Friday, March 9, 2012

Catholicism, the Healthcare Debate, and the Common Good: Recent Resources for Discussion

In the past day or so, I've spotted a number of pieces online which point out clearly the extent to which right-wing Catholics have bought into an ideology that is fundamentally at odds with Catholic social teaching in their attempt to deconstruct the healthcare plan offered by the Obama administration.  This is really the key underlying issue in the U.S. bishops' "religious freedom" attack on the HHS guidelines: to their discredit as Catholic teachers and moral leaders, the bishops are attacking the healthcare plan in toto, in an attempt to unseat the current administration.

They have bought into an individualistic anti-government worldview of the American religious right that is antithetical to core values and core teachings of the Catholic church about healthcare as a human right, and in doing so, they have lost the moral center as they seek to represent "the" Catholic voice in the public square.

At his Daily Dish site, Andrew Sullivan counters Grace-Marie Turner's claim that "Obamacare’s expansion of the welfare state leads people to believe that someone else, and not they themselves, are responsible for their livelihood, their families, and their health. But this is contrary to the teachings of the Church."  As he notes, 

Yes, the document [i.e., the U.S. Catholic bishops'  document "Health and Healthcare"] also insists that universal healthcare be governed by Catholic doctrines on life, sex, etc. But there is no question about the Vatican's support for universal, government-guaranteed healthcare services, especially for the poor. So where do the theocons stand on that question? 
Their candidates would gut Medicaid, slash Medicare, and lower taxes on the already very wealthy. For good measure, the two leading Catholic candidates favor torture and pre-emptive war - both clearly outlawed by Catholic just war teaching. I can see the argument for these policies from a Randian or neoconservative perspective. But from a Catholic one?

Sullivan's point, as I take it: in the name of defending Catholic principles regarding healthcare provision, many right-wing American Catholics are actually defending a philosophy of ruthless socioeconomic individualism that militates against one of the core principles of Catholic teaching--namely, that healthcare is a human right, and societies that serve moral values must seek to provide basic healthcare for all citizens, and for those on the margins most of all.

As Gary Dorrien notes at Religion Dispatches (and see also his recent essay at America) a central belief built into the American ethos from the foundations of the nation and shared by many religious traditions is the notion that "we humans are bound together in a web of reciprocity and mutual support—and that there is something godly about such interdependence."  Beginning with the era of Ronald Reagan, however, there has been a persistent, relentless assault on the idea of government itself, an attempt to dismantle government and government programs and shift the responsibility for the provision of social services previously dispensed via the government onto the backs of individuals.

When this radical anti-government philosophy has gone hand in hand with a philosophy of cutting taxes for wealthy elites, the result has been disastrous--particularly for those on the socioeconomic margins.  It is difficult to imagine how anyone influenced by the Catholic tradition of social teaching, with its vision of the common good and of a preferential concern for the poor, could not only defend but assist political movements that move in such a direction.

And, finally, as Grant Gallicho notes in a posting at Commonweal's blog yesterday that comments on the story about the decision of the Sacramento Catholic diocese to defund a ministry for the homeless (about which I blogged yesterday as well), the purism now being promoted by the USCCB as it considers matters like healthcare provision--a purism which imagines that we can refuse to cooperate with any less-than-perfect socioeconomic structures, and which sees the world in stark Manichean for-me-or-against-me terms)--is cramping the rich tradition of Catholic moral reasoning in the American public square.

A tradition that, at its best, has long had powerful tools and powerful resources for understanding how to apply moral principles to a less than perfect world, without creating either-or dichotomies which demand total, unyielding loyalty to a single principle that subsumes and ignores all other principles at play in the discussion of a morally complicated issue . . . .  Of course (and here, I'm departing from Gallicho's analysis and offering my own), when the goal is to demand total and unyielding loyalty to the men articulating that single overriding moral principle, then the insistence on a single principle and the refusal to admit the existence of other moral principles at play in a moral-political discussion makes sense: it serves the needs for power and control of the ones laying down the law.

When--to repeat--their real goal is to demand absolute loyalty to them as moral leaders and moral teachers . . . .  And when it's to deconstruct government to such an extent that we will have no choice except to yield to their leadership, because there will be no other structures left to serve the common good except religious ones, in the theocratic society they and their right-wing evangelical allies have fought to build as a replacement for a well-functioning pluralistic secular democracy . . . . 

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