we pay for our men and women to fight in these abominable wars and then shut the doors on them when the nightmares follow them home.

  3. Thanks, Rod and Chuck. In serving people with HIV/AIDS here in our city, I watch many too many friends die on a regular basis. These friends do have access to healthcare through welfare but it’s mostly too-little, too-late. God help Ryan and Rand for legitimizing the cycle of poverty; this kind of thinking and legislation is literally killing us. I hope we always agree with Jesus that we do actually belong to each other.

  4. I agree that it is very sad to see somebody hurt, dying, and sick. I also agree that it is my responsibility and the responsibility of other Christians to see to their welfare. However, this does not mean it somebody else’s responsibility. If I take money from somebody else and use it for my own cause, it is called stealing. And that is what I believe it is to take more from somebody, just because he has more. The “tax cuts” are actually tax equalizers. The wealthiest class currently turns over more than 1/3 of their income with tax cuts and 40% without, because we the people are not a nation that takes the burden of the needy upon ourselves, but we legalize taking money from somebody who is not willing. I would not mind if this was the intentional design of our government, but reading of the Federalist Papers, John Locke, and John Adams shows that the original intent of the government is to protect a citizens property (money included). Do I think it is fair that somebody cannot afford proper care? Of course not? Do the ends justify the means if what I take from another helps somebody else? Definitely not. I think our current church should emulate the church shown in the bible. The church of Macedonia gave out of their poverty (with joy!) in support of the saints (2 Cor 8: 1-4).

    Sorry for the seond post, I discovered that you don’t like anonymous postings.

    1. I agree that the nation has developed far beyond the notions of the generally-godless founding fathers. It is mainly the Christians that have pressured it to do so.

      One point of the piece I wrote was about choosing. The government has already “taken” my money in taxes. I want them to choose to help the poor. In the name of Jesus I will continue to ask them to do so. It is a simple conviction: “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Prov 14:31) Even if it were not a so-called democracy I would voice my preference that the rulers not spend the taxes on world domination in order to protect the rich.

      As for emulating the church shown in the Bible, surely you know that we do, Jon.

      1. Yes, I believe that Circle and its members are hands and feet of the gospel and follow Jesus’ directives in caring for the needy. To clarify my position: If Christians and others do not ask for their money to be appropriated into something, their will be no credibility for the taking of money from them. That is why it is vitally important that when we mobilize, it is to encourage each other on to good deeds like giving to the poor. Not demanding money from some other source. America’s founders believed that the only way to protect a man’s liberty was to protect his property; and (as you probably know by now) with this I strongly agree. I understand that people may disagree with me politically, but never does Jesus rest the task of assisting others on anybody other than the person who recognizes the need (or who should recognize the need). There are many places where we’re warned against having resources and not assisting the needy. But again, I think this shows how vital it is for us to consider it a personal responsibilty and not look to the wealthier or the government for its accomplishment.

    2. Jon –

      I agree with you up to a point that morality should not be coerced, but that’s not what’s happening here. In America, taxation of the rich has nothing to do with state-mandated charity, but with recovering for the masses the portion of wealth that was stolen from them in the first place. One reason why people can’t afford healthcare (or food for that matter), is because businesses don’t pay them fairly. “Fair,” at the very least, means that working citizens at all levels benefit from economic growth by seeing increases in real wages. There hasn’t been real wage growth for hourly earners since the mid-70s. Instead, nearly all of the economic growth has been funneled to those at the very top of the income scale; hence the dramatic shift in America’s wealth toward a very tiny minority. Fair distribution of economic growth would dictate that workers across the entire economic scale benefit from the growth their labor has supported. They haven’t. We wouldn’t need to spend so much on social programs or provide government healthcare if economic growth had brought people out of poverty like it’s supposed to.

      Perhaps most relevant is the fact that that many of the founding fathers (Jefferson in particular) were horrified by the dramatic income inequalities in Europe. The understood that when a nation’s wealth is concentrated with small aristocratic minority, it inevitably leads to tyranny. Also, their primary objection was to the practice of taxation without democratically elected representation. Today the rich are exceedingly well represented in government, so you can’t argue that they’re being tyrannized by their government.

      Finally, I have to note that your claim that “wealthiest class currently turns over more than 1/3 of their income with tax cuts and 40% without” is factually wrong. The top 1% pays a 35% wage tax, but the vast majority of their income does not come from wages, but from qualified dividends and long term capital gains, both of which are only taxed at 15%. As a result, their real tax rate is considerably lower than the numbers you’ve cited above. I would gladly drop the rich into a lower income tax bracket if they’ll be expected to pay that same rate on their two primary income streams.

      Of course, none of this makes the slightest difference if we’re trying to develop a Christian political or social ethic, because America’s political philosophy comes from Enlightenment thinkers, not Christian ones. I’m not inherently opposed to Enlightenment thought, but we ought to measure our political positions against the Gospel of Jesus, not the gospel of Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Adam Smith, or any of the rest of their ilk.

