Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Why Socialized Health Care… is Unbiblical

with 10 comments

Bronze Serpent in Wilderness

I have heard a lot of talk and conjecture here recently about social justice and national health care.  I agree with Kevin DeYoung when he says the term “social justice” should never be used unless it is defined.  Perhaps a lot of the discussions concerning a national health care plan are futile with the “Ted Kennedy” seat going to Scott Brown.  However, it is important for Christians to be able to think about everything from a Christian worldview.

Are we thinking with a Christian or Republican worldview (aren’t they the same)?

I have been a bit saddened by the lack of evangelical disagreement with the socialized healthcare debate.  For the most part, all I hear is that I am a conservative and/or republican… and my party disagrees with that.  This may be true but it does not get at the heart of a Christian view of government.  Now, there is substantial disagreement of what the proper relationship of government is to the church and vice versa.  Much of this disagreement comes down to one’s eschatological position (some Postmillenialists favor theonomy, Dispensational Premillenialists favor Neoconservativism and pro-Israel).

Why do we have human kings?

Before we delve into what the Scriptural principles given to non-theocratic governance, we must first look at the history of the Hebrew people.  Up until Saul, Israel was a theocracy where God was King and the Mosaic Law was its governance.  God’s people rejected YHWH’s kingship and instead wanted a human king like the cultures around them.  God warned them of the error in asking for this but granted them Saul.  Saul’s regime was oppressive and tyrannical (especially in comparison with his predecessor YHWH).  He imposed hefty taxes on Israel.  The question of church and state was not a question until Israel asked for Saul, ever since, it has been an issue.  We shall examine the issue of church and state at more length in a later post.  However, suffice to say that I think it good for the state to keep their nose out of the church and for the church/Christians to have a worldview – a worldview that includes political thought.

What does the Bible say about human governments?

Romans 13 is clear that God’s sets up and takes down rulers.  They are not somehow outside his providence.  This does not mean that human rulers are just, righteous, or equitable.  This does mean that they are accountable to God for their actions and that God will use their actions, moral good or moral evil, for His purposes.  The Scriptures do establish a non-theocratic (civil) government’s authority to establish certain rights for its citizens.  The Scriptures establish a civil government’s authority to protect negative rights.  Negative rights are rights that prevent harmful or morally evil things from happening to its citizens.  For example, the civil government is obliged to protect its citizens from murder, theft… etc.  It does so by establishing and enforcing laws that punish moral evil.  In my view, the Scriptures do not establish a civil government’s authority to protect/assert positive rights.  Positive rights are rights that affirm that some beneficial thing ought to be provided for its citizens.  In other words, Scripture does not affirm that it is a civil government’s responsibility to care for the sick.  Scripture does not affirm that it is the civil government’s responsibility to give alms to the poor.

If not the civil government, then whom?

It is principally the church’s responsibility to care for the sick and the poor amongst us.  During some points in our history Protestants have been good at doing this through the establishment of hospitals and such.  However increasingly these hospitals have come out from under the care of denominations and become secularized and institutionalized… succumbing to all of the ails of reactive health care, pharmacological manipulation… etc.

Final Thoughts

The church needs to take better care of the widow and the orphan.  Our churches have become so narcissistic and inward.  Caring for others is a blessing.  If someone is truly in need (and not all with an open hand are…) then we ought to be caring for them.  I would strongly recommend reading When Helping Hurts:  Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Ourselves.  I would also recommend forming a partnership with organizations that have experience in Biblical community development (vocational, health, counseling…).  One such organization for Biblical vocational community development is Jobs For Life.  I can wholeheartedly affirm their ministry firsthand.  I would also recommend reading Marvin Olasky’s books The Tragedy of American Compassion and Compassionate Conservativism.

I think it is also important for us to remember that human kings will always be imperfect and will never be fully just. Human kings ought to make us long for the perfect king in Christ whose kingdom is righteous, just, and perfect.  His administration is flawless.  His world, Universe, and creation redeemed.  His Kingdom and His government need no alms.  His Kingdom and His government needs no health care.

