A friend of mine recently posted this to Facebook:
In response to the Healthcare debate – “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.” – Thomas Jefferson
I raised a few objections over Facebook, but the character limits are, well, limiting, so I thought I would post them here in more developed form.
First, I think that for the right to use this argument is at best self-serving and at worst hypocritical.
Self-serving: I object to the war in Iraq. I might even go so far as to say that I “abhor the idea” of our entire foreign policy generally. But, I still pay my taxes – taxes that are used to fund the very foreign policy that I abhor. Would Thomas Jefferson argue that I am no longer obligated to pay taxes on such grounds? Or would he argue that the government should be forced to bend its policy around my particular moral stance on particular wars? Of course not. It’s ludicrous to even suggest so.
Furthermore, would the right acknowledge that argument as legitimate if I raised it in protest against our foreign policy? Of course not. The right is using an argument to its own advantage when it suits their purposes, even though they would dismiss the very same argument out of hand if it were used against their foreign policy. That’s the very definition of a self-serving.
Hypocritical: It’s possible that the right realizes all this, but they are using the argument anyway. That would be the very definition of hypocrisy.
Second, to use Thomas Jefferson this way is little more than prooftexting (a word that gets used a lot in Christian exegesis). Jefferson’s comment has a specific cultural, political, and historical context – specifically that the colonies were being taxed (disproportionately?) without representation. His statement was made in that specific context and should be read in that specific context. It does not have a direct reference to health care, because as one FB commenter pointed out, the founding fathers would have had no comprehension of our contemporary health care system.
(Of course it’s possible that Jefferson would have objected to all of the current legislation that’s being debated – but if he would have, this comment alone wouldn’t tell us so)
Third, as the same FB commenter rightly claimed, healthcare is not a Constitutional right, because the founding fathers did not have any conception of health care as we know it. But, no one is arguing that it is; rather, some of us are arguing that it should be. The founding fathers did not have any conception of health care as we know it, and that is precisely the point. They could not have made a Constitutional right out of something that did not exist yet (and consequently of which they had no knowledge).
Fourth, from a Christian perspective, why is providing universal health care to everyone – including the working poor who could never afford insurance – be something to “abhor”? Didn’t Jesus have a few things to say about caring for the poor? I could cite several passages (but this post is already the opposite of short), so I’ll cite one in particular:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
Lest I be guilty of prooftexting myself, let me make clear that I don’t think Jesus’ words here establish that all Christians must support universal health care. Instead, Jesus’ words undermine the notion that universal health care is worthy of abhorrence.
On theological grounds and on the grounds of common sense, I really don’t understand how adopting a government policy that ensures that the poor are cared for qualifies as something to be “abhored.”
I welcome your thoughts. I’m sure there are some who disagree, and I would love to hear how you respond.
The friend who originally posted this expanded on his original post and let me know that what he was opposed to is a provision that would use taxpayer money to fund elective abortions. I’ll join him in protest if that clause makes it into the final bill.