Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Faithful Healthcare

Today, I visited the local office of Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R-OH) to share my thoughts on the brewing healthcare reform debate. The experience was quite positive: I felt heard and affirmed, despite obvious ideological differences. In particular, I was thanked for offering a unique perspective grounded in faith - a point of view new to the office. This remark reconfirmed my belief that liberal religionists must get their voices out there.

Below is a copy of the letter that I left behind. I tried to strike a chord with Rep. Schmidt's devout Catholicism.

Dear Rep. Schmidt:

Healthcare for all Americans is more than a political quarrel over formulas calculating premiums and deductibles – it is a deeply religious issue.

For Christians, as modern theologian Karl Barth suggests, general world history exists only in relation to the history of Jesus. The ethical implications of this are clear: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).

Jesus’ reference, here, to the Jewish Shema reinforces the fact that reverence for God is intimately bound up with love of neighbor – the two are, in the strictest sense, inseparable, for humanity is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27).

Hence, the question of Healthcare for all Americans strikes at the core of the Christian faith – I would go so far as to suggest: if Christianity fails to work in the worst of places it is unworthy of the best of places. How shall I serve my neighbor, as Paul insists, if my neighbor cannot serve herself? How shall I love my neighbor, if my neighbor is unable to access the basic treatment to maintain adequate mental and physical health? How shall I love God and love others, if I, myself, am suffering from debilitating disease?

Without the promise of good health, every other consideration in life disappears. Today, over 45 million Americans remain uninsured – drifting, helplessly, on the waves of medical uncertainty. No one should have to earn the right to a healthy life.

You have been tasked with the overwhelming burden of bending the long arc of the universe towards justice. Currently, both political parties find themselves embroiled in petty bickering over minor clauses that fuel unproductive ideological warfare. As a person of courageous faith, I ask humbly that you live up to the life and words of Jesus – that you offer each and every American the right and possibility to love God and love one another with heart, soul and mind – healthy, and intact.


Erik Resly
Student, Harvard Divinity School

Most disconcerting was the fact that Fox News was blaring on the office television monitor. Shouldn't politicians be in the business of independent opinion-making?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Liberal, Radical or Prophetic Pragmatist

I have taken great interest in recent blogosphere discussions surrounding the nature of radicalism in contrast to liberalism and conservatism. All participants agree, I believe, that these ruminations reflect potentially dangerous generalizations, but nevertheless contain the theoretical frameworks necessary to process contemporary ideological heuristics and methodology. Much has been made of Terry Eagleton's categorization originally posted here:

Radicals are those who believe that things are extremely bad with us, but they could feasibly be much improved. Conservatives believe that things are pretty bad, but that’s just the way the human animal is. And liberals believe that there’s a little bit of good and bad in all of us.

My initial reaction was to throw Unitarian Universalism in the boat of liberalism, as I locate a certain willingness in dominant U*U circles to acknowledge, at times celebrate, brokenness as a fundamental reality - much as Slovenian Marxist theorist Slavoj Zizek calls for a new aesthetic of trash, so too, I would argue, U*Uism embraces the beauty of fragmentation. In many ways, I see this as a liberating and inspiring move.

And yet, just as I was beginning to get comfy with my newfound truism, Stephen Lingwood made the following accute observation: "The problem with liberalism can be seen as it's tolerance of opposition. For example there were plenty of Unitarians fighting against slavery (and we rush to celebrate them today) but there were plenty of Unitarian slave-holders, and we never insisted they cease their involvement in the slave trade." The liberal category, while perhaps an accurate description, cannot serve as the most apt prescription.

It seems there must exist a position between the often belligerent anthropocentrism of radicalism and dangerously complacent neutrality of liberalism. It would affirm the urgency and possibility of communal change, while simultaneously acknowledging the inherent limitations and fragility of the human condition. To my knowledge, Cornel West's 'prophetic pragmatism' comes closest to this description. West carefully balances between tragedy and revolution, tradition and progress, grounding reformist actions and a visionary outlook (Niehburian in tone) in the harsh reality of structural tragedy (reminiscent of Augustine and Du Bois). We must work for justice, but we will only get so far - yet, we keep moving.

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