Post-Script

For point of clarification, the church (nor the people of God) does not have a monopoly on common grace.  The government can be an agent of common grace in a culture, society, or world.  However, civil governments are not Biblically mandated to be the institution that provides all the “good” things in that culture.  If anything, the Biblical narrative presents civil governments in a very negative light that is nearly universal:  The Egyptians, the Canaanites, Saul, Jeroboam/Rehoboam, Judah/Israel and almost every king in the divided Kingdom period, the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Roman occupation.  The few kings that are presented with any measure of high regard are David, who prefigures Christ, at points Solomon, and Cyrus, who God raises up to release Israel from exile.  But even those kings all had major blunders that hurt both their people and the perception of those people.  I do not think it is a huge interpretive jump to say that the Biblical narrative supports smaller government.  It is really quite simple, if civil government is run by fallen humans and the Biblical/historical record shows a pattern of oppression and tyranny, then we can expect tyranny from human governments unless we afford for checks and balances to their power.

Another point of clarification, I think socialized health care is unbiblical in our present American context.  The church and the private sector have the ability to provide these means of common grace.  There is no reason to cross pollinate our hospitals with the ills of the DMV or the Postal Service.  In entirely different, largely secular contexts, pragmatism will win the day (for better or for worse).  If a country has the economy to support it, then health care will/ought to be taken care of by the private sector.  If a country is small enough a social health care system could theoretically ‘work.’  Least common denominator services help no one.  Hospitals already don’t turn people away.

Things such as roads, or city infrastructure (water, sewer…) are drastically different cases than health care.  The U.S. Interstate system was built initially primarily for military purposes.  Sometimes roads are built by the private sector also though (toll roads, turnpikes, some bridges…).  Pragmatism can dictate (and this is not always evil) that the government, local or federal, take on some project that is beneficial to all of the society.  The critical distinction between these infrastructural elements to society and a socialized health care system is that no one is ‘hurt’ if a new interstate is built, or you now have water/sewer access to your home/business that was not their before.  Whereas, with health care, substantial harm could be done to the quality of one’s own health on the altar of “social justice” or “equality.”  Laying pavement is much different that a quadruple bypass.  Laying pipe is much different than cancer removal.  In my view, federal-government has the anti-Midas touch.  We all like our roads, but even the DOT is quite a mess.  If the private sector can provide a product that the federal government is monopolizing and disallowing competition, I think a strong case be made (both through sound reason and moral principles) that privitization is the right thing.  Further, I think the burden of proof rests on big government folks and not small government folks.  I see no Bible verses commanding that government be large and tyrannical.  The Biblical burden of proof is on those who play the ever-so-vague “social justice” card.

Evangelicals have shirked and punted many responsibilities to the federal government.  Previously (here and here), I have traced this habit back to the split of Protestantism into liberalism and conservativism (the fundamentalists originally, who are now called evangelicals) .  I do not think it would be all that massive of an undertaking for evangelicals in the country to completely eliminate the foster care system.  This would take 250,000 families adopting one child into their family.  I think this is feasible.  Elders at local churches would vet potential families, and the deacons at those local churches would oversee the transfer of children out of government foster care and into adoption into elder-approved families.  I think the whole process could take less than 10 years.  It is highly idealistic with regards to the current status of American evangelicalism but, in my view, entirely possible.

Unless, non-governmental institutions step-in to provide value-added social care for a nation-state, one runs the risk of the endless march of bigger government and tyranny, as its government continues to expand its power and control by nationalizing previously private businesses and service sectors.   It is one thing to keep a wealthy nation with a small military of 10 million people in check… it is entirely another thing to keep a nation of 350 million (with a strong monopoly of violence) in check.  Evangelicals cannot think that merely voting will stem the tide of bigger government and/or socialism.  If you do not want to see this happen, then I suggest we corporately affirm James 1:27:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

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10 Responses

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  1. I agree with the statement that it’s one job of the church to care for he widow, orphan, etc. I’m not sure if you can argue, however that it’s the exclusive right of the church.

