Saturday, August 11, 2012

Obamacare: Look What It Has Done For Me

Yesterday, I chatted with someone with whom I had not spoken to in years.  There was much for us to catch up on and we probably could have talked for hours, if duties had not required we end our conversation.  I enjoyed hearing what had happened to her and other old friends I had neglected, but then the conversation touched on the political arena.
This blog is not about political matters, but of late these things are among those which are making us very anxious.  There is much worry about in our country, and even our Church, here in America.  We seem so lost, and it causes us worry.  Recently there have been spates of discussions in the media questioning America’s course, and how it touches upon the course of our Church.  The two seem intertwined at the present, and we are confused on how to relate them.
My friend has some serious illnesses, ones which existed when I knew her years ago, but which have now grown worse.  She noted that her medication costs are very high, a heavy burden in her life.  “You know what the ‘doughnut hole’ is,” she asked.  “Well, since Obamacare has gone into effect recently, it has significantly reduced my costs for that doughnut hole, where I paid so much in past years.  Maybe he (Obama) has done a good thing with this law.”
I spoke (briefly, I hope) in response, addressing the financial and moral difficulties I saw with the law, but even as I spoke I wanted to stop.  My heart wasn’t in it, and I didn’t want to debate.  Her matter-of-fact words echo those I have heard from many people: intelligent and not so intelligent, financially well-off and insecure, Christian and atheist.  The words take a topic and say it is a bad thing, but …..  “Look what it has done for me.”  And they are conflicted.
I admit that recently I am energized and more confident of late on these subjects, and I believe I can explain WHY something is bad clearly, in my mind.  But I think that many (most??) people don’t want to hear what I have to say, because while clear in my mind, they don’t want clarity in theirs.  They want a simple answer, but many things are not simple.  They want all the things that people want:  security, comfort, and love.  And if they find those things, they don’t want to know more.  They don’t want to know about HOW those things, good things for them, came about.  They’ve heard the phrase that “the ends do not justify the means,” but they don’t really know what that means --- and further, if understanding it will reduce the things they have gotten, they don’t want to know.  The “ends” are their wants and needs, and they don’t want to consider the implications of how their needs were met (the “means”) --- this is the anxiety they really seek to avoid.  They don’t want to think about it.
My friend saw her reduced medical costs as a good thing, for her.  Any discussion about the means used to provide her those funds, in effect, seemed to have the volume turned down in her mind; she didn’t seem to want to hear it.  And neither do most Americans, I am afraid.  “But look what it has done for me” is a rallying cry for many people in this country.
I didn’t want to debate with my friend because I felt she didn’t want to hear it.  The siren call of our own ease and comfort is one heard throughout history.  It is part of man’s weakness.  I’m sure the Jewish leaders didn’t really want to crucify Jesus, but “look what it will do for us.”  And in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve weren’t led in a discussion about WHY God said to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, rather they were told: “But look what this will do for you.”  In taking the serpent’s offer in the Garden, Adam and Eve thought they were getting something, and that was all important to them.  But they didn’t see that in taking something they were giving up something --- their soul.  They were getting something now, in exchange for pain later.
That’s the same exchange many Americans are willingly taking right now – or not know about.
My background is finance, and so I have a perspective on our country’s course right now that may be different than people who don’t have my background.  For me, the numbers associated with the course we are on just don’t add up.  Democrat or Republican, atheist or Christian, rich or poor, to me a large part of my political desires are shaped by basic facts, the numbers.  They don’t add up.  “If you keep digging yourself into a hole, you will not suddenly find yourself on a mountain.”  I have no problem with most things the government is trying to do --- the “ends”.  I just question how they are doing it --- the “means.”
In recent weeks I have been reading and studying the catechism of the Catholic Church.  While I have indeed learned some new things during my study, much of what I read I already had heard.  I knew that “the ends do not justify the means.”  I could cite examples of my understanding.  But it was not until I read the catechism and read the details WHY the ends do not justify the means, and related it to the Creed we recite at mass, and Christ’s life, and the liturgy itself that I began to understand and become capable of applying that doctrine of the Catholic Church.   I guess that is one thing that most Catholics don’t think of in terms of these things:  they are doctrines of the Church.  We must understand and believe these things; they must shape our life.  But so few of us know it, or live it.