      1. I think I see now where you are coming from and why comment did not sit right with some people. I can not say whether the gospel of Jesus compels me to vote for or against universal health care. I interpret this as a purely political decision, instead of a religious one. It is really not my place to say whether I’m correct, as God surprises me frequently and often in ways that are not comfortable for me. However, I would like to clarify what looks like may have been muddled: it is not my intention to spread the gospel of America’s founders. I consider myself first and foremost a Christian, and my comment was really meant to be interpreted in two sections. One was that we should take on the responsibility of the needy and not look to government or others (my comment concerning our faith, which I believe Circle accomplishes more than the average church by assisting the needy). The other was that the nation’s founders believed in equal rights and not equal things, and as an interpreter of America’s values, I don’t see the disparity in equal things as oppression (this comment is purely political).

        In the end, I am encouraged that all of the people who have commented are followers of Jesus, and that we all take seriously the call to true religion: assisting the widow and the orphan and comforting those who need it most (James 1:27).

  5. This issue poses some especially appropriate things to consider during Holy Week. Do we really believe that Christ has saved us through his death on the cross, or do are we still secretly yearning for some other messiah (medical technology) who will guarantee us immortality by enabling us to avoid physical death?

    1. Thanks chuck, your post really helps me “put on Isaiah” when talking about the healthcare debate, and even points to a “third way” kind of approach to politics in general. What you said needs to be said louder somehow!

  6. People are drawn to Ayn Rand’s ideas because her ideology justifies their own selfishness. I’m not sure that there is ultimately any argument that will adequately respond to that, because it’s a character issue rather than a philosophical one. Something like 70% of professional philosophers self-identify as atheist, yet the vast majority dismiss Rand’s “philosophy” as nonsense.

    The Randians aside, this post raises some very important questions about how we as Christians should think about healthcare. I think that Christians should be especially careful not to fall into the trap of advocating for universal healthcare on the basis of “rights.” As Christians, we aren’t in the business of loving our neighbor because it’s his or her “right” to be loved, but because we recognize that we are responsible for one another. We don’t get to pick and choose who is “worthy” of love, charity, food, housing or basic medical care. We don’t love our neighbor because that’s her “inalienable right,” but because we know that as a child of God, she has inherent worth. Christians understand that what is truly inalienable is our responsibility for one another. We may choose to ignore that responsibility, but we cannot opt out of it.

    The confusion between rights and responsibilities is especially striking in the debate about universal healthcare. Our country was born through a document that asserts that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As Americans, we believe we have an inalienable right to life, and that death violates this right. I suspect that the authors of the Declaration of Independence were originally referring to our inalienable right not to be murdered by tyrannical monarchs, but in the intervening years we have expanded on our definition of that “right”. Americans now believe that the inalienable right to life literally means that we have the right not to die. We consider death a violation under any circumstances. Cancer, for instance, is no longer just an illness; it is a cruel tyrant who must be defeated. We’re told that we must “stand up to cancer,” because cancer wants to violate our right to life, to rob us of our right to immortality. In defiance of disease, we spend billions on futile interventions for people who are terminally ill, but deny basic care to those who could actually benefit from those healthcare dollars.

    Like it or not, our healthcare resources are limited, not just in abundance, but it efficacy. There is a finite amount of care available, and medicine is ultimately incapable of saving us from death. Healthcare in America is rationed – the “haves” receive more than they need (futile, costly interventions that waste money while failing to preserve their lives) while the “have nots” go without effective, basic care. As Christians, we are especially well equipped to let go of our obsession with cheating death. We understand that we are responsible for promoting one another’s well-being, but that our own deaths are inevitable. We can no sooner cheat death by hoarding healthcare than by hoarding wealth. Recognizing that, let’s take responsibility for one another and share the former just as we share the latter.

  7. This is good politics, good theology, good faith. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for making it a pro-Isaiah post, more than an anti-Rand. It’s refreshing to hear this perspective, Rod.

  8. I think Rand issues important challenges to conventional morality, especially the ideas that profit is evil, success is theft, that every exchange of goods and services involves exploitation, and that if you don’t succeed, those who do are in your debt.

    1. I will let you comment, even though you are anonymous, just to note that what you posit as conventional morality has NEVER been conventional in the U.S. Your parroting does, however, prove Rand’s quote that I highlighted — if someone says nonsense enough, someone will think it is an important challenge to conventional morality! Please parrot Isaiah, or at least let Rand speak to him. Putting on Isaiah, not NOT putting on Rand, was the main point of the post (although the latter would be worthy of one). I did not mean to invite you into more political redundancies. I hope you flee that dialogue until you find something from the Lord to bring to it.

  9. well shouted Rod! Im sorry about your friends sister. Im tired of the rhetoric too; tired of the lies, of the “visionless statecraft.” I’m going with Jesus, and Im putting on Isaiah today. I want God to do something with my anger.

  10. I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s sister. I’ll pray for her family/ friends, and for the state of healthcare here. Thanks for helping us to hear from God and consider how significantly our lives and decisions affect so many others. I’m glad for your decision to serve Jesus.

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