    Does this same line of reasoning work for the marriage argument as well?

    I’ve not the time to write more. Just a few initial thoughts.

    Graham Buck

    January 20, 2010 at 11:06 am

  2. Hey Mike, thanks for your thoughts.

    While much of the rhetoric in this debate discusses a “right” to health care which you rightly debunk, I’m not so sure that’s the whole of the issue. Certain services (highways, infrastructure, and education, for example) have, in almost every 1st-world country, fallen to some extent under the purview of government. It’s not so much about “rights” as it is pragmatism in the distribution of resources to fund something that the nation considers important. Many things don’t deserve this status, we should be careful about what we grant this status, and it’s not 100% clear to me that health care deserves this status. What IS clear to me is that the current system is broken and, I believe, unjust. The fact is, it’s already a national consensus that we don’t want to allow people in need of health care to go without (this is proven by the fact that emergency rooms are not allowed to turn anyone away). The question is just how we want to pay for it and whether we will pay for people to get “proper” health care rather than just emergency care.

    It is absolutely a responsibility of the church to take care of the poor and the sick. That will be no different under gov’t funded health care than it is under the current corporate insurance-based health care system. Will the ability of the church to serve these needs and love these people be somehow diminished (compared to the current situation) by a national health program?

    You have made a case for the responsibilities of the church but what stance would you have a Christian take towards the very real consideration of health care in a secular world? Would you argue that supporting any health care policy that would involve the existence of secular health care institutions is “unbiblical”? Do you see current health care (corporate, insurance-based) policies as Biblically preferable to gov’t health care? If so, how?

    Aaron Zinck

    January 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm

  3. Just saw your post-script which you must have added as I was composing my comments. Excellent clarifications though I’d still be interested in your thoughts on some of my questions.

    Aaron Zinck

    January 20, 2010 at 12:24 pm

  4. What of my marriage question. The church has offloaded that one to the state. Ought we have? Can we get it back? Is it even constitutionally viable for these marriage amendment laws to be upheld?

    I’ll also post here comments I made to your post-script in a .doc that I’m emailing to you (you can respond to my inline comments on that .doc.

    Thanks man, love the debate.

    “I am in total agreement with you on the church’s ability, and concomitant failure to, care for the social ills of the nation. That seemed to be the point of Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Roman priests concerning the Christians’ care for those who were not even their own. At the same time, however, I fail to see how your argumentation supports your conclusions. The Bible legitimates human government for the purpose of creating stable socials structures for societal wellbeing (i.e. punish crime, create space for good). Notice I said, ‘create space, for good’. What I’m not saying that it’s the government’s express purpose to ‘be’ the good. Moreover, I agree with you that whenever government gets involved bureaucracy tends to gum up the process. However, with that said, insofar as the church has dropped the ball on social ‘justice’, by which I mean to say where there exists in society persecution, marginalization, pain, suffering, fear, etc, someone must fill in the gap. To have a vacuum in this case is far worse than a government run system. Some might say, ‘The church will never do what it’s supposed to while the government runs things.’ Yet, I don’t believe this to be the case. If we could motivate the church to step into her rightful role (which some would argue we are already off the reservation, talking about things other than ‘spiritual’ matters, or for others’ vocabulary, word and sacrament) and she began to undermine the governmental system, which is to say that the services provided would be of a superior quality, then I believe we would see the goal reached to which we both strive.
    This, of course, doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that our health ‘care’ system isn’t even that. When you view the human organism as so much carbon and electricity you are guaranteed to fail in healthcare. What we need are doctors who understand psychopneumatic issues in health and wellness. I’m not even saying they all have to be Christians (though that would be awesome), rather that inasmuch as we view the human body as a car in need of repair our system will always be broken, no matter how many are covered.”