Good medical care for all, food for all, clothing for all, and even emergency telephones for all.  These all sound like good things, and they are.  There is little debate over that point, but much of the discussion in America makes believe that there is.  “You don’t want the medical care plan as proposed, then you must want to kill grandma.”  “You don’t want to raise taxes on the rich, then you must want to rob the poor.”  “You don’t want windmills across America, then you must want to kill cute baby polar bears and flood our cities.”  These aren’t arguments, they are distractions from the real arguments.  The debate should not be about things that are agreed as good, but rather the means to achieve them --- and whether they are good.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that politicians don’t want to talk about “means” of doing things, because there can be much debate on whether some means are good or bad.  They’d rather focus on the ends, which they know are good, and they know YOU think are good.  They want you to think about the means and perhaps think “that doesn’t seem like a good way to do that,” but then think “But … look what it does for me.”  The politicians are counting on that self-serving, selfish thinking. 
I heard Rush Limbaugh speak briefly the other day, as I was tooling about shopping.  He was commenting about actions of the New York governor, dictating what size soda pop you can drink and other dictates “for your health.”  The governor points out that “I’m doing this for your health … isn’t that a good thing?”  And of course everyone says “yes,” but then kind of feel as if it isn’t, but don’t know how to articulate their reticence.  Rush said “You know what the Democrats are doing and promising?  They’re taking actions which they say are for your good, because they care about your health, and they want you healthy and happy and will try to make you live forever.  That’s what they want:  they want you to think you can live forever, if we just pass these laws giving the government control over everything.”   I always thought in terms of politicians trying to promise us heaven here on earth, but I think I like Rush’s description better than mine.  It’s like the temptation of Eden: “God doesn’t want to make you happy forever, I do.”  That’s what many of our politicians are saying:  You don’t need a god; you have me!
In studying the catechism, one of the points brought out in discussing the ends and means was the fact that perfection will not exist in this life --- contrary to our politicians’ promises.  So even good “ends”, like good health, safety, and riches, will not exist in perfection in this life.  There will always be sickness, pain, and the poor among us.  That does not mean that we don’t try to love our neighbor and end bad things, but it means there are ways to do that, ways which Jesus came to earth to teach us and show us.  He took from no one.  He helped individuals, not whole cities.  He loved the people he spoke to, and asked them to do as He had done.
I’m not saying everyone should drop everything and study the catechism or even read my summaries at Catechism-Study, but I am asking that you take the time to pray.  And when you pray, ask that His will not yours be done, and tell Him that you trust in Him.  And then take some time to listen to Him; He IS speaking, even now.  He didn’t come to earth to teach you to want good things for yourself and others, He came to show you how to go about achieving those things; He came to show you how to live.  And one of the easiest things to remember about how He lived His life is to recall:  He did things for others.  He didn’t come seeking personal satisfaction or adoration “What have you done for Me?” but rather to show you what He has done for you, and you should do for others.
We need to get past the thinking about what we want and need and want done for us, and judging things as good because they are good for us.  We need to go back and read Matthew again, and the paragraph which explains why He told us: “Do not be anxious.”  We don’t need to seek all the things we want, and judge the people good if they give them to us. 
The One giving us all we need has already been judged good.                  


  1. I thought this was excellent. "distractions from the real arguments..", yes. I thought of illusionists ("magicians"), whose trick is to focus our attention onto one thing so we won't notice what's really happening. Thank you.

  2. You're right, Nancy, distractions are making us avoid the real discussions we need. In talking about how our judgment is pressured when we get something, how we can't seem to say something is bad if it helps us in some way, I think one of the things Americans (and Catholics) seem to have forgotten is how to sacrifice. If we want it, we have to have it. We've forgotten that sometimes it is a good thing not only to not have what we want, but to willingly give up the thing we want. Jesus sacrificed His life, yet as we recently saw, it seems to resonate with many Americans that they can't accept even paying for condoms.

    I'm afraid that with the choices Americans are making now, they will HAVE to make sacrifices in the future, ones they won't willing make, but which will be thrust upon them. I wonder how they will react to the strangeness of it.