    Graham Buck

    January 21, 2010 at 10:50 am

  5. Hey Graham, good thoughts.

    The marriage question is a tricky one. While I’m not an expert, it seems that most cultures throughout history have had some institution resembling marriage. This, to me, indicates that it’s not solely a religious institution. I also think there’s a good case to be made for marriage having real secular value (family stability, procreation, official record of relationships for purposes of inheritance and other legal matters, etc.).

    But Christianity gives us a better, deeper framework for properly understanding marriage as a covenant before God and man. It also gives us some instruction on what marriage should look like (one man, one woman, etc.). There is a very real religious and spiritual aspect to marriage that the Christian is right in valuing and wanting to protect.

    The problem seems to be that (in the US at least) we’ve conflated religious marriage and legal marriage. This is probably due to our Judeo-Christian cultural origins as much as anything. Though marriage in the popular mind has moved from being before God to being before gov’t, it is still not a simple legal transaction. Indeed, marriage is viewed (in the US) as the culture putting its stamp of approval on a love relationship. And when that relationship is not Biblical it is this seeming government “stamp of approval” that I think most bothers the faithful Christian.

    So what conclusions are we to draw; do we oppose the entire secular institution of marriage? Does its potential for corruption necessitate our opposition? I don’t know. I’m not sure where to draw the line. Personally I’d like to see gov’t get out of the marriage business but I also think reasonable Christians can fall on either side of the issue. Whatever the case, I don’t think the stakes are all that high. We can have opinions and debate and we should vote and be involved in our government and our culture but ultimately our message to the world is not that we need better laws or a more Christian culture but that we all need Christ and the Gospel.

    Aaron Zinck

    January 21, 2010 at 1:23 pm

  6. Could not a more simple argument for the anti-biblical nature of socialized medicine be that it has been a failure? The “rich” always have a way to obtain quality healthcare. But those least able to obtain alternatives are always stuck with whatever handout the government agency can give them. Handouts from the government are always sub-standard. Are we under some illusion that socialized medicine provides better care? I think not. Even the proponents of national healthcare say that our will be better because we’re doing it. (Even while adopting the same basic plan of the other failing national systems.) The best that proponent can say about socialized healthcare is that it is “fair” – meaning that everyone receives the same standard of care. (it’s equally bad) I don’t see how the equally bad level of care for everyone falls under any sort of social justice?

    FryDaddy

    January 24, 2010 at 9:31 am

  7. @FryDaddy: On what grounds do you consider socialize medicine a failure?

    There are many factors to consider when comparing health care systems, and I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject but all I can say with some certainty is
    1) the US pays substantially more per capita for its health care than do countries with socialized medicine, and a huge percentage of the money is wasted in administration costs
    2) the health care we get is in some ways better but in many ways worse (life expectancy and infant mortality, specifically, are generally at the bottom of the pack)
    3) the biggest strength of the current US health care system is in the availability of the highest-tech procedures
    4) the current “private” system is effectively broken (prohibitively expensive or completely unavailable to those who are not in jobs that offer health insurance, and real competition is not allowed or able to occur in the marketplace as it stands)

    Here’s some data comparing the performance of the US system to other countries:

    A World Health Organization ranking of international health care. The info is admittedly a bit dated but I think it’s still helpful:
    http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html (be sure to click some of the “see also” links at the top of that page)

    A more recent and detailed report prepared by the Congressional Research Service which doesn’t draw any conclusions but attempts to offer data on many different metrics:
    http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL34175_20070917.pdf

    The situation is a complex one, and I think that there are good, principled reasons to be against socialized medicine but I don’t think writing it off as “failed” is adequate. I’m not so sure what the solution should be (I confess I do lean towards a single-payer system) but I don’t think the solution is to argue for the status quo.

    I would be very open to an initiative to deregulate health care and decouple it from employment in order to create a more open market. I expect, however, that the public will never have the stomach to allow a real competitive market to exist in this space.

    Aaron Zinck

    January 24, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    • Aaron,

      I didn’t mean to hijack the thread. I liked your article, especially the point about the Church’s abdication of it’s own responsibility. So to be brief:

      There is not a single socialized plan that is not either bankrupt or telling the old and infirm to die. Socialized system reduce the value of human life to a budget item. So the government, not individuals and families, ration care. This is why live baby births in Europe aren’t counted unless the baby goes full term (it makes the mortality rate look better than the US – when it’s actually worse); why it takes 6-12 weeks longer for a simple heart cath; why “normal feminine” health tests (paps and mammography, etc) are much more rare; and why air medical evacuations aren’t available at any price in Canada (There are more in the Michigan county I live in than the entire nation of Canada) to name but 4 reasons.

      Human life is precious because all are made in the image of God. Because HE declared life to be precious. Giving government the power to decide which “innocent” lives are treated and which are abandoned is immoral and anti-Christian. Especially when those decisions will be made in the name of political correctness and expediency. The healthcare systems proposed by Obama, et al. destroy the private health insurance model and cripple the health provider network; reducing the quality of healthcare for everyone not rich enough to escape it.

      FryDaddy

      January 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm

      • Hi Frydaddy,

        Thanks for your response.

        I’m aware of the disparity in how infant mortality rates are calculated. The second link I provided above specifically addresses that issue. Attempts to estimate our mortality rate using the same system the rest of the world uses do not significantly improve our standings, and even as it stands we’re ranked 7th worst out of the 8 nations that use the same counting method as we do.

        I see two fallacies in your argument:

        1) You assume that a private health industry cannot exist alongside a public one. This is patently false. In fact, private health insurance is even available in countries with socialized medicine. Anyone who wants to pay to get something done will always have that option. A social program does not “give government the power to decide which lives are…abandoned”. No one would be “abandoned” by the government any more than they’re currently being abandoned. You claim that Obama’s health care plan (it should be mentioned that there’s not one single plan but instead dozens or even hundreds of different proposed plans) somehow destroys private health insurance but I see no evidence for that argument.

        2) You talk almost completely about availability of procedures, not actual outcomes. By most outcome measures our current system is being outperformed by socialized medicine. I know you don’t want to treat human life like a budget item, but the fact is that health care does not run on good will and love alone; it costs money. And where there are limited resources the resources need to be spent efficiently. Generally we agree that the market is the most efficient way to distribute (i.e. ration) limited resources. But health care is complicated because our culture is unwilling to let the market operate freely; we implement rules that prevent companies from pursuing a profit motive so we get non-competitive insurance choices and no transparency in medical pricing. Our current system does not encourage its consumers to make informed high-value choices in their use of its care. It’s a bit like a buffet — once you’re at the buffet there’s no incentive not to be wasteful. People eat things they don’t need to eat at the wasteful buffet because they have to reason not to so costs go up for all of us. Meanwhile there are needy people with no seat at the buffet who are starving all around. I maintain that outcomes are the best way to truly judge a health care system.

        I guarantee that you can find injustices in any social health care system you pick. I hate that. But don’t close your eyes to the many injustices that are occurring every day in our current health care system. Our current system is one of the most costly in the world, yet we are ranked low amongst developed nations on most outcome measures. That does not seem like a very efficient (or merciful!) system. Are you arguing in favor of the status quo? What is your preferred solution?

        Finally, I offer a personal anecdote that might please your inner capitalist. I’m a 27 year old male; healthy aside from diabetes. I’d like to start my own business but I cannot afford to be self employed because no insurance company will sell this diabetic private insurance. Preferred pricing for insurance companies (and the resultant price hikes on procedures to the uninsured) makes it unfeasible for me to pay for my own care out of pocket. Tying health coverage to employer group plans not only hampers the free market of employees moving from company to company (people are less likely to change jobs due to having to change health providers or possibly even lose care altogether), but it also puts a damper (as in my case) on innovation, entrepreneurship, and small businesses.

        Aaron Zinck

        January 27, 2010 at 10:21 pm

  8. Sorry, My train of though took a dirt road and I accidentally attributed the article to Aaron and not Mike.

    My apologies.

    FryDaddy

    January 27, 2010 at 8:13 pm


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